Ex-Arsenal and Chelsea star feared Portugal would start fighting in 'crazy' Euros meltdown

Abel Xavier rages at referee Gunter Benko during the Euro 2000 semi-final between Portugal and France
-Credit: (Image: Shaun Botterill /Allsport)

When it comes to epic tournament collapses, Portugal's meltdown at Euro 2000 is hard to beat.

Before the emergence of Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal had been making waves at the Euros in Belgium and the Netherlands. They topped a group that included rather lacklustre German and English teams, and then easily dispatched Turkey in the quarter-finals.

Their mettle was truly tested against world champions France in the semi-finals in Brussels. The Portuguese were leading at half-time, but France equalised early in the second half thanks to Thierry Henry, with the match going into extra time.

Significantly, this was during the era of the Golden Goal, where a goal scored in extra-time would immediately end the game. As the clock ticked down in the second period, France created a golden opportunity as Sylvain Wiltord's shot from a tight angle was blocked on the line by Everton's Abel Xavier.

The referee initially awarded a corner, but the linesman spotted a handball by Xavier which replays confirmed was quite blatant and a penalty was given. Portugal vehemently disagreed with the decision, arguing with and even physically confronting the officials.

After nearly five minutes of chaos, enough calm was restored for Zinedine Zidane to take and score the penalty, sending France through to the final. This sparked further pandemonium as Portugal resumed their furious protests, with security having to step in to protect the officials.

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Nuno Gomes, Portugal's goalscore, saw red while Xavier got hit with a hefty nine-match UEFA ban, which was eventually trimmed down to six. Alongside him, Gomes and Paulo Bento were also sidelined with significant suspensions.

Former Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Emmanuel Petit, who witnessed the chaos first-hand 24 years back, shared his astonishment at the explosive events with the Mirror as Portugal gear up for their Euro 2024 opener against Czech Republic. He said: "They went so nuts, the Portuguese, they went crazy on the pitch. They lost their composure and concentration.

"It was a fair decision from the referee. I can understand the frustrations of the Portuguese but, if they are honest, they will tell you the same thing."

"The players on the pitch were very upset, they were complaining to the referee. But on the bench, they were ready to fight. Against who, I don't know. Maybe us, but that was not our decision, it was the decision of the referee."

With Euro 2024 under way, Petit points to the past incident as a stark lesson for today's young talents about maintaining sportsmanship under stress. He said: "You cannot do that. It won't be easy during the games. Sometimes you want to fight everything on the pitch, the referee for bad decisions or even your own team-mates if they don't play well.

"But you have to be focused and keep your calm. Emotions and nerves are important in the big competitions and if you lose that, it's almost certain you will lose the game. Keep your concentration, keep your emotions because it's very important."