The Most Outstanding Performances in European Championship History

Andrea Pirlo (2012)

Despite Spain's star-studded squad winning their third major competition in a row, it was Italy's Andrea Pirlo who stole the show at the 2012 European Championships in Ukraine. A year after leaving AC Milan in controversial fashion, the Juventus midfielder captivated fans with his controlling performances at the base of Cesare Prandelli's midfield in Italy's run to the final.

A standout performance was against Roy Hodgson's England team in the quarterfinals, where Pirlo dominated throughout, despite the England boss trying to man-mark the mercurial midfielder out of the game. The 33-year-old racked up extraordinary statistics during the game, as Pirlo made 131 passes and ran 11.8km, unsurprisingly the most of anyone on the pitch in what was described as an 0-0 "hammering" to the Italians. 

Arguably the most iconic moment of the 2012 Championships was during the penalty shootout, though where Pirlo faced off against a confident Joe Hart who tried his utmost to put the seasoned midfielder off with facial gestures. As cool as Pirlo is, no one could have predicted the Italian legend to produce a panenka penalty on such a stage, such was his confidence, the delivery was perfect. 

Despite beating England and then Germany, The Italians lost in the final of the competition against Spain. Unfortunately, Pirlo missed out on the Player of the Tournament to Andres Iniesta.

Theodoros Zagorakis (Greece 2004)

Greece, the perennial underdogs, stunned the world in 2004 as they won the European Championships the same way they started it by beating Portugal 1-0 in Lisbon's final. Captain, Theodoros Zagorakis, played an integral role in the heart of the Greek midfield for Bundesliga veteran manager Otto Rehhagel's side. The then 32-year-old was colossal in stopping major European teams such as France, Spain, and Portugal during the tournament.

Despite not being the most technically gifted, the Athens midfielder optimised the Greek squad's grit, determination, and spirit, constantly enforcing Rehhagel's tactics onto the pitch with his organisation skills, barking orders continually to his teammates.

Zagorakis topped off an outstanding tournament with an inspired performance against hosts Portugal, where he played like a man possessed, applying non-stop pressure to the likes of world stars Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo throughout. Zagorakis's individual displays did not go unnoticed either, with the midfielder being rewarded with an unlikely Player of the Tournament award for his performances.

Paul Gascoigne (1966)

Paul Gascoigne was already an England icon for his performances at the World Cup in 1990, but the Geordie midfielder strengthened his bond with the England faithful after he performed so admirably on home soil back in 1996 where Terry Venables team got to the semi-finals.

An outstanding group stage for England saw the Three Lions top the group after beating the Netherlands 4-1 and rivals Scotland 2-1. In particular, Gascoigne's performance in the game against Scotland was a standout in the tournament. The Rangers midfielder scoring one of the greatest goals ever scored at a European Championship. A move started by England goalkeeper David Seaman resulted in Gascoigne being released down the left before flicking the ball over Scotland defender Colin Hendry's head and finishing first time on the volley.

An iconic goal saw an iconic celebration to match with Gascoigne reenacting the 'dentist chair' after a Honk Kong jolly up was leaked to the press in England's preparations.

Gascoigne's form continued in the competition with a rallying display against Spain, but it was once again the Germans who ended England's Euro hopes. The 29-year-old went agonisingly close to sending England through, though, in extra time with a ball that missed Gascoigne's toe by millimetres in golden goal. England subsequently went on to lose on penalties, but Gascoigne became a national hero to this day as a result of his showings.

Marco Van Basten (1988)

Prolific striker Marco van Basten made himself a Dutch legend back in 1988 due to his incredible performances at the European Championships, which saw the Netherlands win their first and only major tournament.

Van Basten was a selection doubt going into the competition. Still, Dutch manager Rinus Michels stuck with the AC Milan star for the competition and was rewarded with five goals in the competition, including a hat-trick in the first round against England, a winner against Germany in the semis, and the second goal in a 2-0 win in the final. 

The Dutchman topped off his fine performances throughout the tournament with his best display in the final against the Soviet Union. Van Basten firstly set up his AC Milan teammate Ruud Gullit in the 32nd minute to open the scoring with a bullet header.

The forward then scored arguably the most iconic goal ever scored at a Euro Championship, as 10 minutes into the second half, a long-searching ball from Arnold Muhren found Van Basten at the back post at a near-impossible angle. Despite the odds being stacked against him, van Basten hammered the ball past the stunned keeper Rinat Dasayev to end the Soviet's hopes of rallying a comeback and cement himself as an international great.

Michel Platini (1984)


A Michel Platini, at the peak of his powers, took France to European glory back in 1984 with one of the most scintillating tournaments from any player in European Championship history. Platini, who was midway through a run of three successive Ballon d'Or wins, scored in every game in the competition, including two back-to-back hat-tricks against both Belgium and Yugoslavia in the group stages.

Platini's incredible form continued deep into the competition, too, with the Juventus attacker scoring an extra-time winner in the semi-final to knock out Portugal and set up a final with Spain. Inevitably, Platini scored the game's opening goal when Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada spilled his free-kick to give France an early lead.

Bruno Bellone's late chip secured the trophy for the French and put the team and the Frenchman into the history books as arguably the greatest European Championships team and player ever.

Platini's nine goals in the competition haven't been rivalled since 1984, with van Basten, Milan Baros and Alan Shearer coming the closest with five each, such was Michel Platini's brilliance that year.

Cristiano Ronaldo can break Platini's record of the most goals in the competition's history this campaign if he scores his 10th goal. And, to put a little perspective on just how Platini was that year, Ronaldo is a forward, perhaps the greatest there's ever been and will be attempting to break Platini's nine-goal haul in his fifth tournament; it took Platini just one.

By Harry Charlwood


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