Millions have dreamt of it, but the winning team when Italy play England on Sunday will join only 173 players to have actually savoured glory in a UEFA European Championship final*.
Many had little else in common. Pietro Anastasi was just out of his teens when he helped Italy triumph on home turf in 1968. Arnold Mühren was a creaking 37 when contributing to the Netherlands striking gold two decades later.
Czechoslovakia’s Antonín Panenka had endured a 120-minute marathon when he stepped up to bring such a memorable end to the 1976 competition. Oliver Bierhoff’s 26-minute sprint at EURO ’96 yielded two goals as Germany turned the game on its head. What unites them, though, is the unique taste of EURO glory.
Here, a few winners recall the moment they got theirs.
THE FIRST: Viktor Ponedelnik (USSR, 1960)
Scorer of extra-time winner in inaugural showpiece
I always enjoy remembering that final – by beating Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union became the first-ever European champions. No one can forget such moments of glory, be it the public, the fans or the players. As for myself, my 113th-minute winner was the most important of my whole career. I scored plenty of goals for my clubs and for the national team, but there are matches and goals that are really special, a high point of a player’s sporting life. That was mine: the best moment of my life.
THE HOME BOY: Luis Suárez (Spain, 1964)
Spain’s midfield talisman as hosts beat USSR
My foremost memory is the atmosphere because the Santiago Bernabéu was full. The fans identified with us, perhaps because we were a very young team willing to achieve something. It brought a real sense of calm to the team and eased any pressure. Even if a mistake was made – and with our young side the risk was high – the fans accepted it. We performed well. The USSR had a very good team but I think we deserved to win. Other Spain sides I played in were much better than 1964, yet we never achieved anything.
THE COOL CUSTOMER: Antonín Panenka (Czechoslovakia, 1976)
Struck clincher in 5-3 shoot-out victory over West Germany
I used to stay after training with our goalkeeper and practise penalties – we would play for a bar of chocolate or glass of beer. Because he was very good, it got expensive. So, before going to sleep, I tried to think up ways of beating him. I got the idea that if I delayed my kick and then chipped it, a keeper who had dived could not jump back up in time. I tried it in training and it soon gained momentum – I was winning the bets. I began using it in friendlies, then the league, and the culmination was when I did it at the European Championship.
THE DARK HORSE: Horst Hrubesch (West Germany, 1980)
Late addition to squad who notched both his side’s final goals
My place was in danger going into the final. I had played three matches without scoring and if Jupp Derwall hadn’t selected me, I couldn’t have argued – looking back, he made the right choice. I scored the opener but in the second half we saw Belgium’s quality and they deservedly equalised on 75 minutes. We wouldn’t have made it in extra time; it would have been too much. It was very hot that day and I remember being so tired after the game that it was hard to lift the trophy. My second goal, from a Karl-Heinz Rummenigge corner, was crucial.
THE MAGICIAN: Marco van Basten (Netherlands, 1988)
’88 final was 54 minutes old when he hit THAT volley
The ball came from Arnold Mühren and I was thinking, “OK, I can stop it and do something with all these defenders or I can do it the easy way, take a risk and shoot.” You need so much luck with these things and, at that moment, it was given to me. It was a fantastic feeling. That was the moment where we could say, “It’s 2-0, we can win this game.” But with the excitement surrounding the goal, I didn’t realise what I had done. You can see that in my reaction. I’m asking, “What’s happening?”
THE SUPER-SUB: David Trezeguet (France, 2000)
One of two France substitutes to register against Italy
Scoring the equaliser in the 94th minute [through Sylvain Wiltord] gave us even more belief and desire – and we took our chance. It started with a great bit of play from Robert Pirès, who put in a cross that was fairly difficult but I hit the ball as it dropped. All my strength went into that shot – it had been a difficult championship for me because I had hoped to play a greater part. At first I was happy for my team-mates, then I was happy for my family, and finally I was happy for me. We had achieved our dream of being world and European champions.
THE OUTSIDER: Theodoros Zagorakis (Greece, 2004)
Captain as 100-1 pre-tournament outsiders triumphed
Once we had scored, it was difficult for Portugal to beat 11 men defending so passionately. We all fought tooth and nail for the team and instead of getting tired, we started covering more ground – we wanted that cup even more. We were put under pressure, especially late on, but never panicked. When the referee ended the match, it was as if the lights went out … another blank spot in my memory. I had the constant grin of an idiot on my face for I don’t know how many minutes. They were unbelievable moments.
THE FALLEN HERO: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, 2016)
Talisman who succumbed to injury 25 minutes into final
I tried to come back. My knee was swelling up and I couldn’t. There was too much pain. It was not the final I wanted, but I ended up very happy. It is a trophy for all the Portuguese, for all the emigrants, all the people who believed in us. I am very proud. I had won everything at club level; I lacked something with the national team. Now I have it.
*The figure of 173 players does not include five Italians who played the initial 1968 final, prior to the Azzurri’s replay victory.