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Five greatest European Championship heroes

Robbie Purves | May 23, 2016

As Europe’s finest footballing nations flock to France for Euro 2016 this summer, they take with them potential heroes. Players and teams that could become legends of the tournament and etch their name into the very fabric of the competition.

Throughout the decades there have been some wonderful moments, from Greece lifting the trophy to the Republic Ireland’s heroics against England in 1988.

Here, Coral takes a look at some of the European Championship’s most remembered heroes…

Magnificent Michel

No player has dominated a finals tournament the way Michel Platini did in France 1984.

With the tournament held on home-soil, Platini produced pure magic in his smooth, effortless style. He hit hat-tricks against against Belgium and Yugoslavia on his way to a record nine goals in five games, which remains a record in a single tournament.

Platini performed sensationally throughout but a highlight was in the semi-final against Portugal. France were 2-1 down with just six minutes of extra-time left, Les Bleus fought back to win 3-2 with the little magic man scoring a last minute strike. Michel Hidalgo’s France went on to claim the tournament and sealed Platini’s place in history.

Coral have the 2016 host nation at 11/4 favourites to lift the trophy in France.

Ireland’s emeralds shine in 88

England came into the clash as big favourites against a Republic of Ireland side making their first appearance in a major tournament. The absence of injured Terry Butcher, however, put pressure on England’s young defenders, who were exposed almost immediately.

Managed by Jack Charlton, Ireland were not known for their skilful, flair filled football, yet produced a heroic performance.

Kevin Moran took a long, searching free-kick, the ball fell to Tony Galvin who then hooked it into the box. Ray Houghton was waiting and when his Liverpool teammate John Aldridge headed the ball down, produced a lovely looping header passed Peter Shilton.

However, it wasn’t just Houghton with the heroics, Packie Bonner produced save after save to deny England, saving Gary Lineker’s shots three times. Bonner, was the man who proved the main point of frustration for the talented England forward line by saving from John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and Lineker.

Ireland saw out the game 1-0 and became instant national heroes.

Schmeichel saves seals Danish delight

Denmark didn’t qualify for the 1992 Euro finals, but war-torn Yugoslavia were prevented from appearing. This meant group runners-up Denmark took their place and they certainly took their chance.

Defying all the odds, the Denmark won the tournament with a massive performance from the dominant Peter Schmeichel.

The great Dane is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers ever with his intimidating physique, specially made XXXL sized shirts and the ability to save in certain goalscoring situations. The Manchester United legend wrote himself into history with his phenomenal Euro 1992 displays.

Among his countless vital saves, a few stick out. He saved a penalty kick from Marco van Basten in the semi-final, and held a cross with one hand in the final. He made a string of important saves during the tournament, and was voted ‘The World’s Best Goalkeeper’ in 1992 – an award he won twice.

Speaking on his remarkable triumph, Schmeichel said: “I think, beyond anything, it really sank in when we were in Copenhagen in the town hall for the celebrations with the rest of Denmark. That was unbelievable, truly unbelievable. At this point you’re thinking: Christ, we actually did this, it’s not a dream.”

The ultimate underdogs

The Greek Euro 2004 winning team is perhaps the most remarkable story in international football history.

There have been one off shocks in football before, but to consistently perform the way Greece did in Portugal is truly amazing.

Never has a team so unfancied gone onto win a major international tournament with odds of up to 250/1. Greece arrived at the competition having never won a tournament game in their history, a month later they left champions.

Call their play defensive and cynical, but Greece knew their strengths and executed their plan exquisitely. Ask someone to name the starting 11 and they’ll struggle to name a few, but when the side came together, Otto Rehhagel’s men were unstoppable.

Their no-nonsense defence was marshalled by tough central defender Traianos Dellas, the combative midfield was led by eventual player of the tournament Theodoris Zagorakis, and an opportunist striker in the shape of Angelos Charisteas led the line in a game that broke Portuguese hearts.

A single Charisteas header from a corner near the hour-mark gave Greece the title.

Tiki Taka triumphs

Euro 2008 was Spain’s first taste of silverware since winning the competition in 1964 and made heroes out of David Villa and Fernando Torres.

La Roja won every single one of their games – conceding just two goals. Luis Aragones’ men eased their way into the final slotting three past Russia.

Blonde-locked Spaniard Torres, scored the only goal against finalists Germany – sealing his nation the trophy and his place in history.

David Villa finished the tournament as the competition’s leading goalscorer with four and was crucial in ending the nation’s long wait for another international trophy. Spain went on to dominate domestic and international football for years, as the nation won the 2010 World Cup and became the first team to retain the Euro title in 2012.

Villa retired from international football in 2014 as the nation’s top scorer, 15 ahead of legendary Raul Gonzalez. Spain now face a group D of Czech Republic, Turkey and Croatia and are 9/2 to win Euro 2016.

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