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Euro 2000 has feel of something special.By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, June 29, 2000) -- England and Germany have gone home to lick their wounds and try to figure out how to rebuild their national teams in time for World Cup 2002 qualifying. Two teams who well should have made the knockout round, the Czech Republic and Norway, fell short mainly through their own fault.
One of the co-host countries, Belgium, played poorly and became the first host team in many years which did not advance. The long shots such as Slovenia and Sweden came and competed at a high level.
There was some really excellent football played in the European Championship’s three rounds of group matches. There were a number of interesting matches, and one – Spain’s 4-3 victory over Yugoslavia -- that will be remembered and replayed for years to come. But in the end, probably the eight best teams made it through group play, and you can make a case for almost all of them to end up in the final on July 2.
The dual favorites remain the co-host Netherlands and defending World Cup champion France. The two met in the final match of Group D. The French kept four starters on the bench, but still fielded a team deep in talent at every position. The Dutch, playing in Amsterdam had the crowd's support and emerged with the 3-2 win. No one will be surprised if the two meet again in the final in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Likewise, no one would be surprised if either Spain or Italy made it into the finals. Both have played exceedingly well in spots so far and shown they can score stylish goals. For both, defense continues to be an issue. The question is whether they can sustain their performances not only over 90 minutes, but over three matches. If they can, they will end up being right in it until the end.
The mystery team of this tournament continues to be Yugoslavia, back in the tournament for the first time in eight years after the political upheaval in their country and region. As it showed against Spain, Yugoslavia is capable of playing absolutely brilliant soccer. But it also showed they can be petulant and sloppy, as in the draw with Slovenia. If Yugoslavia can muster another performance at the level of its match against Spain, it could become a spoiler.
Certainly Turkey and Romania are still long shots, but both are capable of sending Portugal and Italy, their quarterfinal opponents, home in defeat. Romania, especially, is capable of upsetting Italy on Saturday, if the Italians suffer the kinds of lapses they have shown from time to time in the competition.
The best quarterfinal shapes up to be Spain and France on Sunday. The French may have had their confidence shaken somewhat in losing to the Dutch, but with their best 11 on the field, they have shown they are certainly still among the world's elite.
The Spanish have shown in their amazing comeback against Yugoslavia they are capable of playing the most magnificent attacking soccer imaginable. If both teams are on their games Sunday, it could be a memorable match.
A few words have to be said about Spain's amazing 4-3 comeback over Yugoslavia. Had it lost or even drawn, Spain would have been on its way home. Spain had to win and ended up facing an inspired opponent in the Yugoslavs, who themselves believed they had to win to advance.
Both teams scored first half goals, and both had several near misses. Then in the second half Yugoslavia scored a stunning goal in the 52nd minute from second half sub, Dejan Govedarica. Amazingly, Spain remained behind for only about 40 seconds when second half substitute Pedro Munitis curled a wonderful 20-yard shot into the top corner to make it 2-2.
The match was a fouled-filled affair and in the 64th minute Slavisa Jokanovic was shown his second yellow and Yugoslavia was down to 10 men. But Yugoslavia would not back down and the match flowed from end to end.
Then with about 17 minutes left, the Spanish defenders failed to clear a Sinisa Mihalovic free-kick, and Slobodan Komljenovic poked the ball home for what appeared to be a 3-2 victory.
But the Spanish would not give up. Now playing with five forwards and the man advantage, they attacked relentlessly. About two minutes into extra time, Spanish attacker Alfonso was pulled down in the Yugoslav penalty area and French referee Gilles Veissière did not hesitate awarding the penalty kick that was converted by Gaizka Mendieta.
That only drew the Spanish level at 3-3. The draw did them no good. So with less than a minute of extra time left, they attacked again and Alfonso Pérez found the mark to make it 4-3 and send Spain through in an epic match that will long be remembered.
If the remainder of Euro 2000 can approach the level of the Spain-Yugoslavia match, it will be a tournament long
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be
e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com..