While most nations would be content with one otherworldly football talent every 20 years, France had the good fortune to produce both Michel Platini and Zinédine Zidane in fairly quick succession. They made sure not to spurn their gift either, and 'Zizou' was at his fluent best as Les Bleus added the 2000 European title to their world crown.
The competition had co-hosts for the first time as Belgium and the Netherlands shared duties, but only one side could go on to claim the trophy. And while they flirted with disaster against Italy in the final, few would dispute that France were worthy winners of a high-quality tournament. If anything, Roger Lemerre's side were even better than Aimé Jacquet's 1998 FIFA World Cup champions, with raw youngsters such as Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet having had two years to hone their craft.
Both played their part, but the languid figure of Zidane was at the centre of everything. Having rushed back too quickly from a car accident for the 1996 edition, the Juventus midfielder was consistently brilliant in the Low Countries, swerving in a free-kick against Spain in the quarter-finals and calmly burying a golden-goal penalty 117 minutes into the last-four showdown with Portugal. "I'm quite certain he has printed somewhere on his head 'made in heaven'," commented UEFA Technical Director Andy Roxburgh. "He has definitely come from God."
Even the best of players looked mortal in comparison; including Real Madrid CF icon Raúl González, whose last-minute penalty miss against France effectively ended Spanish hopes. That came after the Iberian side had struck two late goals to turn a 3-2 deficit into the 4-3 win over Yugoslavia they needed to graduate from Group C. Elsewhere, Portugal generated a dramatic comeback of their own by recovering from 2-0 down to defeat England 3-2, on their way to topping a section that both England and Germany failed to survive.
If Belgium also exited at the first hurdle, their co-hosts sent expectations skyrocketing with a crushing 6-1 victory over Yugoslavia in the quarter-finals, only to then fluff their lines against Italy. Facing ten men from the 34th minute onwards, Frank Rijkaard's charges somehow missed two penalties in regulation time and another three in the shoot-out after the match had finished goalless.
That gave Italy their first tilt at the final since 1968 and they took a second-half lead courtesy of Marco Delvecchio. Time ebbed agonisingly away for France, but just as it seemed they were beaten Sylvain Wiltord squeezed a last-gasp effort inside Francesco Toldo's near post. The shell-shocked expressions on Dino Zoff's bench told their own story and 13 minutes into extra time it was all over, Trezeguet's emphatic volley having settled another tournament by golden goal.
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