European Championship History - 2008 Austria & Switzerland
The 2008 European Football Championship, was the 13th Tournament of its kind and was jointed-hosted by Austria and Switzerland. Qualifying had started back in August 2006, just a month after the 2006 World Cup final. England were the only seeded team who failed to qualify for the tournament, whereas Russia, who had been partly responsible for England's failure, were the only unseeded team to make the finals.
Co-hosts Switzerland were not expected to make it through the group stages and lived up to their relatively low expectations by being the first team to be eliminated from the tournament. They did however manage an impressive victory over Group A winners Portugal in their third and final game. Turkey fought back from a 2-0 deficit against Czech Republic to win 3-2 and snatch 2nd place from under the noses of the Czechs. Goalkeeper Petr Cech uncharacteristically fumbled a routine catch from a cross to allow Nihat Kahveci to score the winner.
Fellow co-hosts Austria were also tipped to fall at the first hurdle. Austria as well as Poland were both appearing in a European Championship for the first time. Austria faced Germany is a game that was dubbed 'Austria's final'. It was the decisive fixture in the group but the Germans came out victorious with a 1-0 victory. Germany qualified along with group winners Croatia. Debutants Poland finished with 1 point as did Austria. It was the first time that no host nation made it through to the knock out stages.
The group had been dubbed 'The group of death' as the four teams competing were 1st, 2nd, 4th and 8th in the FIFA world rankings. 2006 World Cup finalists Italy and France were drawn together alongside the Netherlands and Romania. The Netherlands recorded three comfortable wins over the other teams in the group and finished top of Group C. The decisive game between the two finalists in 2006, was won by Italy. The Italians secured 2nd place in the group to finish above Romania and France.
2004 winners Greece were once again placed in a group with Spain and Russia, just as they had been four years before, as well as Sweden. Spain began the group stages by demolishing Russia. The Spaniards would go on to record victories in their next two games and finish at the top of the group. Reigning champions Greece suffered defeat in all three games and finished rock bottom of the group. The final match of the group would be between Sweden and Russia, the winner would advance to the knock-out stages. Sweden only needed a point to go through but the Russians scored in each half to advance to the next stage of the tournament.
The first quarter-final fixture saw the winners of Group A, Portugal take on Group B winners Germany. The Germans had taken a two goal lead over their opponents courtesy of goals from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose. Nuno Gomes pulled a goal back before half time, but Germany hung on and qualified for the semi-finals for the first time since 1996 after a 3-2 win.
The second quarter-final game was a less high scoring affair between Croatian and Turkey. It took 29 minutes of extra time before a goal was finally scored. Ivan Klasnic put the Croatians in the lead only for a controversial Semih Senturk goal three minutes later to make it 1-1. The pressure was on as the game would be decided by a penalty shoot-out. Croatia could only score one of their four penalties and crashed out, as Turkey made it though to the next stage.
The Netherlands, who had won all three group games, came up against former manager Guus Hiddink's Russian side. Roman Pavlyuchenko had put the Russians ahead only for Ruud van Nistelrooy to equalise in the 86th minute. In the 90th minute, referee Lubos Michel sent off Russian defender Denis Kolodin for a second yellow card before reversing his decision. The Russians scored twice within four minutes to secure a 3-1 victory.
The last quarter-final fixture was between Spain and Italy. A dull encounter resulted in a 0-0 draw, before Spain defeated the reigning World Cup holders Italy with a 4-2 shoot-out victory.
The first semi-final game was between Group B runner-up and three time champions Germany face first time semi-finalists Turkey. Turkey, who went into the game without nine members of their squad either missing through injury or suspension, were 1-0 up after 22 minutes. The Germans had brought the game level after just four minutes thanks to Schweinsteiger. They completed the turn-around in the 79th minute when Klose headed the Germans into the lead, only for Semih to pull Turkey back into the game in the 86th minute. The Germans were not to be outdone as defender Philipp Lahm scored with virtually the last kick of normal time to secure their path through to the final.
Spain and Russian squared off to decide who would face the Germans in the final. It was to be a convincing victory for Spain who defeated the Russians 3-0 with goals coming from Xavi, Guiza and David Silva, sending the Spanish to their third European Championship final.
The final was played on 29th June at the Ernst Happel Stadion in Vienna, Austria. Despite the scoreline suggesting a relatively tight game, the match was in fact dominated by Spain who scored the only goal of the game through Fernando Torres in the 33rd minute.
Spain became the first team since Germany in 1996 to win the tournament undefeated and Luis Aragones' side were praised for their combination of attacking play and disciplined style. It was Spain's second international tournament success, having previously lifted the European Nation's Cup in 1964.