Rewind, Euro 2000: Spain’s incredible comeback against Yugoslavia to book spot in quarter-finals


Given the presence of some of the best in the business, Spain was definitely one of the favorites going into Euro 2020. Manager Luis Enrique was highly convinced of the strength of players such as Ferran Torres and Álvaro Morata, opting not to include a single Real Madrid player in the squad. It’s certainly a bold move when Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal fail to cement a place in a manager-designed team. However, so far the plans for Spain haven’t exactly worked out as expected, with the team recording two draws in as many matches against Sweden and Poland. Goals have been at a premium with the opening goal of the campaign so far scored in the last match against Poland.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at Spain’s incredible comeback in a memorable Group C encounter against Yugoslavia to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2000. At one stage it seemed impossible.

Before the match, Spain needed a win at all costs. However, they won 3–2 going into extra time despite facing off against a side that had been reduced to ten men. Yugoslavia lost a crucial match to a player after Slavisa Jokanovic was sent off in the 63rd minute. Fortunately, it didn’t cost them too much until overtime. Things changed when Spain were awarded a penalty after Abelardo fell into the packed box, resulting in a spot-kick by Gazca Mendieta. The scoreline read 3–3, with fans on the edge of their seats. However, what happened next made them jump in excitement and joy as Alfonso Pérez kept his composure amid the knockdowns to score his second goal of the game, giving Spain a 4–3 win against the odds.

“Basically there was no midfield. “They hit us and we hit the counterattack; we didn’t sit in the corner hoping the storm would pass. It was Bam Bam Bam, all-round attack. When I scored [to make it 3-3], It took me a second to realize what the score was. I knew I had to pick up the ball and bring it back to the center circle. We had a winning mentality,” recalls Gazca Mendieta as quoted by UEFA’s official website.

200 km away in Arnhem, the Spanish squad celebrated wildly at the Jan Breidelsstadion after news over the loudspeakers of Norway’s goalless draw with Slovenia, as Yugoslavia qualified for the quarter-finals. The result left Yugoslavia level on points with Norway. Vujadin Boskov’s side advanced to the clash against the Netherlands due to a better head-to-head record.

Yugoslavia’s sensational performance deserves praise

However, Yugoslavia’s performance cannot be discounted despite surrendering the initiative in the last few minutes. He was extremely impressive alongside Sinisa Mihajlovic, who made his presence felt with a stellar performance. The in-form Savo Milosevic troubled the Spanish team further by performing brilliantly. Jose Antonio Camacho’s men tried their best, Mendieta was twice fouled by goalkeeper Ivica Kralj. However, they fell behind on the half-hour mark courtesy of a superb goal from Milosevic, who was on his way to his fourth goal of the tournament. Vladimir Jugovic released Ljubinko Drulovic, with the winger’s cross providing perfect support.

Spain drew level eight minutes later as Raúl González guided the ball into the penalty area, with Alfonso taking advantage of Yugoslavia’s defense to score the equaliser. Substitute Joseba Exteberria volleyed the ball in front of the post as Spain ended the first half on a fine note. Yugoslavia struck back in the lead, with half-time substitute Dejan Govedarica firing over Drulović’s pass to equalise. Spain responded immediately with another substitution, Pedro Munitis breaking down Krejal’s superb 18-metre shot. Djokovic received his marching orders soon after after receiving a second yellow card. Although Yugoslavia could have been expected to go on the backfoot in such a scenario, Slobodan Komljenović’s superb strike looked to be the decider as they went ahead for a third time with 15 minutes remaining.

Interestingly, former Manchester City and Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola was named man of the match.

Yugoslavia: Kralj; Komljenovic, Djokovic, Mihajlovic, Djorovic (J. Stankovic 12), Stojkovic (C) (Saveljic 68), Jugovic (Goverdic 46), Djokovic, Drulovic; Mijatovic, Milosevic. Substitutes: Korac, Cikovic, Dudik, Bunjevsevic, D. Stankovic, Kovacevic, Nadj. Coach: Vujadin Boskov.

Spain: Cañizares; Michel Salgado (Munitis 46), Abelardo (C), Paco (Urzize 64), Sergi Barjuan; Mendieta, Guardiola, Ivan Helguera, Fran (Atxeberia 22); Raul Gonzalez, Alfonso Perez. Subs: Casillas, Molina, Gerrard, Velasco, Hierro, Aranzabal, Valeron, Angonga. Coach: Jose Antonio Camacho.

Belgium and the Netherlands co-hosted Euro 2000 between 10 June and 2 July 2000. Each nation provided four places. Brussels’ Roi Baudouin Stadium staged the opener, Bruges’ Jan Breydel Stadium, Liège’s Stade Marcel Dufrasne and Charleroi’s Stade du Pays de Charleroi also held games.

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