Wednesday 21st June 2000, Bruges
Spain 4-3 Yugoslavia (22,000)
Having enjoyed two days off for good behaviour it was time to return to the land of Euro 2000, but just for the day thanks to the close proximity of Bruges to Kent. Sean, Dave and I headed for Ostend on the Seacat minus the fourth person in our party. Lee was still recovering from his night spent on the streets of Bruges…
It seemed weird being able to hop over the Channel to join in the party temporarily although we all knew it would be tight on the return journey. None of us could afford to miss the last Seacat. We had no alternative accommodation and we’d have to buy new and expensive tickets to get us home. The mood on the crossing was one of quiet contemplation. We knew what the day was going to entail and having watched Yugoslavia’s two previous group games I knew what they were going to bring to the afternoon. There were a reasonable scattering of Spanish, English and Yugoslavian fans on the boat, many of whom were also on day trips.
After a brief beer in Ostend (we missed the first available train by seconds) it was off to Bruges and a familiar routine. A stroll through the city to De Pub, a couple of quiet beers, back to the station for the free bus to the ground. Everything thus far had gone to plan. The one nagging doubt throughout the day concerned whether we’d make the train back to Ostend and on to the Seacat. We could never really relax and discussed at exactly what point we would leave the ground. What a dilemma faced us.
The game itself was a classic. An absolute epic. Two quality sides going at each other for ninety minutes. Put simply the eternally underachieving Spanish had to win the game. A draw would suit the Slavs. The stadium wasn’t full, the Yugoslavian contingent understandably failed to fill their section but more strangely so did the Spanish. They may lack a tradition of travelling overseas to support the national side but to fail miserably to sell even four thousand tickets for such a footballing super power is down right strange.
We spent the early stages watching the antics of the hyperactive Spanish coach Jose Camacho – he has ants in his pants. The arm waving and Latin gestures had us transfixed. Milosovic caused him more pain on 31 minutes when he headed in a cross by Drulovic. The rather depressed Spaniards around us looked suicidal. They perked up eight minutes later when Raul’s run set up Alfonso who clipped a delicious shot cleverly into the top corner. Game on.
The second half was even better. The Slavs were still happy to try to break the game up but the Spanish were too good for them and they had to concentrate on playing properly instead. They stunned everyone by making it 2-1 on 52 minutes, Govedarica curled in a shot from the edge of the box with the minimum of fuss. Sixty seconds later Muntis matched it with a beautiful piece of skill. He curled the ball delightfully into the top corner. Suddenly all the momentum was with a very inventive Spanish side. If they won the game we’d get to see them again in the last eight against France which was preferable to another does of Yugoslavian play-acting or Norwegian high balls.
Jokanovic then got sent off on 64 minutes for a second yellow card to make it three off in three games and a fan invaded the pitch to protest but the Slavs showed great spirit in regaining the lead with fifteen breathless minutes to go – Komljenovic doing the damage by poking a lose ball in. The Spanish look doomed but with all the time wasting, play acting, substitutions, goal celebrations, sending-offs, pitch invasions and flares thrown onto the pitch, so too were our chances of making it home again unless we missed injury time…
Well you know what happened next don’t you? We left the ground with the score at 3-2 to Yugoslavia, one minute into injury time. We hadn’t got too far down the road when we heard a half-hearted roar. Goal? no, penalty to Spain. A second roar, 3-3, Mendieta the scorer. Well not much we could do and on we rushed back to the free bus. Just as we passed a bar the young Spanish fan in front of us suddenly has a fit and wents a bit crazy in the middle of the street, then ran over to hug a bemused riot policeman. What had happened? Well only one of the greatest ever finishes to an international match – that’s what… Alfonso lashed home an unlikely winner in the sixth minute of added time to send them through amid delirious scenes of unbridled ecstasy on the part of the Spanish. The heart-broken Slavs thought they were out but Norway’s 0-0 draw with Slovenia puts them through too. A mad five minutes.
You’ll no doubt be glad we made it home. We made the train by just seven minutes and that included missing most of the post-match traffic. Had we been at the other end of the ground we could have left later. As it was if we’d stayed to the end we’d have definitely ended up stranded and homeless in Bruges. Would it have been worth it? We maybe, but it wasn’t our only game of Euro 2000. It is the only major game I’ve ever left early from in twenty-three years. Sod’s law eh?
We didn’t have the final score confirmed until we spoke to other people on the train to Ostend. Sean and Dave were convinced we shouldn’t tell anyone that we’d missed the last two goals. I tried, but couldn’t keep a straight face to Lee when he asked because he knew it was going to be tight – so I told him. Now everyone knows.