The Qualification process for Euro 2008 began at the dawn of a new era for the England side, as after five and a half years in charge of the national side, Swede Sven Goran Eriksson stepped down after losing in the Quarter Finals of the 2006 World Cup to Portugal on penalties. Taking over would be former assistant to Sven, Steve McClaren. The qualification group had expanded in size to encompass seven sides (in the case of Group A eight sides). The English were drawn alongside Andorra, Croatia, Estonia, Macedonia, Israel and Russia. On June 1st 2007, after nearly seven years playing fixtures at various grounds across the country, England returned to a rebuilt Wembley Stadium to play a friendly with Brazil, which ended in a 1-1 draw with John Terry scoring England’s first goal at new Wembley.
One thing it wasn’t for England however was the dawning of a golden era on the pitch. David Beckham retired the England captaincy after the 2006 World Cup, which new boss Steve McClaren saw as a cue to drop Becks from the England line up. After winning their first two games against against Andorra, by a 5-0 score line, and a 1-0 win away in Macedonia, England dropped two points at home to Macedonia with a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. Four days later, In the Maksimir Stadium in October 2006, England slumped to a 0-2 defeat to Croatia. The Croats took the lead through a header from Dinamo Zagreb’s Brazilian born star Eduardo Da Silva just past the hour. Seven minutes later, a back pass from Gary Neville ended up in the England net due to an air kick calamity from Spurs keeper Paul Robinson.
A month later, Croatia extended their points lead over England with a 4-3 away win over Israel which included a hat-trick from Eduardo Da Silva extended his reputation further, leading to a move to Arsenal the following summer to replace Highbury legend Thierry Henry who departed for Barcelona.
England meanwhile won their first competitive game at new Wembley with a 3-0 win over Israel. Despite this, their chances of qualification were severely hit with a 1-2 defeat to Russia in Moscow played on an artificial surface.
Going into their final fixture at home to Croatia, England required just a point to qualify for Euro 2008. However, a thirty yard shot from Nico Kranjčar of Portsmouth was fumbled by Scott Carson in the England goal to put Croatia ahead. Their lead doubled six minutes later when Eduardo Da Silva played in Ivica Olić through on goal.
Ten minutes into the second half, Frank Lampard pulled one back for England from the penalty spot. England drew level nine minutes later when a superb cross from David Beckham was excellently put away by Peter Crouch. Twelve minutes later however, Croatia restored the lead with a goal from Mladen Petric, which inflicted a 2-3 defeat on England.
A 1-0 win for Russia away in Andorra meant they instead qualified along with Croatia, condemning England to failure to qualify for Euro 2008 – their first failure to qualify for a European Championships since 1984 and their first failure to qualify for a major tournament since the USA ’94 World Cup. Blame for failure amidst the torrential downpour at Wembley fell square on the shoulders of Steve McClaren, who was dismissed as England manager twenty four hours later.
Also, like USA ’94 no other home nation side qualified for Euro 2008, Scotland however came close in a group which contained World Cup Finalists Italy and France. The Scots managed a 1-0 win over the French at Hampden Park in October 2006 with a goal from Celtic’s Gary Caldwell. The Scots did the double over the France eleven months on with a 1-0 win in the Parc De Princes secured by a superb goal from Everton’s James McFadden.
Scotland’s qualification hopes however died with a last minute goal from Christian Panucci for Italy inflicted 1-2 defeat on the Scots at Hampden Park in November 2007, meaning that Italy and France proceeded to the Euro 2008 finals.
Wales and Eire meanwhile would be drawn in Group D alongside the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Cyprus, Germany and San Marino. The latter two sides met in the San Marino capital city of Serraville, where the Germans inflicted a 13-0 hammering on San Marino, with seven different goal scorers and four goals for future Arsenal star Lukas Podolski.
Germany would progress from the group, along with the Czech Republic with Wales and Eire some way off the pace – the latter suffering a 2-5 away defeat to Cyprus in October 2006.
The Irish did manage a 1-0 win over Wales in March 2007 with a goal from Stephen Ireland in what was the first Association Football game played at Dublin’s Croke Park since the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1920, where the Royal Irish Constabulary opened fire during a Dublin v Tipperary Gaelic Football game and caused the massacre of thirteen spectators and a Tipperary player. After this incident the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) enacted Rule 27 into their constitution, which stated that a member of the Association could be banned from playing its games if found to be also playing English sports like Association Football, Rugby or Cricket.
In the return fixture with the Welsh, the two sides played out a 2-2 draw at the Millenium Stadium in November 2007.
Meanwhile north of the border, Northern Ireland would be drawn alongside Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Sweden and Spain. The latter visited Belfast’s Windsor Park in September 2006, where Northern Ireland achieved a 3-2 win over the Spaniards aided by a hat-trick from David Healy.
The Ulstermen finished third within the group, with Spain and Sweden progressing to the finals. In June 2007, the latter played Denmark in Copenhagen. Sweden raced into a three goal first half lead, though the Danes came back to draw level with fifteen minutes to go. In the last minute of the game, an altercation took place between Denmark's Christian Poulsen and Sweden's Markus Rosenberg in the Danish penalty area. After conferring with his linesman, the German referee sent off Christian Poulsen and awarded Sweden a penalty and an opportunity to seal the game.
The penalty however was never taken as a Danish spectator rushed onto the pitch and assaulted the referee, which led to the game’s abandonment. The Swedes handed a 3-0 win by default. Denmark were also punished by UEFA and unable to play their next two fixtures within eighty seven miles of Copenhagen (eventually played at the Ceres Park & Arena in Aarhus).
Another two fixtures abandoned, though never actually started, were the two fixtures to be played by Armenia and Azerbaijan in Group A. The two neighbouring former Soviet republics were involved in a long-running dispute over territory and fears were raised with regard to security. Armenia wanted to play the two games on a home and away basis, where Azerbaijan wanted both games played on neutral territory. As neither side came to an agreement, both fixtures were forfeited meaning that both sides effectively lost six points as a result, which was of no help to either side as both finished in the bottom two positions within the group.
For the second time, hosting duties for the Euros would be shared between two nations – this time between the two Alpine nations of Austria and Switzerland. The Swiss kicked off the tournament with a 0-1 defeat to the Czech Republic in Group A in Basel. Later that day, the other two sides in Group A – Portugal and Turkey – played in Geneva, with the Portuguese attaining a 2-0 win.
Four days on, goals for Deco, Ronaldo and Quaresma gave Portugal a 3-1 win over the Czech Republic to secure their passage to the knock out phase. That same day however, joint hosts Switzerland were eliminated after a 1-2 loss to Turkey.
The Swiss however finished the tournament on a high with a 2-0 win over Portugal, who were denied the top spot after Turkey grabbed two late goals in a 3-2 win over the Czech Republic in Geneva.
Joint hosts Austria also tasted defeat in their opening fixture with a 0-1 loss to a Croatia side minus their top scorer Eduardo after his horrific leg and ankle brake while playing for Arsenal away at Birmingham just three months prior. Luka Modric of Spurs grabbed the winner from the penalty spot after four minutes.
That same day, two goals from Lukas Podolski grabbed Germany’s first win in a European Championship Finals since winning Euro ’96 twelve years earlier with a 2-0 win.
Four days later Podolski would be on target again, though this time the Germans would crash to a 1-2 defeat to Croatia. Later that day, a last minute goal kept Austria in the tournament with a 1-1 draw with Poland.
The co-hosts however would exit the tournament after a Michael Ballack goal would give the Germans a 1-0 win. Croatia would secure the top spot over the Germans however with a 1-0 win over Poland that same day.
Euro 2008’s equivalent of the Group of Death would be Group C in which 2006 World Cup Finalists would be drawn together with Holland and Romania. France opened their campaign with a 0-0 draw to Romania in Zurich, while Holland thrashed Italy 3-0 with goals from Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Wesley Sneijder and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst.
Four days on, a Christian Panucci equaliser cancelled out an Adrian Mutu opener for Romania to give Italy a 1-1 draw, meanwhile that same day Holland hammered France 4-1 with goals from Dirk Kuyt, Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, with Thierry Henry pulling one back for the French.
Holland won the group with a 100% record after a 2-0 win over Romania in their final fixture. The French in contrast exited Euro 2008 without a win after a 0-2 loss to Italy, who secured the runners up spot to qualify for the Quarter Finals.
In Group D, Spain kicked off their campaign against Russia in Innsbruck. A David Villa hat-trick gave the Spanish a three goal lead. With four minutes left to go, Roman Pavlyuchenko pulled one back for the Russians before Cesc Fabregas sealed a 4-1 win with a goal in added time. Later that same day, in the groups other game, two second half goals for Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Petter Hansson gave the Swedes a 2-0 victory over reigning European Champions Greece.
Four days on, Spain met the Spaniards at Innsbruck. Fernando Torres gave Spain the lead on the Quarter hour. Eleven minutes before half time, Zlatan Ibrahimovich pulled one back for the Swedes before an injury time winner from David Villa gave Spain a 2-1 victory to secure their passage to the next round. Later that same day in Salzberg, Greece’s defence of the European Championships ended when a goal from Konstantin Zyryanov gave Russia a 1-0 victory.
Spain finished the group phase with a 100% record with a 2-1 victory over the Greeks in Salzberg. Goals for Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrei Arshavin sent Russia through to the Quarter Finals at the expense of the Swedes with a 2-0 victory over Sweden.
One day on from the final group fixtures came the first Quarter Final fixture at Basel between Portugal and Germany. Goals for Bastian Scweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose gave the Germans a two goal lead. Five minutes before half time, Nuno Gomes pulled one back for the Portuguese. On the hour mark, Michael Ballack restored Germany’s two goal lead. With three minutes to go, Helder Postiga pulled one back for Portugal, however Germany ran out 3-2 winners to progress to the last four.
One day later in Vienna, Croatia met Turkey. The fixture remained goalless until the last minute of extra time with Ivan Klasnic put Croatia ahead. After two minutes of injury time, a goal for Semih Senturk equalised for Croatia to send the game to penalties. Penalty misses for Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mladen Petric meant a 3-1 victory on penalties for the Turks to send them through to a Semi Final with the Germans
Another twenty four hours on and back in Basel, Russia met Holland. Eleven minutes into the second half, Roman Pavlyuchenko gave the Russians the lead. A Ruud Van Nistlerooy equaliser four minutes from time took the game into extra time, however two goals in the second period of extra time from Dmitri Torbinski and Andrei Arshavin meant a 3-1 win for the Russians to send them through to the Semi Finals.
The last Quarter Final tie in Vienna took place between Spain and reigning World Champions Italy. The tie remained goalless after extra time. Penalty misses for Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale meant a 4-2 win for the Spanish which meant they would progress to meet the Russians in the Semi Final.
After a three day break in fixtures came the first Semi Final in Basel between Turkey and the Germans. Turkey took the lead with a goal from Urgal Boral. Four minutes later came an equaliser from Bastian Schweinsteiger for the Germans. With eleven minutes to go, Miroslav Klose put the Germans ahead, however the Turks pulled one back with a goal from Semih Senturk four minutes from time. The Germans however prevented the need for extra time with a last minute goal from Philipp Lahm. The second Semi Final took place a day later in Vienna between Spain and Russia. Second half goals for Xavi, Dani and David Silva meant a comprehensive 3-0 victory for the Spanish, who progressed to their first final since Euro 1984.
The final took place three days later in Vienna. A goal from Fernando Torres gave the Spanish a 1-0 victory to bag the Spaniards first international tournament for forty four years.
Spain would not have to wait quite so long for their next international triumph, as two years later Spain bagged their first World Cup with a victory over Holland. As will be seen tomorrow, after years of underachievement the Spanish would be in line for a unique international treble.
*Follow us on Twitter@upstart_footbal
*Published 20th July 2017