The game’s afoot this evening, in Rome: at 21:00, Euro 2020 begins (albeit in 2021). The hotly-anticipated Euros, pushed back a year owing to the pandemic, are upon us. Roberto Mancini’s Italy will play the inaugural game (begun with the opening ceremony) in Rome tonight, against Turkey in Group A. 8 Inter players will be a part of the competition, aiming with their respective national sides to conquer Europe, which - for many of them - would be a historic feat.
Bastoni and Barella will play for Italy, Stefan de Vrij represents the Netherlands, Romelu Lukaku is Belgium’s star-striker as well as Inter’s, Milan Skriniar will turn out for Slovakia, Christian Eriksen captains Denmark and Croatia boast the Inter pairing of Brozović and Perisić.
There have been 15 tournaments, the first held in France in 1960, with the Hall of Fame including: Germany and Spain with three titles, France with two and Italy, the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Holland, Denmark, Greece and Portugal (the holders) all with one.
Seven players have lifted the European Championship whilst playing their club football at Inter. Seven Nerazzurri Champions of Europe: Luis Suarez (in 1964, with Spain), Facchetti, Burgnich, Domenghini and Mazzola (with Italy, in 1968), Laurent Blanc (with France, in 2000) and Giorgos Karagounis (with Greece, in 2004).
1964 | SUAREZ: TWICE EUROPEAN CHAMPION IN THE SAME YEAR
A footballing-political story: Spain, in 1960, were refused entry to Moscow to face the USSR. Four years later, Spain themselves hosted the Euros. Running the show in central-midfield was the Iberican, Luisto Suarez, already Golden Ball winner in 1960 and recent Champion of Europe, having won Inter’s first European Cup on 27 May with a 3-1 win in Vienna. Soon thereafter, Suarez would become European champion a second way. Spain first beat Hungary 2-1 in the semi-final, then at the Bernabéu - in front of 79 thousand spectators, including General Franco - they beat none other than the USSR. It finished 2-1, thanks to Marcelino’s winning goal.
Suarez, part of the Team of the Tournament, then went on to complete an extraordinary treble of European glories, winning the European Cup again with Inter in 1965.
1968 | ITALY DOMINATE EUROPE, THANKS IN PART TO A COIN TOSS
In 1968, Italy hosted the Euros. Or, rather, the finals (the semi-finals in Florence and Naples, the final in Rome). In the quarters, Valcareggi’s Azzurri had beaten Bulgaria over two legs. For Italy’s squad, four Inter players were called-up: Giacinto Facchetti, Tarcisio Burgnich, Angelo Domenghini and Sandro Mazzola. Aristide Guarneri had just played his first season at Bologna, after earlier triumphs with the Nerazzurri.
On 5 June, the semi-final took place at the San Paolo: Italy and the USSR drew 0-0, with penalties not part of the format: the finalist would be chosen by the toss of a coin. German referee Tschenscher welcomed the Captains, with Italy’s Giacinto Facchetti thus tasked with choosing “head or tails”. The first toss by the referee, in the changing rooms, was voided: the French frank fell into a crack in the floor. Facchetti chose heads second time, a lucky choice that took Italy to the final against Yugoslavia.
In the first game, on 8 June, it was Nerrazzuri player Domenghini who saved Italy, after they had trailed 1-0. The game finished a draw, this time going to a replay. So, two days later, the teams re-gathered at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. All four Inter players, including Mazzola, played: Italy won 2-0, thanks to goals from Riva and Anastasi. The Azzurri had won their first - and still only - European title.
2000 | AZZURRI HEARTBREAK, BLANC’S FRANCE WIN ON GOLDEN GOAL
Incredible even today, looking back. The final in 2000 remains one of the biggest disappointments in the history of the Italian national team. It was Dino Zoff's Italy, with just one single Nerazzurri player, Gigi Di Biagio, and with future Inter goalkeeper Francesco Toldo in goal. This European Championship was being held in Belgium and Holland, the first edition with two host countries. Italy came through the semi-finals in iconic fashion, with Toldo the hero in the match against Holland. In the final, in Rotterdam, the Azzurri took the lead through Delvecchio. Heartbreak came in the 90th minute, with Wiltord's equaliser. In extra time Trezeguet’s golden goal sentenced the Azzurri to defeat and hoisted France, already world champions, to the top of Europe as well.
It was a French team, coached by Lemerre, that had Laurent Blanc at the heart of defence. After missing the World Cup final due to suspension, the defender who arrived at Inter in 1999 was the star of the whole European Championship; he was selected in the Team of the Tournament. France also had a former Nerazzurri in their ranks: Youri Djorkaeff, who had moved to Kaiserslautern the previous summer.
2004 | THE INCREDIBLE FAIRYTALE OF KARAGOUNIS’S GREECE
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the history of football. Portugal hosted the 2004 European Championships and were favourites. They were all ready to go and then lost the opening match: 2-1, against Greece. The Nerazzurri Karagounis managed to score, despite spending two years at Inter from 2003 to 2005 without finding the net, in spite of the flashes of quality football he showed.
The fate of that Euros was sealed from the very first game. Otto Rehhagel's Greece came out of the group in second place, then eliminated France and the Czech Republic. 1-0, 1-0 and... 1-0 again in the final against Portugal, with a goal by Charisteas. Karagounis missed the final through suspension but became a European Champion.