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The history of the Euros


The history of the Euros

Euro 2020, the 16th edition of the UEFA European Championship, gets underway this year on June 11. Ahead of the tournament, here’s everything you need to know about Europe’s main international soccer competition, as well as an assortment of interesting stats, facts, and figures from its history.

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The origins of the Euros

The idea of a soccer tournament featuring international European teams was first devised in 1927 by the French FA’s secretary-general Henri Delaunay, after whom the trophy given to the winning team is named. However, due to factors including World War II, the first edition took just over three decades to organise and was not staged until 1958 under the name of the European Nations’ Cup.

On that occasion, 17 countries entered and contested two-legged knockout ties across the next two years in a bid to qualify for the final tournament in France. Czechoslovakia, France, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia achieved the feat and on July 10, 1960, the final was held at the Parc des Princes in Paris, where the Soviet Union beat Yugoslavia 2-1 after extra-time.

The tournament experienced an immediate growth in popularity, with 29 teams entering Spain 1964 and 31 contesting Italy 1968, the first edition of the tournament to be officially named the UEFA European Championship. Notable absentees from France 1960 including England, West Germany, and the Netherlands also became involved over time.

The tournament finals were expanded to eight teams for 1980, who were split into two groups of four with the two group winners progressing to the final and the two runners-up facing off in a third-place play-off. Starting with this tournament, it was also decided that the host nation of the finals would no longer have to qualify and instead be granted an automatic berth.

In 1984, this format was tweaked slightly, as the third-place play-off was abolished and the top two teams from both groups instead progressed to a semi-finals round. France’s Michel Platini impressively netted nine goals in just five matches at the tournament, a record for the most goals scored by a player at a single edition of the Euros that still stands today.

Euro 1992 witnessed a memorably unique shock as the tournament was won by Denmark, a team that had initially failed to qualify for it. They were entered as a late replacement for the expelled Yugoslavia and went on to defeat reigning World Cup champions Germany 2-0 in the final.

Euros tournament hosts and winners

Tournament

Hosts

Champions

Runners-up

Best player

Euro 1960

France

Soviet Union

Yugoslavia

-

Euro 1964

Spain

Spain

Soviet Union

Euro 1968

Italy

Italy

Yugoslavia

Euro 1972

Belgium

West Germany

Soviet Union

Euro 1976

Yugoslavia

Czechoslovakia

West Germany

Euro 1980

Italy

West Germany

Belgium

Euro 1984

France

France

Spain

Euro 1988

West Germany

Netherlands

Soviet Union

Euro 1992

Sweden

Denmark

Germany

Euro 1996

England

Germany

Czech Republic

Matthias Sammer (Germany)

Euro 2000

Belgium and Netherlands

France

Italy

Zinedine Zidane (France)

Euro 2004

Portugal

Greece

Portugal

Theodoros Zagorakis (Greece)

Euro 2008

Austria and Switzerland

Spain

Germany

Xavi (Spain)

Euro 2012

Poland and Ukraine

Spain

Italy

Andres Iniesta (Spain)

Euro 2016

France

Portugal

France

Antoine Griezmann (France)

The Euros today

In 1996, the tournament finals were expanded further to feature 16 teams, who contested four groups of four with the top two from each progressing to the quarter-finals. Germany defeated the Czech Republic 2-1 in extra time with a golden goal scored by Oliver Bierhoff, marking the first time the rule had been used to decide the final of a major international tournament.

The Netherlands and Belgium became the first-ever joint hosts of the Euros in 2000, something that would later be repeated with Austria and Switzerland in 2008 and Poland and Ukraine in 2012. The following tournament in 2004 was won by Greece on only the second ever occasion they had managed to qualify for the finals, in what has since been broadly deemed one of the biggest upsets in soccer history.

Spain lifted the trophy at Euro 2012, marking both the first time that the tournament had produced back-to-back winners and a team winning three major international competitions in succession after their triumphs at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.

For Euro 2016, the format underwent its latest major changes, as the tournament was expanded again to 24 teams and a Round of 16 was introduced for the first time. Euro 2020, which was originally scheduled to be held last year before being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the first edition of the tournament without a designated host nation and will instead take place across 11 countries, with both semi-finals and the final being staged at Wembley Stadium in London.

Who has won the most European Championships?

The mantle of the most successful team in Euros history is shared by Germany (including their appearances as West Germany) and Spain, who have both lifted the trophy on three occasions. France are the only other team to win the tournament more than once with two titles to their name, whereas seven other teams have been victorious once.

Germany also hold the record for the most final appearances with six, while both Spain and the Soviet Union can boast four and France and Italy have both reached the final on three occasions.

Euros winners

Team

Wins

Years

Germany

3

1972, 1980, 1996

Spain

3

1964, 2008, 2012

France

2

1984, 2000

Czechoslovakia

1

1976

Denmark

1

1992

Greece

1

2004

Italy

1

1968

Soviet Union

1

1960

Netherlands

1

1988

Portugal

1

2016

Who has scored the most goals in Euroshistory?

Michel Platini’s aforementioned impressive goal-scoring feats at Euro 1984 means he is in fact the competition’s all-time joint top scorer alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, who also has nine goals to his name. However, while Platini’s record represents a tally of 1.8 goals per game, Ronaldo’s nine goals were scored across 21 appearances at the tournament.

As mentioned, Platini also holds the record for the most goals scored at the single edition of the tournament. Antoine Griezmann’s six goals for France at Euro 2016 is the only other occasion in which a player has netted more than five goals at a Euros tournament.

While no player has ever scored more than three goals in a Euro finals match, the competition has witnessed eight hat-tricks in its history. Of these, two were achieved by Platini at Euro 1984 and the most recent was netted by David Villa for Spain in their 4-1 win over Russia at Euro 2008.

All-time Euros top goal scorers

Player

Country

Goals

Michel Platini

France

9

Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal

Alan Shearer

England

7

Nuno Gomes

Portugal

6

Antoine Griezmann

France

Theirry Henry

France

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Sweden

Patrick Kluivert

Netherlands

Wayne Rooney

England

Ruud van Nistelrooy

Netherlands

Facts and stats from Euros history

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Germany can boast a plethora of Euros records, including most participations (12), most matches played (49), most wins (26), and most goals scored (72). Along with Portugal, they have progressed from the group stage the most times (seven).

On top of that, current Germany manager Joachim Low, who is stepping down from the position after Euro 2020, has racked up the most matches (17) and wins (11) at the tournament as a coach. Lars Lagerback is the manager who has featured at the most number of Euros tournaments with four, while German Otto Rehhagel is the only coach to win the Euros with a foreign country, achieving the feat with Greece at Euro 2004.

A total of 13 players have won the Euros twice, of which West Germany’s Rainer Bonhof (who was champion in 1972 and 1980) is the only one not to do so with Spain in 2008 and 2012. Cristiano Ronaldo has made the most appearances at Euros final tournaments (21) and also shares the record of most wins for a player (11) with Spain duo Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta.

Four Euros matches have featured a team winning by a five-goal margin, of which the most recent was Sweden’s 5-0 victory over Bulgaria at Euro 2004. Yugoslavia’s 5-4 win against France in 1960 is the highest-scoring match in Euros history, while the Netherlands scored the most goals by a team in a Euros fixture when they beat Yugoslavia 6-1 at Euro 2000.

In terms of the more unwanted records, Denmark and Russia have endured the most losses at the Euros (14) while Germany have conceded the most goals (48). Austria, Slovenia, and Latvia are the only teams to fail to win a single match at a Euros tournament, while Albania, Latvia, and Norway have the fewest goals to their name with just one each.

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