We’ve written a UEFA European Championship beginner’s guide to explain how one of the world’s most exciting soccer competition works, and where you can watch the matches on US television and streaming.

Aside from the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA European Championship is arguably the most prestigious and competitive international soccer tournament in the world.

European Championship beginner's guide

While the flair on show in the Copa America and the vibrancy in the stands at the Africa Cup of Nations are unmatched, in terms of the consistency and quality of soccer, as far as continental competitions go the Euros stand alone.

The event brings together the finest footballing nations from across the continent to compete for the right to be crowned as kings of Europe. And like the World Cup, the title is defended every four years, adding greater significance and anticipation to the fixtures played out.

Founded in 1960, the European Championship has seen plenty of changes and continues to evolve as modern soccer morphs.

Indeed, while these events are typically hosted or co-hosted by a competing nation, the 2020 edition will see 13 cities from 13 countries stages games to make up the tournament, with the semi-finals and finals to be held at Wembley Stadium in London.

In 2016, the competition was expanded to 32 teams for the first time; the inaugural European Championship contained just four countries.

Competition: European Championship
Founded: 1960

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UEFA European Championship beginner’s guide


The qualification process for the upcoming tournament in 2020 will see all 55 UEFA member countries battle it out for their spot, with some previously—winners and host nations—having been granted a guaranteed spot.

Of the 24 slots available, 20 will be filled by sides who make it through via the standard qualification route, with the top two sides from 10 groups making their way into the final bracket. The other four remaining spots will be linked with progress in the upcoming, inaugural UEFA Nations League.

The decision to hold the competition across 13 countries is to celebrate the event’s 60th anniversary, although the format for the finals is set to remain the same as the 2016 tournament.

That saw six groups of four take part, with the top two sides in each making their way into the knockout stage. Additionally, the four highest-ranked third place sides—in terms of points accrued—also progress to the 16-team bracket. Sides level on points will be separated by goal difference, which is the number of goals scored subtracted by the number of goals against.

From there, the team that wins their four knockout matches is crowned as the champion. Nations progress by winning their matches in normal time, in extra-time or via a penalty shootout. The 2016 winners, Portugal, clinched the crown thanks to an extra-time strike from Eder.

As aforementioned, Wembley is set to be the stadium at which the semi-final and final matches are held. It’s anticipated the quarter-finals will be staged in Baku, Munich, Rome and Saint Petersburg.


Naturally, having been running for so many years, the European Championship has forged a tremendous legacy and has been a grand stage for plenty of immortal figures in the sport’s history.

In the 15 times the tournament has been held, 10 different winners have emerged, offering an insight into just how fierce the competition is among the continent’s best national teams. Germany and Spain are the most prolific winners, sampling glory on three separate occasions each.

The Euros have a reputation for producing shocks too. In the past, some unlikely champions have surfaced, with the most recent example being Portugal in 2016, grinding their way to the final and upsetting France in front of their own supporters, with an unlikely hero emerging in extra-time.

In 1992, Denmark only took up a spot in the final eight-team lineup after Yugoslavia were disqualified from competing and went on to secure an surprise triumph. Famously, it was claimed the Danes, who believed they were off for the summer, came off the beach to win their first and only European title.

But the most surprising champions in the Euros’ history, perhaps even in the history of international football, came when Greece won the 2004 edition.

Few believed Otto Rehhagel’s men would win a game at the Portugal showpiece, although they upset the hosts 2-1 in the first game of the tournament and eventually took their place in the knockout stages. From that point on they didn’t concede a goal and beat Portugal for a second time to complete a gargantuan upset.

In terms of individuals, France’s Michel Platini secured his status as an all-time great in this competition and is the overall top scorer in European Championship history; his nine goals in the 1984 tournament powered his country to glory on home soil.


Browse through these beginners guides to the many of the popular soccer leagues:

Soccer Beginner’s guides

• Beginner’s guide to soccer rules

• Beginner’s guide to Argentine Primera División

• Beginner’s guide to Bundesliga

• Beginner’s guide to Championship

• Beginner’s guide to Champions League

• Beginner’s guide to English Premier League

• Beginner’s guide to Korea’s K League

• Beginner’s guide to La Liga

• Beginner’s guide to Serie A

• Beginner’s guide to Euro 2020

• Beginner’s guide to World Cup

• Beginner’s guide to FA Cup


If you have any questions about the European Championship beginner’s guide, please let us know in the comments section below.


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