World champions France looked to have met their match when they took on a canny Italy side in the final of UEFA EURO 2000 in Rotterdam.
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France won the 1998 FIFA World Cup on home soil but were still seeking vindication at the finals in Belgium and the Netherlands. Midfielder Emmanuel Petit explained: “Winning the World Cup is a huge achievement, but when you can complete the double you can put your name in the football hall of fame.” Les Bleus battled past Spain and Portugal to reach the decider, yet were denied the fans’ dream final when Dino Zoff’s pragmatic Italy beat the Dutch in the semis. Could Roger Lemerre’s France express themselves against such stern opponents?
Zinédine Zidane: Golden boy of the 1998 World Cup, the Juventus midfielder would be Player of the Tournament at EURO 2000, and had scored in both of Les Bleus’ knockout games in the Low Countries – including the semi-final Golden Goal against Portugal.
Francesco Toldo: Given his chance when Gianluigi Buffon injured his hand before the finals, the 1.96m-tall Fiorentina keeper was brilliant throughout, notably saving two penalties in the semi-final shoot-out against the Netherlands as well as one in normal time (when the Oranje also skied another spot kick).
David Trezeguet: The Monaco forward moved to Juventus in the summer of 2000, but only appeared after 76 minutes in Rotterdam as coach Lemerre threw caution to the wind. ‘Trezegol’ did not start the final, but he certainly finished it.
France almost took the lead when Thierry Henry’s hooked shot came back off a post and Youri Djorkaeff also headed just wide from a corner before Italy came to life, Demetrio Albertini curling a free-kick narrowly over the bar. Les Bleus were desperately close to a breakthrough six minutes before the interval, however, Toldo making a point-blank stop from Djorkaeff.
On 55 minutes, the deadlock was broken, Gianluca Pessotto crossing for Marco Delvecchio to volley home from point-blank range. Alessandro Del Piero might have put the game beyond France, who brought on Trezeguet as a third striker late on. Italy were promptly denied victory by Sylvain Wiltord’s added-time equaliser, and then lost the trophy in extra time as Robert Pirès set up Trezeguet to score the Golden Goal that stopped the clock.
Roger Lemerre, France coach: “It is the desire in this team that did it. The team wanted this trophy ever since they won the World Cup. We said that if there was a second left, we had to go all out for it. The miracle happened and we caused it.”
Thierry Henry, France forward: “Everybody thought we were dead, but with the French team it is never over. I was pretty annoyed the Italians were already thinking of victory. They were clapping hands and high-fiving. It was bothering me so I was really happy when the ball went in.”
Robert Pirès, France winger: “It was strange because [at 1-0 down] Roger Lemerre called me over and said I was coming on to replace Bixente Lizarazu at left-back. I thought it was an odd substitution and told myself I wouldn’t be able to contribute anything. But in the end the coach was right. It was one of the greatest and most magical moments of my career.”
France’s position as pre-eminent force in world football was sealed as they added the EURO title to their World Cup crown, national president Jacques Chirac announcing: “The French team has retained its genius.” However, they would be eliminated at the group stage of the 2002 World Cup before losing to Greece in the EURO 2004 quarter-finals.
Italy’s painful Rotterdam reverse inspired anger in some quarters, with questions asked about the failure to man-mark Zidane in the final. Coach Zoff, the 112-times capped former Italy keeper, resigned and said: “I know my reputation will not come out of this unscathed.” However, the Azzurri regained their mojo when they lifted the 2006 World Cup – beating France on penalties in the Berlin final.