The History of the European Football Championships
The winners of the past 13 championships can now proudly see their names in the history books.We take a look at the impressive talents and the greatest moments throughout UEFA European Football Championship history.
It was Frenchman Henri Delaunay who first promoted the idea of a pan-European football tournament. A member of his country’s football federation, and on the FIFA board from 1924 to 1928, the former referee – who retired after a wayward shot caused him to swallow his whistle and break his two front teeth – mooted the prospect as early as 1927.
Along with his countryman Jules Rimet, Delaunay would lay the groundwork for the first FIFA World Cup, which was held in 1930, but his dream for a European equivalent only came into fruition in 1954, when UEFA was founded and he became the first general secretary. Before then bitter infighting had led to countries obstructing the project’s progress.
Sadly, he passed away in 1957, three years before the first tournament – which, until 1968, was called the European Nations Cup – was hosted in his homeland. However, his vision is remembered and the champions’ trophy is named after him – the Henri Delaunay Cup is the prize synonymous with the European Championship.
In 2008, Spain’s captain Iker Casillas was the first person to lift the updated version of the venerated silverware, which is based on the 1960 original, created by Paris designers Arthus- Bertrand, but is 18cm higher and 2kg heavier. The trophy was reincarnated to reflect the scale and size of Europe’s most prestigious international tournament.
2012 QUALIFICATION The 16 countries battling it out for the Henri Delaunay Cup this summer were – apart from co-hosts Poland and debutants Ukraine, who were afforded automatic places – determined after a gruelling 15-month qualifying period, which began back in August 2010.
Some 51 teams, broken up into six groups of six teams and three of five, fought for their right to appear at Europe’s most popular sporting event. Reigning champions Spain, and the team they defeated in the final four years before, Germany, were the only sides to achieve a 100 per cent record in qualification. Apart from those two, group winners Russia, Italy, France, Holland, Greece, England and Denmark, as well as best runners-up Sweden, advanced.
In November last year the final four countries to be represented at the EUROs were established, following successful play-offs. The victors were Croatia, Czech Republic, Republic of Ireland – who are making only their second appearance in the tournament – and Portugal.
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AUSTRIA AND SWITZERLAND 2008 People were calling for the head of Spanish coach Luis Aragonés before the tournament began, but after his team were crowned champions of Europe – their first silverware since the second tournament in 1964, 44 years before – he was instantly venerated as the greatest footballing tactician in the country’s history.
Aragonés, who stepped down after his side defeated Germany 1-0 at the Ernst-Happel Stadion, promoted ‘tiki-taka’, a phrase that came to mean short, incisive passing, patience and possession, above all else.
The coach’s philosophy was adopted by the outstanding players at his disposal and while Xavi Hernandez’s pass set up Fernando Torres’s winning goal in Vienna, the pathway was illuminated with talents such as Cesc Fábregas, David Silva, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Andrés Iniesta and David Villa – the tournament’s top-scorer with four goals. Many predicted a golden age of Spanish dominance.
When they were crowned champions of the world under Vicente del Bosque’s guidance two years ago it surprised few, and they enter the tournament in Poland and Ukraine as short-odds favourites.
PORTUGAL 2004 In one of the biggest shocks in footballing history, an unfashionable and unfancied Greece side used ultra- defensive tactics to devastating effect. While the tournament had the purists lamenting the state of the ‘beautiful game’, the clever planning of German coach Otto Rehhagel showed the importance of a master-tactician.
His team was likened to the famous Trojan Horse in Greek mythology, and would surprise their opponents by scoring before their steely defence – which did not concede in the knockout stages – held firm.
The final, at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon, was a re-run of the tournament’s first game when Greece defeated the hosts, who were powered by Cristiano Ronaldo. Rehhagel’s team proved that it was no fluke the first time round and Angelos Charisteas became a national hero after he scored from his country’s first corner, taken by Angelos Basinas, in the 57th minute.
In retrospect, it was a fascinating competition. There were surprises galore as Germany, Spain and Italy were knocked out during the group stage while title- holders France were eliminated in the quarter-finals by underdogs Greece, whose defensive midfielder and captain, Theodoros Zagorakis, was elected Player of the Tournament, for his stubborn performances. The 2004 victory remains Greece’s only football trophy.
BELGIUM AND HOLLAND 2000 France, who entered the first co-hosted European tournament as World Cup holders, were once again propelled by the magnificent Zinedine Zidane, but it was David Trezeguet who won an incredible final for Les Bleus, netting a Golden Goal against Italy, who had led 1-0 for 94 minutes before Sylvain Wiltord’s equaliser in the fourth minute of stoppage time at the Feijenoord Stadion, Rotterdam.
Italy’s Marco Delvecchio had opened the scoring in the 55th minute and it appeared that the Italians, who reached the final after defeating co-hosts Holland on penalties having played out a goalless draw, would hold on for the win.
“The 16 countries battling it out for the Henri Delaunay Cup this summer were determined after a gruelling 15-month qualifying period.”
But the game-changing ability of Zidane, who had scored his country’s Golden Goal in the 2-1 semi-final win over Portugal, came to the fore once again. In the 15th minute of extra-time he pulled the ball back from the left and Trezeguet’s first-time shot crashed into the roof of the net. France became the first country to be the world and European champions at the same time – a feat which has since been matched by Spain.
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ENGLAND 1996 Germany won their third European Championship title after defeating surprise package Czech Republic 2-1 in the final at Wembley. Striker Oliver Bierhoff was the hero for the Germans as he levelled out Patrik Berger’s 59th minute penalty and went on to net the winning Golden Goal in the 95th minute.
The knockout stages had been tense, with both hosts England and also France advancing on penalties after goalless draws against Spain and Holland respectively. Germany defeated Croatia 2-1, with Player of the Tournament Matthias Sammer scoring the crucial winner, while Karel Poborský’s goal was the only goal of Czech Republic’s last eight game against Portugal.
Both semi-finals were determined on spot-kicks, with England’s Gareth Southgate failing to convert his effort against Germany, while Reynald Pedros miscued for France in the other game. For the hosts, who were led admirably by tournament top-scorer Alan Shearer (five), it was a heart-breaking way to topple out, having been defeated in the same manner by identical opponents in the 1990 World Cup semi-final.
SWEDEN 1992 While Greece’s win in 2004 was a surprise, Denmark’s victory in the final over Germany a dozen years earlier shocked even the winning players, and certainly the country they were representing.
A fortnight before the tournament, the Scandinavian nation’s top players were sunning themselves on their summer holidays when they received a frantic phone call from coach Richard Møller Nielsen. He informed them that the Danes would have to scramble a team together after Yugoslavia had been banned due to the growing Balkan situation.
Somehow, after first drawing 0-0 against England and losing to hosts Sweden 1-0, the Danes shook themselves from their lethargy and Lars Elstrup’s late goal was enough to beat France 2-1 and advance to the knockout stages. There they met a strong Holland side, who were reigning champions, but two goals from midfielder Henrik Larsen took the game to penalties, which the Dutch lost due to Marco van Basten’s uncharacteristic miss.
Now truly inspired by their good fortune the Danes defeated the mighty Germany 2-0 at Ullevi in Gothenburg, with goals from John Jensen and Kim Vilfort. “I should have put in a new kitchen but then we were called away to play in Sweden,” Møller Nielsen would later joke.
WEST GERMANY 1988 With three-time European Footballer of the Year Marco van Basten in the most explosive form of his life, Holland were crowned champions of the continent. Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard also spearheaded the Dutch charge, and they defeated the Soviet Union 2-0 at the Olympiastadion, Munich in the final with both Gullit and van Basten netting. It was the latter’s fifth goal of the tournament, following an incredible hat-trick against England in the group stages and an 88th-minute winner against hosts West Germany in the semi-final, and crowned him as the top scorer, having notched up three more strikes than anyone else.
Coach Rinus Michels, the man credited with inventing ‘Total Football’, had brilliant players at his disposal who were willing to adopt his philosophy. It remains Holland’s only major tournament win. In Holland’s first match of the tournament they lost 1-0 to the Soviet Union – their last tournament before the fall dissolution of the states in 1989 – but gained their revenge in the final.
EURO ‘88 is also notable as it was a rare incidence of a major football tournament ending without a single sending-off or goalless draw, nor any knockout matches going to extra-time or penalties, and was peculiar as the defending champions, France, failed to qualify.
FRANCE 1984 Even though France qualified automatically as hosts of the event, they were popular favourites to win their first major trophy. They duly did, and were admirably led by Michel Platini, who scored nine goals in five matches, and defeated Spain 2-0 in the final at Parc des Princes in Paris.
Les Bleus topped their group with a 100 per cent record, after wins over Denmark (1-0), Belgium (5-0) and Yugoslavia (3-2). After advancing to the semi-final Platini scored in the last minute of extra-time to defeat Portugal 3-2 in one of the most exciting games in the competition’s history.
In the final they faced Spain, who had topped their group after two draws and a 1-0 win over West Germany, the reigning European champions and 1982 World Cup finalists. They scraped through the semi-final with Denmark 5-4 on penalties after the game ended 1-1. In the final in the French capital Platini gave his country the lead in the 57th minute, and left-winger Bruno Bellone sealed the victory to spark wild celebrations across France.
ITALY 1980 The sixth edition of the European Championships, held in Italy, was the first in which eight teams, rather than four, contested the final tournament and West Germany were crowned tournament winners after defeating Belgium 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Centre-forward Horst Hrubesch was the hero in the final for West Germany, who won their second EURO title. Hrubesch opened the scoring after 10 minutes and, after René Vandereycken levelled with 15 minutes of normal time remaining, the Hamburg forward lived up to his nickname – Das Kopfball- Ungeheuer (The Header Beast) – and nodded in the winner in the penultimate minute.
The tournament was notable for the defensive style of football most teams employed. Belgium surprised many by reaching the final, and won many plaudits for playing more attacking football.
YUGOSLAVIA 1976 The fourth European Championships were the last played by just four teams, and it was remarkable as it was the first and only time that all four matches in the final tournament were decided after extra-time, either on penalties or by goals scored.
Czechoslovakia were crowned champions after they defeated West Germany 5-3 on spot-kicks at the Crvena Zvezda Stadium, Belgrade, following a 2-2 draw after extra-time. Dieter Müller, the tournament’s leading scorer with four, twice equalised for West Germany – the 1974 World Cup winners and reigning European champions – in the final, but it was not to be his day.
Uli Hoeneß missed the crucial spot- kick for West Germany, while – with the last kick of the tournament – Czech midfielder Antonin Panenka gained fame for innovating the Panenka penalty, now commonly known as the chip shot, to seal the trophy for his nation
with brilliant panache.
BELGIUM 1972 West Germany won their first European Championship by defeating the Soviet Union at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. The 3-0 final defeat remains the heaviest in the history of the tournament. Gerd Müller, the legendary German striker, was the star of the tournament, netting four goals in his country’s two games.
Nicknamed ‘The Bomber’, Müller – whose astonishing record for West Germany reads: played 62, scored 68 – scored twice in the 2-1 win over hosts Belgium in their first game. He then netted a brace in the final held in the Belgian capital, with Herbert Wimmer adding a third.
ITALY 1968 Like Spain four years earlier, Italy became the second host nation to win the tournament, which was first called the European Championship, rather than the European Nations’ Cup, as it was labelled in the first two competitions.
The new title was accompanied with a new format: the qualification phase was changed to comprise qualifying groups instead of two-legged knockout ties, and led to a quarter-final round featuring the eight group winners.
Amazingly the Italians only made it through to the final after playing out a goalless 120 minutes with the Soviet Union, and advanced thanks to a favourable coin toss.
The Azzurri were promptly awarded a Rome showdown with Yugoslavia, who had Dragan Džajić’s goal to thank for overcoming ten- man England 1-0. Alan Mullery had become the first senior England player to be sent off in that game and was sidelined as his colleagues went on to take third place.
With goals from Luigi Riva and Pietro Anastasi in the 2-0 win for Italy over Yugoslavia, that success remains the only time Italy have won the European Championship.
SPAIN 1964 Spain, under the rule of General Franco, won their first major silverware by defeating the Soviet Union, the reigning champions, on home soil, in front of more than 79,000 at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid.
Marcelino Martínez became his country’s hero, scoring the winner in the 2-1 victory with only six minutes of normal time remaining. Interestingly Spain had withdrawn from the first tournament, in 1960, for political reasons as they did not want to take on the Soviet Union, but on this occasion General Franco allowed his team to play them.
In the semi-finals, the Soviet Union defeated Denmark 3-0 in Barcelona while the hosts beat Hungary 2–1 in extra-
time in Madrid, the winning goal being scored by Amancio Amaro, who was
nicknamed ‘The Witch’.
FRANCE 1960 The Soviet Union won the first ever tournament, bettering Yugoslavia 2-1 in the final, hosted at Parc des Princes in Paris. The tournament was built around a format of knockout home-and-away games until the semi-final stage. Hosts France were eliminated in a thrilling 5-4 loss to Yugoslavia, which remains the competition’s highest- scoring match. In the final the Soviets defended heroically against the dominant and free- scoring Yugoslavs, with goalkeeper Lev Yashin thwarting numerous chances.
Milan Galić’s deflected shot gave Yugoslavia the lead just before the break, but Slava
Metreveli soon levelled after the interval, and in extra time Viktor Ponedelnik headed in the winning goal to claim Soviet Union’s first and only trophy.