Throughout Euro 2016 we are serialising Rob Fielder’s marvellously comprehensive book, The Complete History of the European Championship. The series will look at the 10 greatest matches in the tournament’s history, recalling the events around the games and many of the wonderful players who have graced the competition over the years.
Catch up on previous chapters here: Yugoslavia’s thrilling fightback against France in 1960; England’s victory against the Netherlands at Euro ’96; Germany’s close shave against Turkey at Euro 2008; Denmark’s improbable victory against the Netherlands in ’92; The helter-skelter tie between Yugoslavia and Slovenia at Euro 2000; Denmark’s rousing comeback against Belgium at Euro ’84; the classic between Czech Republic and the Netherlands at Euro 2004; West Germany v Yugoslavia in 1976; and Michel Platini inspiring France to victory over Portugal at Euro ’84.
SPAIN – YUGOSLAVIA 4:3 (1:1)
Scorers: 0:1 Milošević 30, 1:1 Alfonso 38, 1:2 Govedarica 50, 2:2 Munitis 51, 2:3 Komljenovic 75, 3:3 Alfonso 90, 3:4 Mendieta 90
21.06.2000 (18.00) Bruges (Belgium), Jan Breydel Stadion, Att: 24,000
ESP: Cañizares; Salgado (Munitis HT), Abelardo (c), Paco (Urzaiz 65), Sergi; Mendieta, Guardiola, Helguera, Fran (Etxeberría 22); Alfonso, Raúl
YUG: Kralj; Komljenović, Drulović, Mihajlović, Đorović (Stanković 12); Stojković (c) (Saveljić 69), Jokanović, Jugović (Govedarica HT), Drulović; Milošević, Mijatović
Sent off: Jokanović (63)
Referee: Gilles Veissière (France)
Euro 2000 was a tournament of dramatic twists and turns, with a number of matches that stood out among the greatest in competition history. Yet even among this swathe of classic encounters, the contest between Spain and Yugoslavia was remarkable. Not only did it enjoy some sublime technical moments, it also provided incredible drama and a sting in the tail.
Yugoslavia had already been involved in one classic as they came from 3-0 down to draw with Slovenia and they followed that result with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Norway. Spain meanwhile had started poorly, losing 1-0 to Norway in their opener as they conceded a route-one goal to Steffen Iversen, before rebounding to beat the Slovenes 2-1.
A feature of that match had been their response to adversity. Having led 1-0 through Raúl they were pegged back when Zlatko Zahovič capitalised on some poor defending to level the scores. But a minute later it was Spain in front once more as Gaizka Mendieta, the leading light in Valencia’s run to the Champions League final, set off on a terrific run, slaloming past a series of defenders before playing in Joseba Etxeberría who beat the goalkeeper at his near post to force the victory.
The match in Bruges started largely as expected as Spain dominated possession and played some neat, crisp passing but were rarely able to able to penetrate the Yugoslav backline. At the heart of the Plavi’s defence was the returning Sinisa Mihajlović, but given his performance and red card against Slovenia there had to be questions over whether that was a positive or not. Midway through the half the Yugoslavs took the lead as Ljubinko Drulović crossed from the left and Savo Milošević supplied a firm downwards header after escaping the attentions of his marker.
Spain’s response to their setback was a fine one. They started to up the pace of their play and were camped in the opposing half until they finally found a breakthrough. Raúl showed great persistence to stab the ball through and it eventually broke kindly to Alfonso who was able to fire in from close range.
Spain were soon behind again, however, as the match resumed after half time. As with the first goal, the instigator was Drulović, cutting inside from the right and feeding Dejan Govedarica, who lashed an excellent drive which went in off the underside of the crossbar.
The old adage about a team being most vulnerable just after they have scored is rarely a truism, but it seemed to be for sides facing Spain at Euro 2000. Just as it had been against Slovenia, Spain’s reply was almost immediate. This time Etxeberría, who had been the goalscorer against the Slovenes, turned provider, pulling the ball back for Pedro Munitis who whipped it cleverly just inside the far post.
The tide shifted further in Spain’s favour when Slaviša Jokanović was sent off soon afterwards for a second yellow card. It was Yugoslavia’s third red card in as many matches and should have been a significant setback, but there were few signs of them suffering as they continued to go on the attack. First Predrag Mijatović went close from a superb Mihajlović pass and then Yugoslavia won a free-kick in a dangerous position. It was whipped into the area with typical pace by Mihajlović and Spain were unable to clear their lines, leaving Slobodan Komljenović to stab in on the volley.
La Roja continued to chase the match and had good efforts from Pep Guardiola and Alfonso, but, try as they might, they couldn’t force an equaliser. As the clock ticked down, Norway, who had played out a dour 0-0 draw with Slovenia in Arnhem, looked assured of qualification, knowing that even a draw in this match would see them through given a superior head-to-head record with Spain.
Yet fortune shone on the Spanish when they were awarded a generous penalty for a supposed foul on Abelardo and Mendieta employed his trademark style of rolling the ball down the middle to convert from 12 yards.
Still Spain were on the brink of elimination, yet somehow they found an answer deep into injury time. A hopeful ball was launched into the area and Ismael Urzaiz won the header down, picking out Alfonso who sweetly hooked the ball in on the half-volley. It mattered little to Yugoslavia, who still went through, but Norway were now out and Spain had won one of the most dramatic matches in football history.