On June 11th, EURO 2020 will kick off with 24 teams battling it out in 51 matches across 11 different host countries in 31 days. The tournament, delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will celebrate 60 years since the first European championship finals in 1960. However, the spectacle that we are set to witness this year, will be a stark contrast to the inaugural finals, which failed to gain interest and paled into insignificance compared to the World Cup. As the years have gone by, the tournament has grown and developed into one of the biggest events of the football calendar.
The idea of a continental competition was thought of by Henri Delaunay, the secretary of the French Football Federation, in 1927. This idea won little support, however, Delaunay returned to the proposal upon becoming the first General Secretary of UEFA in 1954. Delaunay’s death in 1955 could have ended any such plans, however, Delaunay’s son carried on the work of his father and in 1960 the very first European Championship finals took place. The competition has since developed from a four-team tournament into an eight-team competition. It has since been expanded to a 16-team format before finally into the 24-team tournament that will take place this year.
Over the years, the Euros have provided us with breathtaking goals, incredible games, and historic moments. They have offered hope, joy and ultimately disappointment – if you are unfortunate enough to support England that is! So, let us look back at every single one of the 15 previous tournaments, as the Euros, with the help of some unforgettable moments, slowly developed into the competition that it is today.
The first European Championship finals took place in 1960, with the competition then known as the European Nations’ Cup. In honour of Henri Delaunay, the tournament was held in France and the trophy was named after him.
Four teams figured at the inaugural finals, after only 17 entered qualifying; England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland were not interested, while Italy, the Netherlands and 1954 World Cup winners West Germany also declined. The entry fee for teams wanting to enter was just 200 Swiss Francs.
The final tournament phase consisted of semi-finals, a final and a third-place game, with the final being won by the Soviet Union, who beat Yugoslavia 2-1. However, despite the tournament still boasting the highest-scoring game in European Championship history, with Yugoslavia beating France 5-4, it failed to spark the interest of the rest of the world.
Unlike the inaugural edition of the European Championships, 29 teams entered the qualifying stage for EURO 1964. The four teams that qualified for the tournament, though, were the hosts Spain, along with Hungary, Denmark, and the Soviet Union, who had been triumphant in 1960. Denmark were the surprise package in the finals, with the team still an amateur side making their qualification for the competition quite the underdog story.
Spain knocked out the Danes to set up an intriguing final with the Soviet Union. Spain had pulled out of the tournament in 1960 because of General Franco refusing to let his side play the Soviets. The final was a largely dull affair and did not live up to expectations with Spain beating the Soviet Union 2-1.
UEFA had decided to stick with the same four-team format that had been used four years before and compiled with the dull final, it meant that fans would have to wait a little longer until the competition really hit its stride.
EURO 1968 was the first European Championship finals that England qualified for, with Sir Alf Ramsey’s World Cup winners being joined by Italy, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. It was this year that the tournament changed from the European Nations’ Cup to the European Football Championship, which it still remains today.
It was also the first year that the format changed, with two-legged knockout qualifying matches being replaced by qualification groups. However, in the finals, themselves, the format remained the same.
On paper it was set to be an interesting tournament, however, in reality, it was incredibly poor. Italy and the Soviet Union’s semi-final was decided on a coin toss after the score remaining deadlocked. The other semi-final was equally as poor with Yugoslavia opting to kick England off the pitch and a bad-tempered game resulted in Alan Mullery being sent off for retaliating to an especially bad challenge, with Mullery becoming the first player to ever be red carded for England. The final was also poor with the hosts, Italy, winning the replay 2-0 after the first final finished 1-1.
Overall it was a tournament devoid of quality and not at all a good advertisement for the EUROs, which were still yet to captivate the footballing world.
After the very forgettable EURO 1968, the European Championship finals were back with a bang, four years later. This time the tournament was held in Belgium, with the Belgians joined by West Germany, Hungary and, again, the Soviet Union. 1970 World Cup winners West Germany boasted the likes of legendary players like, Gerd Müller and Franz Beckenbauer, and arguably had an even stronger team than the one that won the World Cup.
The quality of the German side was evident throughout and they absolutely blitzed the competition and blew the Soviet Union away in the final, winning 3-0 to lift the trophy for the first time. Whilst the competition lacked any major drama due to West Germany’s quality, it was still a good tournament compared with some of the earlier editions of the EUROs.
However, sadly two pitch invasions during the finals led to a UEFA ruling that major games would take place in front of stands that were fenced in – a decision that went on to have catastrophic consequences.
EURO 1976 was by far the best edition of the European Championship finals to use the old four-team format. Hosted by Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, West Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the hosts battled it out across four matches as they searched for European glory. Unlike the earlier EURO tournaments, every single match was absolutely enthralling.
The Czechs overcame the Netherlands 3-1 after extra time in one semi-final, whilst West Germany came from 2-0 down in the other to beat Yugoslavia, with Gerd Müller bagging a hattrick. The final did not disappoint either with West Germany equalising in the 89th minute to make the score 2-2 and to take the game into extra-time.
For the first time penalty shootouts were introduced in the tournament and after there were no goals in extra-time in the final, the game went to a shootout. Czechoslovakia defeated West Germany with Antonin Panenka scoring the decisive spot-kick and perhaps the most infamous penalty of all time by coolly dinking the ball down the middle of the goal.
EURO 1976’s success meant that it was the last of the four-team tournaments as the EUROs had well and truly taken off and expansion was inevitable.
EURO 1980 took place in Italy and was the first time that the tournament expanded beyond four teams. The format instead now consisted of two groups of four, with the winners of each group facing each other in the final. However, this resulted in many teams playing for nothing after two games and meant that negative tactics were employed by teams with many sides playing not to lose rather than to win.
This resulted in EURO 1980 being a disaster.
Italy, West Germany, Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, Belgium, and England were the teams that were competing for the trophy. England’s group match with Belgium was marred with hooliganism and thankfully for the tournament’s sake, England were eliminated at the first hurdle, despite beating Spain, as Belgium won the group. Unsurprisingly West Germany joined Belgium in the final and won the tournament for the second time, beating Belgium 2-1.
However, the tournament’s questionable format, negative tactics and dull matches resulted in this being an edition of the EUROs to forget.
After the failure that was EURO 1980, the format of the European Championship finals needed to be changed if they were to continue. Thankfully, however, they were. This time, the format meant that the group winners and runners-up both went into the semi-finals. Essentially then, this tournament was the real precursor to the 16-team tournament that ran until 2016.
EURO 1984 was held in France and it was a fantastic tournament with 41 goals being scored across 15 matches. Nine of those 41 goals were scored by one man, who individually lit up the competition, France’s Michel Platini. His impressive haul remains the record for the most goals scored in any single European Championship.
Les Blues strolled through the opening group stage and Platini’s 119th minute winner in the semi-final against Portugal took them to the final, where they defeated Spain to claim their first European Championship title.
The tournament provided endless entertainment and is still remembered as one of the best editions of the EUROs and, perhaps, the tournament that finally captured the attentions of the world.
Think of EURO 1988 and one goal will spring into everybody’s minds – Marco Van Basten’s exquisite volley. After the resounding success of EURO 1984, UEFA stuck with the same format that had been so successful in France. The tournament is remembered fondly because of the eventual winners, the Netherlands, being one of the most entertaining international sides of all time.
The Netherlands were spearheaded by the incredible trio of Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard; three players that were influential in their EURO success. The competition, hosted in West Germany, was also a significant first major tournament for Ireland under Jack Charlton, who’s side famously beat England during the group stage, as both nations failed to reach the semi-finals. The semi-finals were made up of the Netherlands, West Germany, the Soviet Union, and Italy.
The Netherlands produced a famous 2-1 win over the hosts to reach the final, where they faced the Soviet Union, who beat Italy. However, there was only ever going to be one winner and after a Gullit header in the first-half, Marco Van Basten scored THAT goal. Enough said.
The EUROs had long since escaped from its earlier obscurity and was now a competition that showcased the very best players in Europe and was a competition that every nation wanted to win.
The final edition of the EUROs to take place with just eight teams, EURO 1992 saw a massive underdog story as Denmark won the tournament. Unlike in the majority of the earlier tournaments that had taken place, these were the first European Championship finals to have a major upset.
The Danes had initially failed to qualify for the EUROs; however, the Yugoslav Wars saw Yugoslavia be disqualified and Denmark took their place less than two weeks before the tournament was set to start. Denmark made it through to the knockout stages after coming through a group that contained the hosts Sweden, and the disappointing England and France. In the semi-final they faced the holders, the Netherlands, who they beat on penalties after a 2-2 draw to set up a final with Germany. In the final, they completed the shock and defeated Germany to win the European Championship title.
Despite the entertainment value of an underdog story, the group stages lacked quality which resulted in the back-pass rule being implemented to prevent negative play that had prevailed in the group stages. It was not a vintage tournament with only three sides scoring more than three goals in the group stage, however, Denmark’s incredible win does mean that it is fondly remembered in Scandinavia.
EURO 1996 was the 10th UEFA European Championship and the tournament by now was very well established and loved by football fans. The 1996 edition of the competition was the first 16-team EURO and started with a group stage – with teams divided into four groups of four. The winners of each group would face the runners-up from other groups in the quarterfinals as the tournament became a straight knockout competition.
The hosts were England and EURO fever had hit England, who were hosting their first European Championship finals. It was a memorable tournament for the hosts as well as England sought to ‘bring football home’. England won their group and reached the semi-finals of the competition, where in the best game of the tournament they faced Germany in a dramatic match that ended – as always – with the Germans winning on penalties. To rub salt into England wounds they also started singing their official song, Three Lions (It’s coming home) which reached No.16 in the German pop charts.
Germany went onto win the competition in their record-breaking fifth EURO final, beating the Czech Republic 2-1. The tournament will always be remembered as an all-time classic in England, despite critics of EURO 96 pointing out that with an average of just 2.06 goals per game, it was a competition dominated by negative football.
The second edition of the EUROs to use the much-loved 16-team format, EURO 2000 was one of the best European Championship finals to date. The tournament fell into the period prior to the dominance of the Champions League, so it has been remembered by some as the last international tournament of what was a golden era.
The competition was the first EUROs to have joint hosts, with the tournament being held across the Netherlands and Belgium. The Netherlands had a good run, only to be eliminated in heart-breaking fashion in the semi-finals, losing on penalties to Italy. Co-hosts Belgium had a rather less eventful tournament and were knocked out in a thrilling group stage.
However, 1998 World Cup winners, France, looked imperious throughout and they won the final against Italy in dramatic style. Italy had led for most of the match before Wiltford netted a last-gasp equaliser before David Trezeguet scored a ‘golden goal’ in extra-time to win it for France. Incidentally, that was the last ‘golden goal’ to be scored, as the rule was abandoned after the tournament.
Overall, though, it was a fantastic tournament that featured thrilling matches from start to finish and EURO 2000, in terms of entertainment, was one of the most successful editions of the EUROs that there has been.
EURO 2004 will have to be remembered as the tournament of upsets, even more so than Denmark’s shock win at EURO 1992.
The tone was set in the opening match of the tournament, where the hosts, Portugal, were defeated by a resolute Greek side. Other shocks followed, with Germany, Spain, and Italy all failing to make it past the group stage. Meanwhile, Greece proceeded to dispatch champions France in the quarterfinals, and the Czech Republic in the semi-finals.
Otto Rehhagel’s Greek side were certainly not the most entertaining side to watch, but their team built on defensive stability, managed to reach the final where they faced Portugal. Portugal had impressed throughout the tournament and produced some football of the highest quality, however they had also lost to Greece already in the competition, so this set up an intriguing final. In a tight affair, Greece, once again, prevailed thanks to a single goal from Charisteas, to break Portuguese hearts and to pull off the ultimate shock.
Greece’s win in an entertaining tournament was crucial in proving that, despite domination from the bigger nations, the EUROs can be won by any side.
EURO 2008 was, once again, hosted by two countries, this time it was held by Austria and Switzerland. Not the most renowned footballing countries, neither side progressed out of the group side – the first time this had happened in EURO history.
Despite this, the tournament was still very lively. Early on, it appeared as though the Netherlands might be the team to beat, with Robben, Van Persie, Van Nistelrooy and co firing on all cylinders. Turkey were one of the nations to impress, coming from behind to beat the Czech Republic and Croatia in thrilling fashion before eventually being narrowly defeated 3-2 by Germany in the semi-finals. Russia were another surprise package, playing attractive football and incredibly dumping the Netherlands out of the competition.
However, ultimately, the tournament belonged to Spain. Their brand of ‘tiki-taka’ football was irresistible and they easily overcame Germany in the final. It was the beginning of one of the greatest dynasties in international football. Overall there was barely one disappointing match in what was, once again, a brilliant tournament.
EURO 2012 failed to hit the heights of the tournament four years before. The competition almost certainly suffered when both hosts – Poland and Ukraine – crashed out in the group stage and most of the games were tight somewhat cagy affairs. The best game to offer was probably England’s thrilling 3-2 win over Sweden in the group stage. However, games like that were few and far between during the entirety of the tournament.
Most of the knockout games failed to improve things either, with the matches either razor-close or one-sided. The enduring image of the finals was of Italy’s Mario Balotelli after his brace sunk Germany in the semi-finals. However, he could not replicate his heroics against the holders, Spain, in the final, as Italy were demolished 4-0 in the final. This, on top of their World Cup triumph in 2010, cemented their place as one of the greatest international sides of all time.
It was not a vintage tournament, despite the best efforts of Vincente del Bosque’s men, and the final EUROs to use the old 16-team format failed to do it justice.
UEFA decided to say goodbye to the 16-team-format that had ran since 1996. EURO 2016 was the first time that the European Championship finals had been contested by 24 teams. Under the new format, the group stage was extended to six groups of four teams, which was followed by a knockout phase that consisted of three rounds leading up to the final.
The expansion of the tournament handed nations that otherwise would not have qualified the chance to shine and countries like Iceland and Wales did, with Iceland famously knocking England out and Wales embarking on an incredible run to reach the semi-finals. The format did have some issues, however, and eventual winners Portugal, who defeated France 1-0 in the final, had somehow got there by winning just one game in 90 minutes. Under the old format, their three draws in the group stage would have seen them eliminated. The tournament did have a handful of good matches, but like EURO 2012, most games were either one-sided or dull and cagey.
However, for fans of Wales and Iceland, this tournament will always be remembered. For many fans, though, all the tournament did was trigger nostalgia of the days of the old 16-team format.
So there we have it, 60 years of the European Football Championships. From the Soviet Union to Portugal. From shock underdogs like Denmark and Greece to dominating nations like Germany and Spain. From Platini and Van Basten to Cristiano Ronaldo. The EUROs might not have always been the same competition that they are today, but they have always provided entertainment. Roll on EURO 2020!