This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
Portugal kicked off their Euro 2000 campaign with a stunning comeback victory over England in a pulsating clash in Eindhoven.
Kevin Keegan’s side appeared to be well set for three points after taking a 2-0 lead inside the first 20 minutes through Paul Scholes and Steve McManaman. But, inspired by Barcelona’s Luis Figo and Fiorentina’s Rui Costa, the Portuguese were level by half-time and grabbed a second-half winner through Nuno Gomes.
England had made it into the tournament by edging past Scotland in the playoff, following a series of poor performances in qualifying as they finished nine points adrift of Group 5 winners Sweden. But any pre-tournament pessimism was quickly forgotten as they made the perfect start to this Group A clash. Scholes ghosted into the penalty area unmarked and headed David Beckham’s cross in off the crossbar with just three minutes on the clock.
It was quickly clear that the English would be in a contest when Costa’s cross from the right was misjudged by David Seaman. Joao Pinto looked certain to equalise but, under pressure from Phil Neville, he headed into the ground and over the bar from close range. Costa then forced Seaman to push his long-range effort wide as Portugal pushed for the leveller.
But England struck again in the 18th minute, with the Portuguese defence found wanting once more. Good work from Michael Owen set up Beckham for a surge into the penalty box. The Manchester United star’s cross from the right found McManaman in acres of space at the back post and the Real Madrid winger side-footed high into the net from eight yards out.
It might have been the start of dreams, but the two-goal lead flattered England and Gomes had the ball in the net a minute later only to see his strike rightly ruled out for offside.
Portugal didn’t have long to wait to celebrate as they pulled one back with a sensational goal in the 22nd minute. Figo ran at the England defence from deep and, with Tony Adams closing him down, he unleashed a bullet of a strike from 30 yards that went through the defender’s legs and arrowed into the top corner past a static Seaman.
Fifteen minutes later, the score was level after another brilliant Portugal goal. When Costa crossed from the right, Pinto stole a yard on Sol Campbell and brilliantly guided a diving header into the far corner, beyond the despairing dive of Seaman.
England brought on Emile Heskey for the injured Owen at half-time as they attempted to get back into a game that seemed in danger of getting away from them. The Three Lions were first to threaten in the second half as Vitor Baia struggled to deal with a cross under pressure from Alan Shearer, but the ball drifted wide.
But in the 58th minute, the turnaround was complete as Gomes netted what would turn out to be the winner. Costa was again the creator as he found Gomes pulling away from his marker at the edge of the penalty area. The striker took a touch and smashed the ball past Seaman and high into the net.
Gomes had the ball in the net again when he headed in from Figo’s cross, but the linesman’s flag denied Portugal for a second time. With time running out, Scholes headed a good opportunity wide after a long throw-in caused chaos in the Portuguese defence
England subsequently failed to build any sustained pressure and were mostly limited to half-chances as Portugal held on for a memorable victory that puts them top of Group A.
Things went better for the English in Liege earlier in the evening, as Germany and Romania dropped points in their 1-1 draw. England now face Germany in Charleroi on 17 June, hoping to get their campaign back on track following this dispiriting defeat. Anything less than a victory over the Germans will leave their chances of advancing to the quarter-finals hanging by a thread.
Portugal, meanwhile, will approach their match against Romania with confidence, their performance against England surely marking them out as potential European champions. This was a hugely impressive display of mental fortitude, with the majestic Costa and Figo providing the inspiration.
By Paul Murphy @paulmurphybkk