Matchday 2 – Sunday 9th June 1996

GROUP B, Elland Road, Leeds, 24,005

SPAIN   (0)   1   (Alfonso 74)

BULGARIA   (0)   1   (Stoichov pen 65)

SPAIN: Zubizarreta; Belsue, Sergi, Abelardo, Alkorta; Amor (Alfonso), Hierro, Guerrero (Amavisca), Luis Enrique; Pizzi, Caminero (Donato)

BULGARIA: Mikhailov; Kishishev, Yankov, Hubchev, Ivanov; Kiriakov (Tsvetanov), Kostadinov (Yordanov), Balakov, Letchkov; Penev (Borimirov), Stoichkov

In these days Spain were still seen as the perennial underachievers. Finalists in Euro ’84 they had not won a major tournament since Euro ’64. They won their qualifying group, beating defending champions Denmark.

Bulgaria had finished in the top four at USA ’94 and contained many of the players who impressed during that tournament. This included the finest of all Bulgarian players, Hristo Stoichkov, then plying his trade at Parma. In fact, only four of their squad played in their domestic league.

Bulgaria qualified easily behind Germany and were expected to provide stiff opposition in this group which also included France and Romania.

Spain made the most of the early chances. Guerrero firing over when he should’ve done better. Then Real Madrid’s Fernando Hierro forced a good save from Mikhailov with another fierce shot. Bulgaria struggled to get a grip on the game, Stoichkov fired over from a tight angle.

In the second half, Bulgaria appeared more assured. Midway through the half, Balakov went through and was tripped by Sergi. The Spanish defender attempted to knock the ball away but only managed to connect with the Bulgarian’s leg and down he went. The ref pointed to the spot and for the second game of the tournament, we had our second penalty.

Bulgaria’s talisman hit it left-footed against the inside of Zubizarreta’s left-hand post, and the ball bounced back across the goal and inside the opposite post. Bulgaria lead 1-0.

Spain then threw all they had at their opponents. Hierro again had a shot from outside the area tipped over by Mikhailov. Then ten minutes later they got a breakthrough. Hubchev was the last man as he brought down Pizzi on the edge of the area. He received his marching orders and Spain now had a man advantage. The free-kick was hit against the wall and came out to Sergi on the left. He drilled in a shot which looked to be going wide before it hit Alfonso and went in. Spain were level.

Then, minutes later, Pizzi was the second man to receive a red card after he scythed down Kishishev near the touchline. Stoitchkov then wanted Abelardo sent off for a challenge when he was the last defender but the ref just gave a free-kick which Ivanov fired wide.

The game ended 1-1, with Spain seemingly more frustrated than Bulgaria.

GROUP C, Old Trafford, Manchester, 37,300

GERMANY   (2)   2   (Ziege 26, Moller 32)

CZECH REPUBLIC   (0)   0  

GERMANY: Kopke; Sammer; Reuter, Helmer, Kohler (Babbel), Ziege; Eilts, Hassler, Kuntz (Bierhoff), Moller; Bobic (Strunz)

CZECH REPUBLIC: Kouba; Latal, Kadlec, Hornak, Suchoparek; Bejbl, Nedved, Poborsky (Drulak), Nemec; Frydek (Berger), Kuka

Only day two of the competition and already a meeting between two really strong sides. Both had won their qualifying groups, each losing only once. Germany lost to second place Bulgaria, but the Czechs inexplicably lost in Luxembourg. Apart from that both were well fancied to win the thing.

The Germans were managed by former captain, Berti Vogts. Czechs by Dusan Uhrin, who’d mainly played and managed in his own domestic league. The Germans were surprisingly beaten in the final four years earlier by Denmark, as they had been back in 1976 by the Czechs, who were then Czechoslovakia. But never underestimate the Germans as they seemed well prepared, as ever, for this tournament. Four of the Czech squad played their football in Germany.

The game came alive during six first-half minutes. Christian Ziege, then of Bayern Munich, raced forward from the back. He combined well with Fredi Bobic, before shifting the ball from right to left and hitting a fine shot from the edge of the ‘D’, past Kouba.

Six minutes later Moller surged forward into space. He was able to run from the halfway line to the edge of the area unchallenged. He did as Ziege had, shifted the ball from left to right and hit a shot past Kouba’s outstretched right hand.

The Czechs just weren’t able to break through, no matter how hard they tried. The Germans looked impressive with the use of Mattias Sammer as a sweeper looking particularly dangerous. In a group including Italy and Russia, any win would be crucial.

GROUP D, Hillsborough, Sheffield, 34,993

DENMARK   (1)   1   (B Laudrup 22)

PORTUGAL   (0)   1   (Sa Pinto 53)

DENMARK: Schmeichel; Helveg, Hogh, Risager, Rieper; B Nielsen, M Laudrup, Thomsen; B Laudrup, Larsen, Beck

PORTUGAL: Vitor Baia; Paulinho, Couto, Helder, Dimas; Luis Figo (Domingos), Paulo Sousa (Tavares), Rui Costa, Oceano (Folha); Sa Pinto, Helder, Joao Pinto

Denmark’s first match in defence of their title came at Hillsborough against Portugal. Denmark had qualified second to Spain, losing just once. Portugal had also suffered just one defeat as they won their group, which also contained the Republic of and Northern Ireland.

Denmark were still managed by Richard Moller Nielsen, who masterminded their win in Sweden. The Laudrup brothers were still in evidence. Michael had returned to the national side having missed the 1992 tournament and was now captain.

It was Brian Laudrup who opened the scoring. A long ball forward was poorly dealt with by Vitor Baia. He tried to clear it but only succeeded in hitting Mikkel Beck. The ball deflected off to the left, where Laudrup got there. He turned the full-back inside out and fired a right-foot shot beating Baia on his near post.

Denmark held onto their lead until eight minutes into the second half. On the counter, Folha crossed from the left and Sa Pinto got ahead of his man to head them back level. The rest of the half was a mixture of creativity from the Laudrup brothers, and dogged determination from Portugal. But in the end, it was all-square. Three of the first four games had ended level.