Tuesday 23 January 2018

Repeat of '88 would do very nicely indeed

Weird Wide World of Sport

Dave Devereux

Ray Houghton, the man who put the ball in the England net, in action on that fateful day 28 years ago
Ray Houghton, the man who put the ball in the England net, in action on that fateful day 28 years ago

With Euro 2016 about to kick off, it's as good a time as any to romantically reminisce about my favourite European Championship moments, snapshots of history that instantly curl the corners of the lips into a Cheshire cat smile.

The blindingly obvious number one highlight is Ray Houghton's winner against the auld enemy England in Stuttgart in 1988, a beautiful freeze-frame moment which announced the arrival of Big Jack's army on the world stage.

I was just hitting my angst-ridden teenage years at the time but even a spotty little git like me got caught up in the euphoria and I remember well how the tournament lifted the whole nation.

Anyone who's old enough to recollect will savour those halcyon days that brought us on a fairground adventure and in our child-like innocence we didn't know when it would end.

The victory against a highly-fancied English side was followed by another memorable moment, Ronnie Whelan's stunning volley against Russia, and then, of course, the heartache of being knocked out by Holland to a late freak goal by Wim Kieft.

That leads us on to another moment to savour - Marco van Basten's incredible strike in the final against Russia.

His stunning volley from what looked an impossible angle was truly something to behold.

In fact, the exceptional van Basten was something special throughout the tournament. A perfect hat-trick against England, the winner against Germany with time running out, and then, against Russia, the greatest goal ever scored in any major tournament final.

Unfancied Denmark winning the tournament in 1992 is another highlight in the annals of European Championships - it's always great to see the underdog come out on top.

What was all the more remarkable was that the Danes only qualified for the tournament at the eleventh hour after Yugoslavia were disqualified as a result of the bitter break-up of the country.

Even more astonishing was the outstanding goal scored by John Jensen in the final against Germany - the midfielder wasn't exactly renowned for his impressive strike rate.

Davor Suker's goal against Denmark in Euro '96 was also something special, impudently chipping Peter Schmeichel as he scrambled back in vain towards goal.

What's seldom is wonderful so Mario Balotelli's performance for Italy in their Euro 2012 semi-final win over Germany was certainly something to cherish.

The often frustrating striker was certainly in the zone that day, for once fulfilling his potential on the international stage, or any stage for that matter.

Balotelli grabbed both goals for the Azzurri in a 2-1 win over the much-heralded Germans and ripped off his shirt to pose in celebration after scoring the crucial second.

Spain's back-to-back triumphs in 2008 and 2012 was a monumental feat, particularly when you consider that sandwiched between the two was the not so small matter of a World Cup win in 2010.

For over half a decade the sizzling Spaniards were pretty much as close to invincible as you're going to get at international level, with the superb Xavi and Iniesta pulling the strings.

The Greeks winning in 2004 is also worthy of a mention - not because their football lit up the tournament, but just because it gave the rest of us hope; if they can do it why can't we?

With the Champions League apparently taking precedence, the standard of international football has definitely dropped, so with the right organisation and plenty of graft, there's no reason why the likes of Ireland can't make an impact.

Unfortunately, the great Irish memories are restricted to the wonderful days of 1988.

And unsurprisingly, I'm consigning the last tournament to the dustbin of history from an Ireland perspective, mainly due to the feeble effort of Giovanni Trapattoni's troops.

Hopefully the Boys in Green will be able to provide us with a better spectacle this time around and maybe even do a Denmark or a Greece on it.

Even reaching the knockout stages would be something for a country craving success to get excited about.

All together now - olé, olé, olé, olé, olé, olé.

Wexford People

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