Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA: European Championships – A Brief History

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 7, 2012

The UEFA European Football Championship has enjoyed a rich variety of formats and winning teams since its inauguration in 1960. The very first tournament saw seventeen nations enter at the start of the competition with the semi-finals and final played in Paris over a four day period resulting in the Soviet Union becoming the first ever winners. The tournament in its current guise sees sixteen teams competing in the finals having been whittled down from an initial 51 nations trying their luck in the qualification process. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog takes a look back over the years to see how the competition has grown in stature and has become, in some people’s eyes, “the World Cup without Argentina and Brazil”.

The 1960 tournament, named at this time as the European Nations’ Cup, began with a two-legged qualification match between Czechoslovakia and the Republic of Ireland with the former winning 4-2 on aggregate in order to reach the first round proper. Sixteen countries then fought it out in a straight knockout format with two legs played in each round until the semi-finals. The official 1960 tournament finals were played in France with two former eastern Bloc countries, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, reaching the first ever final after seeing off Czechoslovakia and France respectively in the semis.  In the final Milan Galic gave Yugoslavia the lead just before the break but the Soviets restored parity in the second half with a goal from Slava Metreveli. With no further scoring the game had to go into extra-time and with seven minutes remaining Viktor Ponedelnik went on to score the winning goal which secured the Soviet Union’s one and only trophy at international level.


The 1964 tournament saw a surge of interest in the number of nations hoping to qualify for the tournament. After just two countries took part in qualifying in 1960, the number increased to an impressive twenty four with the likes of England, Italy and the Netherlands entering for the first time. Spain was the host country for the second tournament finals and it was on this occasion that the hosts won the trophy for the first time in its history defeating title holders Soviet Union 2-1 with Marcelino scoring the winning goal with just six minutes remaining on the clock. Four years later saw the tournament change its name to what we all know it is as today and also saw the qualification process change from that of a straight knockout format to a league format with the 31 nations split into eight groups. England reached the finals, played in Italy, for the first time but lost out to Yugoslavia who, in turn, lost to the tournament hosts 2-0 in a replayed final after the first game had finished 1-1. It was the first and so far only time that Italy has had its hands on the Henri Delaunay trophy in what was the only final ever to go to a replay.

The next three tournaments would see the emergence of West Germany as a force in European football winning two of them. The 1972 tournament in Belgium saw the Germans easily see off the challenge of the Soviet Union with Gerd Müller bagging a brace in a 3-0 win and become the first team to hold both the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship at the same time. A shock was on the cards four years later in Yugoslavia when the defending champions, following a 2-2 draw after extra-time, lost out to Czechoslovakia in the first final to be decided by a penalty shoot-out with Antonin Panenka scoring one of the most audacious penalties ever to clinch the cup for Czechoslovakia. Italy was once again the host in the 1980 tournament with the finals format changed to increase the number of participants from four to eight. The eight countries were divided into two groups of four before reverting back to straight knockout from the semi-finals onwards, a format which would remain constant until 1996. West Germany would go on to become the first nation to win the trophy twice in 1980 following a 2-1 win over Belgium with Horst Hrubesch scoring both goals for the victors, the second just two minutes before full time.


France hosted the 1984 tournament and would emerge victorious with one of the most exciting teams ever to play in the competition. With names such as Michel Platini, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse and Luis Fernandez, Les Bleus were involved in a classic semi-final against Portugal before going on to defeat Spain 2-0 in the final. France captain Michel Platini created history by scoring nine goals in a single tournament which remains a record to this day. The 1988 tournament in West Germany would become synonymous with the finest Netherlands team since the days of Totaal Voetbal in the 1970s. Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard were the central foundation of an exciting Dutch team who would defeat the likes of England and West Germany en route to beating the Soviet Union 2-0 in the final with Van Basten scoring one of, if not the greatest, goal ever scored in the tournament. The 1992 tournament finals would be the last ever to have eight teams and would be won in fairy tale fashion by Denmark. The Danes hadn’t even qualified for the tournament but were given a reprieve when Yugoslavia was banned from playing due to the impending conflict in the Balkans. Denmark saw off the national team of a newly re-unified Germany by two goals to nil with John Jensen and Kim Vilfort writing their names into Danish legend.


Football came home in 1996 with England hoping to carve their name on to the famous Henri Delaunay trophy for the first time. The qualifying process for the “Euros” had become significantly increased by the ever changing face of Europe. With the number of countries participating having increased from 35 up to 47 following the break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia the tournament finals had subsequently been increased from eight teams to sixteen with the teams divided into four groups of four, a format which remains to this day. England, however, would see Germany prove to be their arch nemesis once more with the Germans knocking the hosts out in the semi-finals before going on to defeat the Czech Republic in the first final to be decided with a “Golden Goal”, Oliver Bierhoff’s strike in the 95th minute proving decisive as the Germans won the trophy for a record third time.


The year 2000 saw joint hosts for the first time in the competition’s history with neighbouring Belgium and the Netherlands holding the tournament. Following their FIFA World Cup win two years earlier, France would make it a fine double when David Trezeguet scored a Golden Goal to give the French a 2-1 win over Italy. Portugal hosted the 2004 tournament and were hoping to win the trophy for the first time but whose dreams were shattered after Greece, who had defeated the hosts in the opening game of the tournament, would go on to beat Portugal in the final too. Angelos Charisteas’ strike in the 57th minute would prove decisive as the unfancied Greeks won the trophy for the first time and became the ninth different nation whose name would grace the famous trophy. In the most recent tournament in 2008 Austria and Switzerland were granted the distinction of playing joint hosts but neither was able to make their mark on the competition beyond the group stage. Spain would emerge victorious following a narrow 1-0 win over Germany, Fernando Torres’ strike in the 33rd minute would prove to be enough for Spain to become the third nation to hold both world and European titles simultaneously.


Euro 2012, which sees more joint hosts in the form of Poland and Ukraine, will be the last tournament in which sixteen teams will feature in the finals. The next tournament, to be held in France in 2016, will see 24 countries take part for the first time. Whether this is a move which will complement the tournament in a sporting as well as a financial manner remains to be seen. For now, though, let’s look forward to a month long feast which will showcase the best that European football has to offer. Though if you really are missing Argentina and Brazil it just so happens that they’re also playing against each other this weekend in a friendly match!

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