Barça’s presence at the Euros from 1996 onwards was considerably bigger, and that was for two simple reasons. First, the finals were expanded to sixteen teams. And second, with restrictions on foreigners lifted post-Bosman, Europe’s top clubs now featured a myriad of players of different nationalities.
Barça had nine players at England 1996 representing five different countries, including four for Spain (Abelardo, Sergi, Guillermo Amor and Miguel Ángel Nadal, as well as Luis Enrique, who was on the point of leaving Real Madrid for FCB).
They started by drawing 1-1 with Bulgaria and Hristo Stoichkov, who was about to return to Barça after leaving for Parma just one year earlier. Another 1-1 draw with France meant they needed to win their final game against Romania (who had two Barça players in Gheorghe Popescu and Gheorghe Hagi). They did, but they left it late, Amor coming to the rescue in the 84th minute and condemning Bulgaria and Romania to an early exit.
Both of Barça’s representatives progressed in Group D, Luís Figo with Portugal and Robert Prosinečki with Croatia. And despite losing 4-1 to England, Holland also progressed with a team full of names associated with Barça (Reiziger, de Boer, Kluivert, Hesp, Cocu, Bogarde...) although the only one actually on the club’s books at the time was Jordi Cruijff.
But by the semi-finals, all Barça interest had ended. Holland lost on penalties to France, Portugal went out to the Czech Republic, Croatia were beaten by eventual winners Germany, and hosts England progressed at the expense of Spain on penalties.
Euro 2000 in Holland and Belgium produced the peculiar situation of Barça having twice as many players in the Dutch team (Michael Reiziger, Frank de Boer, Boudewijn Zenden, Phillip Cocu, Patrick Kluivert, Ronald de Boer) as it did in the Spain team (Pep Guardiola, Abelardo, Sergi). Holland won every game in their group and despite losing 1-0 to Norway in their opener, Spain also topped their group.
Spain went out in the quarters to France, who then beat the only other team with a Barça player, Luis Figo’s Portugal, in the semis. Hosts Holland crashed out to Italy on penalties in the other semi-final, but Kluivert did finish as joint top scorer in the tournament with five goals.