It’s the Euros! And in an attempt to build excitement for the forthcoming action, the BBC has compiled a series of video highlights of memorable moments from previous tournaments. One featured match that I didn’t immediately recall was Spain’s 4-3 victory over Yugoslavia in Euro 2000, secured in dramatic circumstances with a late winner.
I have fond memories of Euro 2000, despite the fact that England were awful and failed to get out of the group. They’d needed a play-off to get past Scotland and qualify for the tournament, and scraped through despite a dreadful performance in the home leg at Wembley. Just like the fuss surrounding current England captain Wayne Rooney, there was pressure on England manager Kevin Keegan to drop Alan Shearer for being too slow, with many suggesting Andy Cole as a replacement.
Twice they lost leading positions, and Keegan’s insistence that England shouldn’t be written off following a narrow victory over Germany had more than a ring of his “love it” breakdown of a few years earlier. He eventually quit after a defeat to the same opponents in a World Cup qualifier, declaring that he lacked the tactical nous for the job. Still, I enjoyed the tournament, probably because as a first year undergraduate doing an arts degree, I could watch all the matches and drink a load of beer while doing so.
I became very familiar with Spain’s 2000 squad because they were my team of choice during that particular era of PES rivalry (ISS Pro Evolution 2) with my friend PG. You can develop strange relationships with teams under such circumstances: while famous names are guaranteed to start, the other members of the squad are endlessly rotated in an attempt to find the winning combination, and end up playing thousands more matches than they ever received real-life caps. During the course of an evening, a player could have gone from hero to villain and back again several times over. Having achieved legendary status in your head as a result of their exploits, though, they’d often be cruelly excised from the next game in the series, sending you scuttling to Wikipedia to find out what had happened to your fallen heroes.
And so it was with some surprise that I witnessed two such players having an impact in a real-life tournament, with strikers Alfonso and Pedro Munitis both scoring in the victory over Yugoslavia. Having only ever seen them in action in ISS, I was struck by how well their real-life appearance and physical attributes had been replicated in blocky and blurry PSOne form: I recalled Alfonso as a somewhat ungainly forward with floppy long hair and big white boots, while Munitis was a small, quick and irritating (I mainly used him as a salt-in-the-wounds-type substitute, for annoying PG with a late goal when victory already seemed assured). Both were immediately recognisable in the clip.
PG later revealed that he never feared either player, claiming to have more concerns about Raul and the “giant head” of Ismael Urzaiz. Despite Raul’s status as one of my squad’s star players, my assessment of his real-life counterpart as a talented but somewhat hapless player, representative of Spain’s general reputation at the time (possibly sealed by him missing a crucial late penalty in the Euro 2000 quarter final) meant that I never really held him in high regard, and I used to shove him out on the left wing. As for Urzaiz, his ISS representation wasn’t especially accurate but, revisiting the game now, the “giant head” accusations do appear to have had some foundation.