A Brief History of the European Championships
With Euro 2008 only a week away now it’s about time we looked back over what has gone before the tournament kicks-off in Basel. The European Championship may not be as old as the World Cup or even as prestigious but the tournament has provide the beautiful game with some of its most memorable moments.
The tournament was devised in 1960 by Frenchman Henri Delaunay and the inaugural tournament was called the European Nations Cup. Back then the organisers of the tournament struggled to find enough teams to fill up the allocated spaces with countries like West Germany, Italy and England turning down the chance to play in the tournament. The competition was organised so as each team competed in home and away legs before the semi-final and final were held in France. The final four comprised of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the hosts France. The build-up to the tournament was not without its controversy when Spain qualified for the semi-finals they drew the Soviet Union. The Spaniards refused to play the then communist country and Czechoslovakia were re-entered into the competition. The Soviet Union dispatched the Czechs with ease before defeating Yugoslavia 2-1 in the final thanks to an extra time winner from Viktor Ponedelink.
The tournament kept the same system of having only the semi-finals and the final being played in one country up until the 1980 competition when it was expanded to eight teams and then finally to the set-up we know best now of 16 teams in 1996. 1980 was also the first time the hosts had been announced before qualifying for the tournament had got underway, before that the host nation was chosen after all the semi-finalists were confirmed.
In between that time the tournament saw a host of different winners with Spain winning in 1964 against previous winners Russia. 1968 saw England qualify thanks to the home nations group, the qualifiers worked out by how each team had performed in the previous two home nation’s tournament. In the end the then World Champions England were knocked out by Yugoslavia whilst Italy defeated the Soviet Union on the toss of a coin after a 0-0 draw to reach the final. Then there was no extra time played in 1968 and instead the final went to a reply after a 1-1 draw which saw Italy come out on top 2-1. 1972 provided West Germany with their first European success after defeating the Soviet Union in the final. But West Germany would have little luck in 1976 when they lost to Czechoslovakia on penalties after Uli Hoeness’ spot kick hit the crossbar. The interesting fact from that tournament came in that every game played went to extra-time, the first occasion this had happened at a European Championship.
As previously mention the 1980 tournament was expanded to included eight teams which were split into groups of four, the winners of each group qualified for the final meaning that for the first time ever there were no semi-finals. Although West Germany emerged as worthy winners, beating Belgium in the final, the tournament was marred by not only a low standard of football but by hooligan activity at a collection of the games. 1984 was to see the European Championships catapulted into the international spotlight with a fine football festival, the highlight coming in the form of Michael Platini who scored nine goals in France’s five games, including two ‘perfect hat-tricks’ (left foot, right foot, header), as Les Bleus lifted their first ever major trophy . Of course that tournament included possibly the best game to ever grace the European Championships in France 3-2 victory over Portugal in the semi-finals, a must watch for all football purists.
Unfortunately France failed to qualify for the 1988 tournament which contained the most memorable moment in the history of the European Championships. Who can forget Marco Van Basten’s wonder goal in the Netherlands victory over the Soviet Union in the final. To score in the final is one thing but to do it from such a tight angle, on the volley was simply breathtaking. Whilst the tournament was the first not to see a red card there were some unsavoury scenes when Dutch defender Ronald Koeman decided to use a German shirt as toilet paper in front of a hostile home nation’s crowd.
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1992 saw the controversial move to expel Yugoslavia from the tournament due to the civil war they were experiencing. As such Denmark, who had finished behind the Balkan nation in qualifying, were reinstated only for the outsiders to go on to win the tournament, beating Holland in the semi-finals thanks to Peter Schmeichel saving Van Basten’s spot kick in a penalty shoot out before beating Germany in the final. One for the fact file came in the form of this being the first major football competition to see players have their names printed on the back of their shirts.
The name on everyone’s lips after Euro 96 was Gareth Southgate as England suffered heart break on home soil in a penalty shoot-out lose to Germany, Southgate missing the all important penalty in the semi-final shootout. Germany went on to win the final thanks to a golden goal from Oliver Beirhoff., the first golden goal in international football. The tournament is regarded as a massive success to all those involved with football and boosts the highest aggregate attendance for a European Championship with 1.27 million people attending the games.
2000 saw the first joint hosts with Belgium and the Netherlands staging the tournament which saw France crowned European Champions to go along with the World crown they had picked up two years earlier. David Trezeguet struck a golden goal to give France the trophy after a compelling final against Italy who had Francesco Toldo to thank for their passage to the final after the goalkeeper saved one of two penalties against Holland in regulation time before saving a further two in the penalty shootout that followed. The tournament also saw the re-birth of Portugal as an international force as they annihilated Germany 3-0 in the group stages, a group in which both Germany and England were knocked out from by surprise packages Portugal and Romania.
2004’s tournament contained the biggest surprise package of all with Greece taking home the title. Whilst their route to the final was remarkable in respect to whom they defeated their football was not. But whilst the Greeks may not have provided us with any thrilling encounters they did show us what you can achieve with a solid base, basic tactics and a good team spirit. Angelos Charisteas was the hero of the piece with his winning goal against Portugal in the final of a tournament which for some was a Greek tragedy with the likes of Germany, Spain and Italy all knockout in the group stages.
And so that brings us up to date and ready for this years finals, here’s hoping for a great tournament and if you fancy having a flutter on the games click here for football beting.