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The five most controversial European Championship games in history

Cameron Smith
England, Euros, Wembley
© IMAGO

The European Championship has a rich history of memorable games, goals and winners, but not all of these memories are possible.

During the tournament’s illustrious history there have been numerous incidents that cross the line.

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Below, FootballTransfers runs through the five most controversial games in European Championship history.

READ MORE: The 10 best European Championship transfers of all time

Spain vs USSR (Euro 1960)

Spain were one of the favourites to win Euro 1986, but their fascist right-wing dictator Franciso Franco had other ideas. When his nation drew communist USSR in the quarter-finals, he forfeited the match due to fears that a defeat would cause people to believe his political ideology was inferior.

As a result, this match never actually took place, with USSR granted passage into the semi-final stage without even needing to beat Spain on the pitch.

READ MORE: The five worst European Championship transfers of all time

Netherlands 2-1 West Germany (Euro 1988)

After a huge 2-1 semi-final win over West Germany at Euro 1988, Netherlands star Ronald Koeman swapped shirts with an opponent – all relatively harmless so far.

However, he proceeded to wipe his backside with the Germany shirt on live TV, which added further fire to an already-heated rivalry and made Koeman public enemy number one in Germany.

Two years later, at the 1990 World Cup, Frank Rijkaard spat at Rudi Voller as the rivalry continued.

France 2-1 Portugal (Euro 2000)

With this Euro 2000 semi-final heading towards penalties, Portugal’s Abel Xavier was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the penalty area, which enabled Zinedine Zidane to score the winner for France.

However, the decision to award a penalty caused uproar amongst the Portuguese contingent, with the officials manhandled by several Portugal players.

According to UEFA, several Portuguese players ran to the linesman (who signalled Xavier had handled the ball) and pushed and insulted him, while an unidentified player reportedly spat at him.

Xavier was handed a nine-month European football ban for grabbing referee Gunter Benko’s arm, Nuno Gomes received an eight-month ban for a violent push on Benko and Paulo Bento was sidelined for six months after attempting to take the red card away from Benko.

Sweden 2-2 Denmark (Euro 2004)

Heading into the final set of group stage matches at Euro 2004, Italy needed to beat Bulgaria and hope for any result other than a higher than 1-1 in the game between Sweden and Denmark.

Giovanni Trapattoni‘s side won their final group fixture 2-1, but Sweden and Denmark played out a 2-2 draw, meaning they both qualified for the knockout stages at the expense of Italy.

Many, including Italy, questioned the validity of the result, with the idea of match-fixing raised as a possibility. While nothing came of a subsequent investigation, it remains one of the most controversial European Championship games ever.

England 1-1 Italy (Euro 2020)

The action on the pitch during the Euro 2020 final wasn’t particularly controversial, but the pre-match scenes at Wembley certainly were.

Thousands of ticketless England fans attempted to breach Wembley’s security and watch the match, with a review condemning the chaos as a “national shame.”

Police units were overwhelmed by the vast number of fans attempting to gain access into the stadium and the act of hooliganism was a dark day in English football history.

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