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Euro heroes - Patrick Vieira

It was the tournament that confirmed France as the dominant force in international football and for their midfield general Patrick Vieira, Euro 2000 provided the ideal stage for him to confirm his class.

Having established himself as an elegant and dynamic performer in the Arsenal midfield, Vieira was the shining addition to the France side that had already captured the World Cup two years before. After ousting the aging Didier Deschamps from the side, the leggy midfielder turned in a series of fine performances so it's no wonder he reflects on the summer of 2000 with great fondness.

'When you win the World Cup, there is always new pressure in the next tournament,' he reflects. 'We felt that pressure, but my view is the side of 2000 was stronger than the team which won in France in 1998. We were more experienced, had greater belief and the will to win was massive.

'In the end, we needed some luck to come through, but I believe it was the strength of character in the side that helped us to win. I didn't have a main role in the World Cup win so for me, Euro 2000 was a wonderful experience.'

They were the pre-tournament favourites, yet a first round group featuring Holland and the Czech Republic was always going to test them to the full. A comfortable 3-0 triumph in their opening game against Denmark set the ball rolling and a Youri Djorkaeff goal was enough to see off the Czech's and secure their place in the last eight.

Losing 3-2 to the Dutch in their final game was a blow, yet coach Roger Lemerre had rested several key players for that tie and Vieira looks back on the opening phase of the competition with pride. 'It was always going to be a tough group,' he confirms. 'Denmark were viewed as the weakest side and that are always dangerous, so to come through comfortably was great.

'I don't think we were at our best in those first three matches. It is always tough in these group stages, especially when everyone wants to beat you. All our focus was on getting through that group, but we didn't need to be told that the quarter-finals and semi-finals would be tougher. We were not disappointed.'

A local derby against traditional under-achievers from Spain lay in wait for France and it was at this stage of the competition that the brilliant Zinedine Zidane came into his own. 'Zizou is the greatest player in the world and he showed that at Euro 2000,' continues Vieira of a player who was on target in the 2-1 quarter-final success. 'He has always been my hero, so to play with him in a successful international side was a real dream for me.

'What you learn playing with him is impossible to describe. You raise your game, that's obvious and he makes it easier for you to play your best. I think I look better playing alongside Zizou, he has that ability to help others. He is not just a guy with great skill because he fights for the ball and never gives a wayward pass. He was the leader of our side in that tournament at a time when we needed one.'

The luck Vieira mentioned came in abundance as France came through a tight semi-final thanks to a 117th minute Zidane penalty, the award of which sparked a storm of protests from the Portuguese players who were distraught by their misfortune and Italy were equally luckless in the Final.

'It was the last minute and Italy were defending so well,' recalls Vieira. 'That was their best quality, a very tough defence and it looked as if that would win the trophy for them. Then the moment came for us, Sylvain Wiltord scored in the last minute and David Trezeguet got the Golden Goal to win it. We were on top of the world again, incredible.'

The undisputed kings of football had lived up to their billing as a Gallic run of the ball and some Zidane brilliance proved too much for the rest. This triumph may not be remembered with as much fondness as the home win two years before, when flowing football was the order of the day, but for the French players involved, it provided the ultimate justification of their status in the world game.