EURO: Five of the most controversial moments in EURO history

EURO 2020 has finally begun, except it has begun in 2021. With any tournament comes memories, moments, and of course, controversy. The EURO is no stranger to controversy, having seen countless ones over the years.

Here are five of the most controversial moments the international tournament has played host to.

1) Hooliganism (EURO 2016)

We will start off with an incident that is still fresh in fans’ minds. This happened as recently as the last iteration of the tournament, EURO 2016. During Russia’s match with England, some Russian fans threw flares towards the English fans. Not only that, they also managed to climb over the fence and attack them.

Witnesses affirm that the Russian fans kicked and punched fleeing English fans. The French prosecutors called the violent fans “trained hooligans” and claimed the entire thing was planned. The evidence for this was some of them dressing up as England supporters.

There were also some violent English fans in the stands. Six of them were taken into custody for hurling bottles. 35 people were reported injured before the tournament even kicked off properly.

2) Franco’s notorious decision (EURO 1960)

General Francisco Franco had Spain in an iron first. He was a notorious ruler, and that translated to football as well. The dictator was a massive football fan, and exerted control and influence over Spanish teams.

But in 1960, all Spanish football fans collectively hated him. During the Euros of that year, he banned the national team from participating in the quarter-final they had qualified for.

The reason was Spain having to travel to the Soviet Union for the remaining matches. He dismissed this due to political reasons and forbade the Spanish team from going. This earned him the wrath of all football fans in Spain. Franco got a little karmic punishment, when the USSR ultimately won the trophy.

3) Match-fixing allegations (EURO 2004)

Italy were a strong side at the turn of the millennium. As many would know, they went on to win the World Cup two years from this incident. However, they had been knocked out from the 2004 edition of the tournament under suspicious circumstances.

Italy’s substandard performances in the group stage meant their fate was not entirely in their hands. If they had to advance, they had to beat Bulgaria, and Denmark vs Sweden didn’t end up as a draw with a scoreline higher than 1-1.

Even though Italy won their game, the other one spoiled their party. Denmark and Sweden shared the spoils, except the score was 2-2. What led to suspicion was the way the game ended. Mattias Jonson’s 89th minute leveller for Sweden meant Italy were going home. More suspicious was the fact that the bookies had a large amount of money riding on one specific scoreline. No prizes for guessing what that score was.

The Italians didn’t take this too well, and legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon even accused Denmark and Sweden of match fixing. His claims were never proved. And to be fair, he wouldn’t mind too much two years later.

4) Ronald Koeman’s outrageous celebration (EURO 1988)

The Germans and the Dutch share a massive rivalry in football. So when West Germany hosted a Netherlands team that boasted talent like Koeman, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, everyone was expecting an end-to-end affair.

By the time the match ended, Koeman was public enemy number one, and all because he did something utterly distasteful.

Netherlands produced a great comeback that sent the Dutch fans into wild celebrations, with Koeman scoring a penalty and van Basten completing the turnaround. However, Koeman, who swapped shirts with West Germany player Olaf Thon, pretended to wipe his backside with it when the match ended.

It was an attempt to hype his country’s fans up. This, however, was heavily condemned, with Koeman’s own father among those not impressed with the defender.

This act was seen in a highly negative light, with even Koeman’s father condemning it. Koeman later expressed no regret for his actions. But what he did was very controversial, and to this day, German fans can’t stand the sight of him.

5) Refereeing drama (EURO 2000)

Football and dubious refereeing decisions go hand in hand. While we now have VAR to do the dirty work, there was a time when referees made controversial calls. When they did it in high stakes games, it became all the more infuriating.  

Case in point, Portugal vs France at EURO 2000. Referee Guenter Benko is still a wanted man by Portuguese fans after his infamous decision in the match. With three minutes left in extra time, Portuguese goalkeeper Vitor Baia saved David Trezeguet’s shot. The rebound fell to Sylvian Wiltord, who sent it past the keeper, only to have it cleared off the line by Abel Xavier.  

However, Xavier had used his hand to support his frame while trying to clear the ball. The initial decision was a corner, but the referee overturned it and awarded a penalty to France, much to the chagrin of the Portuguese.

Zinedine Zidane, the talisman of Les Bleus scored the penalty, and France went to the final and eventually won the title. Portuguese players blasted the decision, with Luis Figo even suggesting darker forces were at play.

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