El Centrocampista

Euro 2000 – More penalty woe and underachievement as France end Spanish hopes


New millennium, same old Spain. Euro 2000 was the tournament in which La Roja was finally going to shake off the tag of perennial underachievers, buoyed by a qualifying campaign which had started with a disastrous defeat in Cyprus, but which had then been followed by a record-breaking 40 goals in seven games.

Javier Clemente had been replaced in the dugout by Jose Antonio Camacho after the Larnaca setback, and whilst the group was hardly the strongest (the other three sides were Israel, Austria and San Marino), it was still a mightily impressive way to make it to the tournament staged jointly by Holland and Belgium. Unfortunately once they had got there, the familiar pattern of underachievement returned, with Camacho’s side exiting at the quarter final stage.

A 1-0 defeat against a functional but uninspiring Norwegian side in Rotterdam was hardly the ideal confidence booster, with the coach’s decision to select Atletico Madrid ‘keeper Jose Francisco Molina ahead of Champions League finalist Cañizares and a teenager called Casillas coming back to haunt him. Twenty four minutes remained when Molina failed to get to a long punt forward before ex Spurs striker Steffen Iversen, and his looping header from the edge of the area was enough for the three points.

Molina was unsurprisingly replaced by Cañizares for the match against Slovenia in the Amsterdam Arena, with Camacho’s subsequent claim that he had always planned to swap ‘keepers after the first game seeming risible in the circumstances. Burly forward Ismael Urzaiz also dropped to the bench, along with full back Paco and midfielder Fran, with Alfonso, Mendieta and Abelardo replacing them. The performance was little better against a side expected to be the group’s whipping boys, but goals from Raul and Etxeberria at least secured a 2-1 victory.

And so the stage was set for one of the most talked about games in European Championship history, with Bruges the venue on this occasion. The Spanish knew that they had to beat Yugoslavia to ensure qualification for the quarter finals, whilst their opponents needed a point to be sure of making it. Camacho made just one change this time, with Fran somewhat surprisingly returning at the expense of Etxeberria, who had after all scored the winner in Amsterdam. However within 23 minutes the two had swapped places, when a robust aerial challenge ultimately forced the Deportivo midfielder off.

With half an hour gone, Spain looked to be heading home early, courtesy of a Milosevic header after he exploited acres of space between the two centre halves. Alfonso equalised eight minutes before the interval, only for Govedarica to put Yugoslavia back in front with a fine strike early in the second half. Ninety seconds later the two sides were level once more when sub Munitis curled in a beauty, and when Jokanovic was sent off just past the hour mark, there looked to be only one winner. However Komljenovic’s close range effort with seventeen minutes remaining gave the underdogs the lead for a third time, one which they held until injury time, when a Mendieta penalty and Alfonso’s 95th minute winner rounded off an amazing game.

Unfortunately for La Roja, Holland’s 3-2 victory against France in the final match of group D condemned them to a quarter final clash against the reigning world champions. A sublime Zidane free kick gave les Bleus the lead, and although another Mendieta penalty made it 1-1, Djorkaeff scored what would prove to be the winner just before the break.

Spain had two wonderful chances to equalise late on, but Raul blazed a second penalty over the bar (Mendieta had unfortunately already been replaced), and substitute Urzaiz ended what was a pretty underwhelming tournament for him by heading over when it looked easier to score.

Camacho’s stock could not have been higher when the tournament began, but many questions began to be asked once it had again ended in disappointment. His two ‘keepers failed to keep out seven of the fourteen efforts on target in the four matches, and although Casillas only made his international debut a week before the Norway game, there were many who felt that he was in the best form of the three at that time. Team selection and the decision making regarding substitutions were also heavily criticised, but the RFEF backed their man, and so he stayed on to live through another disappointment and even bigger sweat patches in South Korea. Casillas, Raul, Helguera, Hierro, Mendieta and Valeron were also a part of that squad, but for some this was their last international tournament (most notably a midfielder named Josep Guardiola) and Alfonso’s dramatic winner was also the last goal he scored at international level.

Link to BBC highlights of Yugoslavia 3-4 Spain – Ten minutes but well worth it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Follow us and get La Liga news right in your feed!

Already a fan?