Bolts From The Blue: EUROs Tournaments That Made Or Broke Goalkeepers’ Careers

By Robert McHugh

News • Jun 9, 2024

Bolts From The Blue: EUROs Tournaments That Made Or Broke Goalkeepers’ Careers

International tournaments put goalkeepers on the biggest stage. For some, it's career changing…for better or for worse… 

Every few years, the world of football holds its breath for an international tournament. For the fans, it’s a chance to see whether their national team, made up of the best talent their country has to offer, can bring home the rarest of prizes. 

For the players, it can be a chance to make a name for themselves on the biggest stage. In the case of the UEFA European Championships, an entire continent tunes in to see which players will shine. However, the outcome isn’t always positive for players. They can crumble beneath the weight of expectations, with their whole country watching. 

This pressure is multiplied ten-fold for goalkeepers, whose mistakes can prove uniquely costly, and whose glories can win a game single-handedly. This article looks at some of the goalkeepers who have had their careers made, or broken, by their performances in the Euros over the years.

Ivo Viktor

The world over knows about the Panenka. The cheeky penalty chipped down the middle of the goal which can make goalkeepers look foolish. This penalty was born in a European Championship when Czech player Antonin Panenka scored the decisive penalty in the 1976 final shootout. However, not many people think to ask who the goalkeeper was who gave Panenka the chance to shine.

Ivo Viktor was instrumental in Czechoslovakia making it to the final in the first place. Viktor produced several notable performances in the tournament, including a string of fine saves in the semi-final. In the final, he made a spectacular save from a Rainer Bonhof free-kick to keep his side in the game. He also made an error to let the Germans back into the game. However, he produced two saves in extra time to keep the scores level.

Viktor’s performances in the tournament were rewarded with a nomination for the 1976 Ballon d’Or, a spot in the team of the tournament and the European Goalkeeper of the Year award. He claims he also earned Panenka his place in history, with his error contributing to the game going to penalties. Euro ‘76 was the defining summer of his career.

Nigel Martyn

Nigel Martyn is one of the great enigmas of the early years of the Premier League. At one point, he was the first goalkeeper to move for £1 million when he joined Crystal Palace. He played over 600 club games and played at the highest level in the domestic game in England. 

However, he ended his career with just 23 England caps. This is, in part, due to the exceptional performances of David Seaman, which limited his opportunities for England. But it is also down to how Martyn performed when he did get his big chance. 

Seaman was England’s first choice for Euro 2000. But an injury ruled him out of England’s crucial group game against Romania. This led to Martyn being given a shot by England manager, Kevin Keegan. 

Despite having made some important saves in the game, Martyn would go on to make the mistake which would define his international career. Romania crossed the ball into the England box, which Martyn appeared to have under control. Under little pressure, Martyn punched the ball. The ball looped out, straight into the path of Dorniel Munteanu who volleyed home. England just needed a draw to qualify from their group but went on to lose the game 3-2, and with it, Martyn’s international career effectively went up in smoke. 

David Seaman

With the Euros on the horizon, there will soon be no escape from the ubiquitous sound of Three Lions, as England harks back to one of its proudest near misses. At the time, it was just 30 years of hurt, now, at 58 years, the hurt will soon be able to collect its pension.

David Seaman was outstanding in that golden summer. It may be a stretch to say that this tournament alone made Seaman’s career. He was already a top-class goalkeeper in the Premier League with Arsenal and, with the imminent arrival of Arsene Wenger, he was about to enjoy the most successful years of his career.

But it is fair to say that Euro ‘96 propelled him into the national psyche. England’s chequered past in penalty shootouts meant that, when the quarter-final clash with Spain went to penalties, the whole country was suffering a kind of collective-flashback. Seaman stepped up, saving the decisive penalty to put England through to the semis. He also saved a penalty in their crucial group-stage win over Scotland. 

Cometh the hour, cometh the moustache. 

Filip De Wilde

In hindsight, Euro 2000 could be renamed “the career ruiner”. Having already heard how Nigel Martyn’s career was shaped by the tournament, it’s time for another story of a career ended at the tournament. 

Belgium put the Be in Benelux, and were one of the host nations of the tournament. Goalkeeper Filip De Wilde, like Martyn, had waited a long time to become his nation’s number one. He made his debut in 1989, only to spend the next decade waiting for his big chance. And, unfortunately for him, like Martyn, he wasn't quite able to grasp it when it arrived. 

De Wilde had two of the most disastrous games imaginable in Belgium’s group stage games. First, against Sweden, he slipped on a back pass, which allowed Swedish player Johan Mjallby in for a simple goal. Then, in Belgium’s last group game he had his lowest moment, with the entire nation watching. He was outjumped by Hakan Suker with the ball in the air, allowing Turkey to open the scoring, before taking out Arif Erfem with six minutes of the game to go, receiving a red card.

This would be De Wilde’s last act in a Belgium shirt, with the national team knocked out at the group stages. De Wilde would never gain another international cap.

Peter Schmeichel

In many ways, Peter Schmeichel is Euro ‘92. He was the star performer for the eventual winners, Denmark, in the last tournament where goalkeepers were allowed to pick up back passes from defenders. Through the tournament, Denmark received criticism for their efficient style of play (to put it politely). It could be said, they used the rules to the limits. 

Nevertheless, their story is a remarkable one. Late entrants to the tournament due to the withdrawal of Yugoslavia, Schmeichel excelled in a side which defied the odds to win the tournament. His now famous presence between the posts was there for all to see, as he barked the Danish defence into shape.

He produced a string of improbable saves in the final, in particular, to save twice from Jurgen Klinsmann, with Schmeichel even having the confidence to showboat at times, catching a low cross one-handed in the second half. His performance earned him a move to Manchester United and the rest is history. 

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