ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO admits that France broke his heart when they came from a goal down to win the EURO 2000 final.

Italy appeared to be on their way to their second victory in the European Championship after Marco Delvecchio had given Dino Zoff's side the lead after 56 minutes. But as the match ticked over into the third minute of stoppage time inside Rotterdam's De Kuip Stadium. Sylvain Wiltord, one of three substitutes flung on by an increasingly desperate Roger Lemerre as the second half progressed, scampered clear in the left side of the box and trundled a shot through the legs of Alessandro Nesta and under the arm of Francesco Toldo. The time on the clock read three minutes into stoppage time.

Then, Lemerre's other two substitutes Robert Pires and David Trezeguet combined in extra-time for the latter to smash the ball past Toldo to hand France the Henri Delaunay trophy on the golden goal ruling.

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Del Piero, himself a second-half substitute that night recalls the defeat – and the manner of it – blew his mind and set the scene for a rivalry that culminated in Italy eventually earning revenge in the World Cup final of 2006.

“Losing in the final really hurts, but that’s how life goes,” he says 20 years on from that ignominious night. “We then played against France [in the final who we’d played] on a number of other competitions, where we had the opportunity to get even. Losing that match certainly hurt but the EURO itself was really exciting.”

Del Piero says that even today the defeat still rankles and remains at a loss to explain how Italy threw the match away.

“I don’t know, even now,” he says. “When you lose matches like that, and the opposition scores the equaliser in the last minute, and then scores the golden goal, it blows your mind. It is really awful, you don’t want to believe it.

"From then on we had to face reality: we came really close to realising a dream, which did not come true. You wake up the day after, and try to be the best because, despite the previous match, you have to think about the future."

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Nevertheless, the former Juventus attacker, says he remembers the whole experience with fondness.

“Everything was good until the final. We had a wonderful performance and we all played well. I scored my first goal, and we won a crazy semi-final against the Netherlands, the host country. It was nearly a perfect dream.”