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Xavi Hernández was part of the Spain squad that lifted the trophy in 2008 and 2012 | FCB ARCHIVE

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.

1996: Five countries, no semi-finalists

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.

2000: More Dutch than Spanish

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.

Patrick Kluivert played for Holland in three tournaments, 1996, 2000 and 2004

2004: Double Dutch again

At Euro 2004 in Portugal, Barcelona’s Dutch contingent (Reiziger, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Cocu, Edgar Davids, Kluivert, Marc Overmars) once again doubled that in the Spain squad (Carles Puyol, Gabri, Xavi).

Spain had to beat hosts Portugal in their final group game, and ended up losing 1-0, so that was their tournament over. Holland were also in trouble. They had to beat Latvia on the final day and hope that the Czech Republic, who had already qualified, could do them a favour by beating Germany. And they did! With half a team of Barça players, the Dutch then beat Sweden on penalties before going out to hosts Portugal at the semi-final stage.

2008: Puyol, Iniesta and Xavi strike gold

Things had changed a lot by Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. There wasn’t a single Barça player in the Dutch team, but there were three playing for France (Éric Abidal, Thierry Henry, Lilian Thuram). Les Bleus had a miserable tournament, failing to win a single game in a group that did see Gianluca Zambrotta and Italy progress. Meanwhile, Deco’s Portugal won every game in their group, but went out to Germany in the quarters.

However, the team that was catching everyone’s eye was Spain. Puyol, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi were the heart of the Barcelona team that had won two Champions Leagues since the previous Euros. Spain took maximum points from the group stage, disposed of Italy on penalties in the quarters and Xavi scored one of three goals against Russia in the semis. Germany awaited in the final in Vienna and the rest is history. Barça players had their hands on the Henri Delaunay trophy for the first time in 42 years, and Xavi was named player of the tournament.

2012: Seven from Barça as Spain retain trophy

Spain followed that success with a first ever World Cup title in 2010. Coach Vicente del Bosque had relied heavily on Barça players to do that and used a record seven players from the club in his Euro 2012 squad (Gerard Piqué, Iniesta, Pedro, Xavi, Cesc Fàbregas, Víctor Valdés, Sergio Busquets) along with two other products of the Barça academy, Pepe Reina and Jordi Alba. The top scorer at Euro 2008, David Villa, had joined Barça by this time too, but missed out the finals in Poland and Ukraine through injury.

Further reflection of Barça’s reliance on local talent in the modern era is how the only other team to feature a Barça player was Holland (Ibrahim Afellay). The Dutch had a dismal time and lost every game.

Spain topped their group ahead of Italy, Croatia and Ireland, and then beat France 2-0 and Portugal on penalties to qualify for the final in Kiev. With five Barça players in the starting eleven, they tonked Italy 4-0 to become the first back-to-back European champions. Jordi Alba scored in that game and Iniesta was announced by UEFA as player of the tournament.


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