The 2000 European Championships were the first that were held in two countries, as Belgium and the Netherlands co-hosted the tournament that following the 1996 tournament continued to involve 16 teams.
In 1998 France had won the World Cup at home in awesome style, and had thus entered the European Championships as favourites for the European title, as they indeed had one of the best teams in the world led by the undisputed best player in the world at the time, Zinedine Zidane, who at the time was playing for Juventus. But Zidane was not the only star in the French side. The veteran Manchester United keeper Fabien Barthez stood behind a strong defense led by Inter's veteran Laurent Blanc, alongside a string of outstanding defenders: Parma's Lilian Thurram, Bayern Munich's Bixente Lizarazu, Arsenal's Patrick Vieira and Chelsea's Marcel Desailly. Chelsea's Didier Deschamps was the captain of a team with a fantastic midfield alongside Zinedine Zidane, alongside Arsenal's Emmanuel Petit, Marseille's Robert Pires or Kaiserslautern's veteran Youri Djorkaeff. Up front coach Roger Lemerre had difficult but luxurious choices: Bordaux's Christophe Dugarry, Real Madrid's Nikolas Anelka, Monaco's David Trezeguet or the young Arsenal striker, Thierry Henry.
In spite of it all France had struggled a bit in qualification winning their group ahead of Ukraine and Russia. In the first round of the tournament they had beaten Denmark 3-0, the Czech Republic 2-1, and had lost the final match 2-3 to the Netherlands to take second place in the group.
But France had proven that they were a great team that grew with the tournament, and they defeated Spain 2-1 in quarterfinals and Portugal 2-1 in a difficult semifinal match, with a Zinedine Zidane that had grown steadily with each man to become the best player of the tournament. He and France were now in the final to try to become the first team since West Germany in the 1970s to take both the World and European titles.
Italy were the rivals.
Italy had not done well in the European Championships since they had taken the title in 1968. Coach Dino Zoff nevertheless had a strong list of players from the best clubs in Europe: AC Milan's veteran Paolo Maldini was the captain of the side alongside other of Europe's best defenders: Parma's Fabio Cannavaro, Juventus Gianlucca Pessotto, Lazio's Alessandro Nesta and AC Milan's Demetrio Albertini. In midfield there were some fantastic offensive players such as Juventus Alessandro del Piero and Rom'as Francesco Totti with the striker's choices being Roma's Marco Delvecchio, Vicenzo Montella and Juventus Filippo Inzaghi.
Italy had qualified ahead of Denmark and Wales and had won their first round group with three straight victories over Turkey, Belgium and Sweden. In the quarterfinals they had defeated Romania 2-0 and had been in a long semifinal against the Netherlands, winning a goalless match only on penalties.
The match was largely seen as a contest between the French offensive prowess and the Italian disciplined defense. Alessandro del Piero was left on the bench as three players were put on the Italian midfield to check Zinedine Zidane, who was largely absent from the first half. Still, France had some isolated attempt, most closely Youri Djourkaeff when he shot weakly almost alone in front of the Fiorentina keeper Francesco Toldo.
Thierry Henry hit the post in a rather clumsy shot that wasn't really threatening, but repeatedly troubled the Italian defense with his speed, and they fouled him repeatedly.
In the second half the French coach decided to push Zinedine Zidane forward to get him more involved in the match. Ironically, this had the effect of freeing up the Italian midfielders, and with the introduction of Alessandro del Piero Italy became more threatening. In the 55th minute Francesco Totti made an heel kick overlap to Gianlucca Pessoto that completely took apart the French defense. Pessotto's cross into the French area was first-timed into goal by Marco Delvecchio, sneaking in between two defenders.
The French reply was to introduce two new strikers, Bordeaux's Sylvain Wiltord and David Trezeguet, in the next twenty minutes, and pushing forward. This gave the Italians more space up front, where Alessandro del Piero missed a couple of chances that would have sentenced the match.
However, it was mostly France trying to get that vital equalizer, and it happened in the third minute of injury time, when Italian fans were are already celebrating the title. Sylvain Wiltord, one of the substitutes, received the ball inside the right hand side of the Italian area. At a rather steep angle he shot flat and hard towards the near post and the ball seemed to sneak in below Francesco Toldo, who should perhaps have had it.
France had managed the equalizer against all odds, and the match now went into extra-time, with a newly added courage against the Italian disappointment. It was France pressing in extra time, and towards the end of the first half it was two substitutes who produced the golden goal: Robert Pires elegantly dribbled through four Italian defenders on the left side, and his cross into the Italian area was a bit behind David Trezeguet, who nevertheless stepped back and in one elegant movement and hammered the ball into the upper right-hand corner of the goal, this time with no chance whatsoever for Toldo.
This was the second time a Euro final was decided by a golden goal, and the last time as well, since the rule was discontinued afterwards. It just seemed too odd to fans that there was no chance of return.
The clash between these two arch-rivals would be repeated in the 2006 World Cup final, where Italy would get their revenge for this painful defeat.
At the same time this was the last tournament won by this great French side.
Rotterdam, 2nd July, 2000,
Referee: Anders Frisk, Sweden
France-Italy 2-1 (AET)
France: Fabien Barthez; Bixente Lizarazu (Robert Pires, 86), Patrick Vieira, Laurent Blanc, Youri Djorkaeff (David Trezeguet, 76), Didier Deschamps (c ), Marcel Desailly, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Liliam Thuram, Christophe Dugarry (Sylvain Wiltord, 58). Coach: Roger Lemerre.
Italy: Francesco Toldo; Paolo Maldini (c), Demetrio Albertini, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianlucca Pessotto, Alessandro Nesta, Luigi Di Baggio (Massimo Ambrosini, 66), Mark Iuliano, Stefano Fiore (Alessandro Del Piero, 53), Francesco Totti, Marco Delvecchio (Vicenzo Montella, 86). Coach: Dino Zoff
0-1 Delvecchio (55)
1-1 Sylvain Wiltord (90+4)
2-1 David Trezeguet (103) (gg)