European Championships: Five of the greatest ever group games

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It’s just 17 days until Euro 2016 kicks off (don’t pretend you’re not counting down with us!), and the group stages offer the first look at how the heavyweights perform, who the dark horses are, and how first-timers like Wales and Northern Ireland fare.

So, ahead of what promises to be a scintillating start – as French flair faces Romania’s rock-solid defence – we cast our eye over five great Euros group games of the past.

Netherlands 1-4 England (Euro 1996)

A draw here would have been sufficient for both sides to progress, but Terry Venables’ England side were determined to seal top spot in Group A in sensational style.

Still, an unspectacular first half saw the Three Lions lead 1-0 thanks to a coolly-taken Alan Shearer penalty, following a foul on Paul Ince by Danny Blind (the current Netherlands boss).

However, the second half began at blistering pace, with Teddy Sheringham’s header and Alan Shearer’s neat finish making it 3-0 by the hour mark, before ‘Shezza’ netted a fourth.

With the Dutch 4-0 down, Scotland looked set to sneak second spot with a win over Switzerland, but Patrick Kluivert’s late goal for Holland saw the Tartan Army deprived of a spot in the knockouts in heartbreaking fashion.

Did you know? – This was the only time Sheringham scored more than once in his 51 Three Lions appearances.

Russia 3-3 Czech Republic (Euro 1996)

Anfield has seen some fantastic games in its 132-year history, but this Euros clash is right up there among the most pivotal and exciting of the bunch.

Following a surprise win over Italy, Dusan Uhrin’s Czech side needed just a point to reach the last eight stage – while a comprehensive win for Russia could’ve seen them take that honour.

The outsiders raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to headers from Jan Suchoparek and Pavel Kuka, but Russia turned the game on its head with three goals of their own – the pick of them a thunderbolt from Vladimir Beschastnykh.

The Czechs looked set for a devastating exit, before Vladimir Smicer levelled on the night, as his side sensationally went on to reach the final.

Did you know? – Smicer returned to the scene of his late leveller, Anfield, in 1999 under Gerrard Houllier, and went on to win four trophies with the Reds including the Champions League.

Yugoslavia 3-4 Spain (Euro 2000)

With 93 minutes on the clock and Yugoslavia 3-2 ahead, even the most ardent Spanish fan would have given up hope of victory – and with it – top spot in Group C.

Dejan Govedarica scored the pick of the three for the Balkans’ outfit, who looked to be cruising to pole position in the group. Spain kept pressing relentlessly but were repeatedly thwarted by in-form ‘keeper Ivica Kralj.

Gaizka Mendieta’s penalty brought it back to 3-3 in the 94th minute before Alfonso grabbed a winner a minute later, sparking a euphoric pile-on from the entire Spain bench. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

Did you know? – This game saw Yugoslavia receive a taste of their own medicine, having come back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 with Slovenia in their previous game.

Turkey 3-2 Czech Republic (Euro 2008)

For a brief few weeks in the glorious sunshine of Switzerland and Austria, Turkey established themselves as the comeback kings of European football, and this ranks as perhaps their most stunning turnaround.

Czech beanpole Jan Koller rose like a Salmon (or, at least, like Conor Sammon) to head home the opening goal in this one before a goalkeeping howler from Turkey’s Volkan Demirel gave the Czechs a 2-0 lead and put them three points ahead of their opponents.

However, Petr Cech produced two nightmarish pieces of goalkeeping himself, gifting two goals to the opposition before qualification was secured in the 89th minute with a cracker from Nihat Kahveci. Sensational.

Did you know? – Turkey left the comeback even later in their quarter-final clash with Croatia, as a goal in extra-time injury time from Semih Senturk levelled the game at 1-1, with the Crescent Stars securing the win on penalties.

Denmark 2-3 Portugal (Euro 2012)

After a 1-0 opening-game defeat to Germany, Portugal headed into their clash with Denmark needing victory to retain the dream of reaching the last eight. For the Danes, victory would almost certainly be enough to see them through.

It all looked good for Cristiano Ronaldo and co. when Pepe opened the scoring with a bullet header and Helder Postiga made it 2-0.

However, they hadn’t counted on a superb double from Nicklas Bendtner, on a day where the former Arsenal man’s performance finally matched his outrageous self-confidence.

Portuguese pride was resorted, though, when Silvestre Varela smashed home a sensational late winner. They went on to reach the semis while Morten Olsen’s men went home.

Did you know? – When the Danes won Euro 1992, they hadn’t even qualified, but took the place of Yugoslavia who had been forced to withdraw from the competition in Sweden.

The Betting:

Ahead of – and during – the group stage, Ladbrokes are offering a huge range of great value markets on who will (and won’t) qualify, and how. Here are three of the best bets involving the clubs covered in these classic games:

Czech Republic: At 11/4, the group dual-forecast for Spain and Czech Republic looks to be a smart bet. These two both topped their qualifying groups while fellow Group D sides Turkey and Croatia both snuck through.

Russia: A second-placed finish looks to be on the cards for Leonid Slutsky’s men at 15/8, with England likely to better them, and Wales and Slovakia both lacking tournament pedigree.

Spain: They’ve won the last two Euros in spectacular fashion, and should breeze past Turkey and the Croats, but could well be held to a point by the Czechs – meaning 5/2 for La Furia Roja to take seven points from the group could represent fantastic value.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Dave Burin

Dave graduated with an MA in English Literature at Durham University, and worked in marketing before joining the Ladbrokes News team. A Man United fan and avid groundhopper, he’s also an ardent follower of Rugby League. You can usually find him at a ground near you, clutching a big cup of tea.