The UEFA European Championships, more commonly referred to as The Euros and not to be confused with the UEFA Champions League, is the premier European competition for national teams. It occurs every four years and shares many similarities with the FIFA World Cup. However, it only includes teams from Europe rather than all over the world.
The first European Championship took place in 1960, but the tournament itself has been around since 1958. The tournament was the brainchild of Henri Delaunay, who first proposed the tournament in 1927, three years before the first World Cup. However, it was not until 1957, three years after Delaunay’s death, that it was made official. To honor Delaunay, the trophy is named after him.
There were initially just four teams that contested the official Finals of the tournament in 1960 and up to 1976. Following this, the tournament was expanded to eight teams and included Group Stages for the first time. From here, the tournament generally remained the same, with the only difference being an expansion to 16 teams in 1996 and then 24 teams for the first time in 2016.
Prior to arriving at the tournament, 55 teams across Europe compete in Qualifying matches to determine whether they will make it to the tournament. During this process, a team must finish in a direct qualifying spot (usually first and second place). If they do not, they may still qualify for play-off places, where they will need to play a team from another qualifying group in order to advance.
Historically, the tournament was held in one country, although there have been some years where countries have shared hosting duties, such as Belgium and Netherlands in 2000 and Austria and Switzerland in 2008. For 2020, games were supposed to take place all over Europe, with the final being contested at Wembley Stadium in England.
The group stages consist of multiple groups, each with four teams. Within these groups, each team plays each other once. After three games, the top two teams progress to the Round of 16 Knockout Round.
However, in 2016, we saw the first time where a third place team could progress to make up for the recent expansion. In this instance, the four best placing teams (in terms of points and goals scored and conceded) also advanced alongside the group winners and runners up.
There are three knockout rounds following the Group stages. The first round, known as the Round of 16, features eight matches. These games are played between the Winners and Runners Ups of each group, with the Winners of one group playing the Runner Up of another, alternating between the groups. With the addition of the best-placed teams, these are also distributed to make up the numbers.
Following this, the winners of each game progress to the Quarter Final, and then the Semi Final, with the winner of both matches proceeding to the Final.
All knockout games are played over 90 minutes, with the possibility of 30 minutes of Extra Time and a Penalty Shootout in the event of a tie.
The final is contested between two teams and will last at least 90 minutes of normal time. If there is no winner by the end, the game will go to Extra Time of two 15 minute halves, before a penalty shoot out if the teams still cannot be separated.
Previously, finals have used both a Golden Goal and Silver Goal during extra time. A Golden Goal ended the game as soon as it was scored, whereas a Silver Goal gave the other team until the end of the extra time period to equalize.
There have been 10 overall winners across the competition’s 60 year history. The most successful nations are Spain and Germany, both of them winning three times, although Germany won their first two titles in 1972 and 1980 as West Germany, before winning for the first time as a Unified Germany in 1996.
The first champions were the Soviet Union, who defeated Yugoslavia in 1960, and the current champions are Portugal, who defeated France in the final of the last tournament in 2016 to win their first championship.
France are two-time winners and are the only other team besides Spain and Germany to emerge victorious twice. Other champions include Italy (1968), Czech Republic (1976), Netherlands (1988), Denmark (1992), and Greece (2004).
For the most part, previous winners have also made the majority of the finals, although there are two other teams who have been represented, the aforementioned Yugoslavia, who appeared in both 1960 and 1968 finals, and Belgium, who were the runners up in 1980.
As with any international tournament, the Euros has had its fair share of historic matches. For the citizens of the winners, each final could be considered a historic match as far as they are concerned. However, the tournament is much more than merely the final, and there has been an array of historic matches
Denmark vs Germany (1992)
Denmark should not have even been at the tournament. They were only allowed in following Yugoslavia’s disqualification. Despite this, they progressed through to the final where they shocked the Germans to win their first and only championship.
Greece vs Portugal (2004)
While the match itself wasn’t much to write home about, Greece upset favorites Portugal on Portuguese soil and were crowned champions in the 2004 final. For context, Greece’s chances of winning the whole thing before the tournament started were 80/1.
Yugoslavia vs France (1960)
Not all historic games come with scandals, and the semi-final between Yugoslavia and France saw nine goals that also had Yugoslavia come back from two goals down with 15 minutes to go, netting three times in just four minutes. While it was certainly not ideal for faint-hearted fans from either nation, it was indisputably a superb game for the neutral.
France vs Portugal (1984)
Despite their eventual win in 2016, the Portuguese have had their fair share of heartache. In the 1984 semi final, they were on the wrong side of an inspired Michel Platini performance who snatched the randomness of penalties with a goal after 118 minutes. They would later go on to win the tournament outright, with Platini being involved again.
England vs Netherlands (1996)
England scored three goals in just eleven minutes to take the top spot in Group A. Prior to kickoff, many pundits and fans believed it would be a more sensible and nervy affair, with neither team willing to be too risky. These fears were for nought, and the Three Lions won 4-1.
Netherlands vs Soviet Union (1988)
These teams were destined to battle one another not once but twice, both in their opening game and again in the final. The Soviets took the spoils in the first game, but after overcoming England, Republic of Ireland, and Germany, the Netherlands won their first championship after heroics from Ruud Gullit and that Marco van Basten volley.
Spain vs Italy (2012)
Spain became the first team to retain the trophy (and become both World and European champions simultaneously) after decimating Italy in the 2012 final. Italy may have been forced to play with just 10 men due to injury, but with the form Spain was in, they could have had 22 players and it wouldn’t have mattered.
Champions of Europe
And that is all you need to know about the Euros. Much like the World Cup, it is a chance for countries to test themselves against the very best teams, and as it comes every four years, it is a beautiful stop gap between waiting for the World Cup to roll back around.
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