UEFA Euro 2020

Francesco Toldo tells the story of his Euro 2000 penalty shootout heroics

Sean Walsh
Toldo was the hero in the semi-finals against the Netherlands
Toldo was the hero in the semi-finals against the Netherlands / Briony Painter

They say you have to be mad to be a goalkeeper. Leather balls pelted at you from your childhood right into your late 30s - who'd want that?

Of all the positions in football, the keeper is under the most scrutiny - if they make an error, then it's pretty hard to ignore. A defender can miss a tackle, a midfielder can misplace a pass, a striker can drag a shot wide, but a goalkeeper has to be flawless.

There's seldom moments of real personal glory in between the sticks, but that just makes those rare occasions all the more special. Just ask Francesco Toldo about his heroics at Euro 2000.

This is the story of Italy's incredible semi-final win over the Netherlands on penalties, told by the Azzurri's goalie on that evening.

The wait

Edgar Davids
Italy were preparing to go up against a strong Dutch side playing on home soil / Graham Chadwick/Getty Images

"I know, it may seem strange, but if I think back to that June 29, 21 years ago, the first thing that comes to mind is not football," Toldo begins. "I was supposed to get married a week later, once the European Championships were over.

"So to pass the wait and ease the pre-game anxiety, I spent a long time on the phone with Manuela, my fiancee. There was a wedding to prepare and we had to organise the tables. I must this was a lot of fun.

"I didn't like retreats at all, they were my Achilles heel. Necessary, for heaven's sake, because you need to go a day before events like the Euros or World Cups, to meet with the team and the squad. Occupying the time on the retreat was very difficult for me, it almost felt like a waste of time. I read books, watched movies, played cards or billiards with my teammates.

"And then I studied the opponents. To understand how their penalties would be taken, I watched games on my computer and I manually scrolled forwards and backwards to the moment the ball was kicked. I wasn't just focussing on the technical aspect, I also tried to grasp the nuances and details - the psychological aspect of the kicker changes depending on the moment they kick the ball, and above all the importance of that penalty and that game.

Alessandro Nesta, Francesco Toldo
Italy's Euro 2000 squad was littered with legends of the game / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

"Sometimes the wait was really endless so you took long walks, you leave your room to find friends who had more feelings and more plug sockets...

"Dialogue was the basis of everything, because at most you could send a text message. Now it is more difficult. Times have changed a lot and I've realised that phones lead kids to isolate themselves. But our team was always together."

The match

"The time had come. The Netherlands were awaiting us in the Amsterdam Arena. The stadium was full with incredible support from both sides. A setting like this fires you up in a crazy way.

Francesco Toldo, Frank de Boer
Netherlands were playing on home soil / Graham Chadwick/Getty Images

"I entered the field like a lion. I was in an ideal moment in my life and career, so I was very calm. By now I was used to entering stadiums like this after playing so many big matches in the shirt of Fiorentina. Matches like this are the pinnacle for every sportsman to reach, not just footballers. You must make many sacrifices, and so when you get to that level, you are prepared in every aspect. There is nothing better than a semi-final of the Euros to prove who you are.

"The funny thing about that magical evening is that the night before I imagined it would be it turned out just like that. I was on the phone with Alberto, a dear friend of mine and we started to convince ourselves that it would go to penalties and that I would save everything, which is why I had studied the opponents so intensely, even as far as to imagine the direction they would be taken - 'ok, that one goes to the right, that one goes to the left'.

"When the game started, we went down to 10 men quickly [after Gianluca Zambrotta's first half red card]. They missed their first two penalties - the course of the match was exactly as I expected. They were very strong. They played incredible football, always trying to keep possession.

Gianluca Zambrotta
Gianluca Zambrotta sees red / Ben Radford/Getty Images

"I said to myself, 'we have to try and get to penalties and take it from there'. Obviously, a goalkeeper needs all the support of his teammates, from the attackers to the defenders, because alone he can do nothing. In football you need each other, but one thing is for sure - the goalkeeper can affect the result as a striker and in my career I realised that on days when I felt very good, it was still difficult for me to score goals. We are talking about beating almost two metres of man plus his arms, eh...

"I was very focused. On evenings like that, focus is never lacking. The goal was in front of me. When you get to that point, with all the sacrifices you've made to get to Serie A and to the national team, it is difficult to let it slip away.

"At one point I said 'shoot, shoot, so I can save them all'."

The penalty shootout

"I had saved many penalties in my career, and it was thanks to belief.

"When I was in the Under-21s, for example, I saved Claude Makelele's penalty in the European Championships in 1994, which then allowed us to continue Italian traditions. It was a great time full of success for the youth teams, winning three consecutive U21 titles in 1992, 1994 and 1996.

"1994 was my turn. I came into the team because Stefano Visi from Sambenedettese, while I was in my first year with Fiorentina in Serie B. I joined the tournament and I was ready to explode. The physicist helped me a lot, but even then I wasn't afraid of anything.

"There was a lot of quality there - we faced Zinedine Zidane's France in the semi-finals and Luis Figo's Portugal in the final, people that I had the good fortune of facing in my career. I saved a penalty in that final and we won.

"The time had come again. I had the same attitude with penalties as riding a bike up a mountain. You have to climb the pedals and own the climb. You have to get in the head of the opponent and own the penalty, make him choose the side you want him to aim for. If the opponent has control of their mental situation, then luck takes over.

"The goalkeeper's theatrics are to get inside the attacker's head. It's psychological warfare, and that kind of attitude turned me into a winner that night. Times have changed now, you can no longer go up to the opponent and try to provoke him. You have to stay on the goal line, there is less dialogue and almost no contact.

Italy cheer on Toldo / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

"Luigi Di Biagio, goal. Frank de Boer, saved. Gianluca Pessotto, goal. Jaap Stam, wide.

"When Francesco Totti approached the spot, I didn't know he would go for the Panenka. I think he only told Di Biagio. That was really fun. These are not planned or predictable things. I did not expect it, nor Edwin van der Sar. Football is like that. When you least expect it, there is a champion who chips it. Usually it's done with a goalkeeper doesn't think about it, but a goalkeeper must always expect it.

"It's a nice insult. A kind of mockery and disrespect. You have to calculate that there's a possibility for this. If it never happened to me, then there's a reason for that. I don't think any opponent could, they know I might expect it. For example, I thought Alessandro Del Piero wanted to do it to me. I immediately approached him and said 'no chipping'. By doing that, I'd already ruled out a Panenka. It's a psychological game between two parties.

"Patrick Kluivert, goal. Paulo Maldini, saved. Paul Bosvelt stepped up, knowing if he missed it was over. 'Ok, that one goes to the right, that one goes to the left,' I had told Alberto. Once you sense the side they're aiming for, you have to move with perfect timing. If you move too soon, they still have time to change their minds.

Francesco Toldo , Paul Bosvelt
Toldo saves Bosvelt's penalty / Ben Radford/Getty Images

"Bosvelt, saved. We won.

"It was an unforgettable night. On the pitch you must always have courage and desire. When you have that, you can save all the penalties you want, not just in football but in life.

"To kids I always say that with conviction, talent and sacrifice, you can get there, your dreams are not that far away. They are right there, you just have to go and get them."