The History of the UEFA European Championship

European Championship History - From Vision to Pitch

The idea for a European football championship goes way back to the 1920s, a cool 100 years ago.

It was a French referee named Henri Delaunay who first proposed the idea in 1927, but it wasn't until the late 1950s that the idea was resurrected. Sadly, Delaunay passed away in 1955, but the trophy awarded to the winners of the European Championship is still named after him – the Henri Delaunay Cup.

The first UEFA European Championship, then called the European Nations' Cup, finally kicked off in 1960. There were a few reasons that drove the initial idea into fruition:

  • Growing Popularity of Football: Football was becoming increasingly popular across Europe after World War II. A continental European championship would add to the excitement and prestige of the sport.
  • Success of the World Cup: The FIFA World Cup, established in 1930, had proven to be a huge success. UEFA, the governing body for European football, wanted to create a similar tournament specifically for European nations.
  • Promoting International Competition: The European Nations' Cup provided a platform for European national teams to compete regularly and showcase their talent on a grand stage.

The inaugural tournament in 1960 was a success, and the Euros have become a major sporting event ever since.

A Tournament Takes Shape: The First Euros in 1960

The UEFA European Championship, a tournament that now grips the continent every four years, began much more humbly. Back in 1960, it was known as the European Nations' Cup, and a far cry from the extravagant finals we witness today.

The qualifying stages were a knockout format whittling down teams over a 18 month period. Only four finalists emerged: France, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. Interestingly, France, chosen as the host nation, wasn't pre-qualified – they had to fight their way in just like everyone else!

The finals itself was a simple affair – just four matches, consisting of two semi-finals, a third-place play-off, and the much-anticipated championship final. This first edition of the Euros laid the foundation for a competition that would capture the imagination of European football fans for decades to come.

How the Euros Grew in Teams and Prestige

Following the success of the first tournament in 1960, which saw a thrilling final between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, convinced UEFA of the European tournament's potential.

Expansion came swiftly. By 1984, the finals had doubled in size to eight teams, reflecting the growing depth of European football. The qualifying process also evolved, transitioning from a simple knockout format to a more complex group stage system. This allowed more nations to participate and nurtured rivalries that added spice to the competition.

The 1990s witnessed a further leap in prestige. The fall of the Iron Curtain opened the door for new footballing powerhouses from Eastern Europe. Additionally, the introduction of a lucrative sponsorship deal with a major car manufacturer significantly boosted the tournament's financial muscle. This allowed for increased prize money, attracting even more top players, and further enhancing the competition's allure.

By the turn of the millennium, the Euros had become a global spectacle, rivalling the World Cup in terms of viewership and excitement. The expansion to 16 teams in 1996 further democratised the competition, allowing smaller nations to dream of glory.

Today, with 24 teams battling it out, the Euros remain a constant source of national pride and a showcase for the finest footballing talent Europe has to offer.

Dynasties and Domination: Teams that Defined the Euros

The Euros have witnessed periods of dominance by certain national teams, etching their names into the history books of football. These "dynasties" not only captured trophies but also captivated global audiences with their unique style of play.

One such dynasty was West Germany in the 1970s. Built on a core of technically gifted players like Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller, they combined ruthless efficiency with breathtaking attacking displays. Their three consecutive triumphs from 1972 to 1980 cemented their status as the European giants of football.

Spain's tiki-taka revolutionised football in the early 21st century. Their possession-based dominance, orchestrated by midfield maestros like Xavi and Andres Iniesta, yielded an unprecedented hat-trick of titles between 2008 and 2012. Their near-telepathic understanding and control of the ball mesmerised football fans and redefined how the beautiful game could be played.

More recently, we've seen the rise of international powerhouses like France and Italy reasserting their dominance. France, boasting a squad brimming with attacking talent like the young Kylian Mbappe. Meanwhile, Italy, demonstrating their defensive resilience and tactical nous, emerged victorious in 2021. Their triumph marked their first major title since the 2006 World Cup and solidified their position as one of Europe's elite footballing nations.

These dynasties, and others to come, represent the pinnacle of international football. Their sustained excellence leaves an indelible mark on the Euros, inspiring future generations and pushing the boundaries of football.

Beyond the Trophy: The Euros' Influence on European Football

The Euros hold a special place in the hearts of European football fans, but its impact goes far beyond the coveted trophy itself. Here's how the tournament has shaped the beautiful game across the continent:

  • Elevating the National Game: The Euros have fostered a sense of national pride and identity within European countries. Players become heroes, rivalries intensify, and domestic leagues gain a boost in popularity. This national focus on football encourages investment in youth development and infrastructure, pushing the overall quality of the sport upwards.
  • Tactical Innovation: The Euros serve as a platform for managers to showcase their tactical philosophies. Teams experiment with formations, pressing strategies, and attacking styles. This exchange of ideas leads to a constant evolution of playing styles, keeping the game exciting and unpredictable.
  • Financial Powerhouse: The Euros generate significant revenue through sponsorships, broadcasting rights, and ticket sales. This financial windfall trickles down to national federations, clubs, and players. Increased investment allows teams to attract top talent and professionalize their operations, further raising the bar for European football.
  • Promoting National Unity: The Euros transcend national borders, uniting fans of different backgrounds under one banner. The shared passion for the sport fosters a sense of camaraderie and belonging, particularly for countries with diverse ethnicities or immigrant populations.

From Soviet Stars to Spanish Dominance: A Look at Past Winners

The history of the Euros is a tapestry woven with the triumphs of various nations. Let's take a glimpse at some of the iconic teams that have etched their names on the trophy:

  • Pioneering Champions (1960s): The inaugural edition in 1960 saw the Soviet Union claim the first title. Led by the legendary Lev Yashin, a goalkeeper considered one of the greatest ever, they showcased a blend of defensive solidity and powerful attacking play. This early win set the stage for the international dominance of Eastern European teams in the coming decades.
  • West Germany's Golden Era (1970s): West Germany established themselves as a European powerhouse in the 1970s. With iconic figures like Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller at the helm, they redefined the concept of "total football." Their combination of technical brilliance, tactical discipline, and relentless attacking prowess led them to three consecutive Euro titles (1972, 1976, 1980), a feat unmatched to this day.
  • Danish Dynamite (1992): The 1992 tournament witnessed a fairytale story unfold. Denmark, a team not considered among the favourites, defied expectations, and stormed to victory. Nicknamed "Danish Dynamite" for their aggressive, high-pressing style, they shocked the footballing world by defeating powerhouses like Germany and France en route to their first and only Euros title.
  • Spanish Tiki-Taka Maestros (2008-2012): The turn of the 21st century saw Spain rewrite the tactical playbook. Their tiki-taka style, based on short, intricate passing and mesmerizing ball control, orchestrated by midfield maestros like Xavi and Andres Iniesta, captivated audiences. They dominated the international stage, achieving an unprecedented three consecutive Euro triumphs (2008, 2012) and establishing themselves as one of the greatest international teams of all time.

These are just a few examples of the diverse and storied champions that have graced the Euros. Each victory tells a unique tale of ambition, tactical innovation, and national pride, adding to the rich tapestry of the Euros' legacy.

Some of the greatest Euro shocks!

Greece's victory in 2004 is a prime example of a major shock in the Euros.

Here are a few other contenders for the title of "biggest Euros shocks":

  • 1988 Group Stage: England 0-1 Republic of Ireland: This was a major upset for several reasons. It was England's third Euros appearance, and they were expected to dominate Ireland, who were making their tournament debut. However, a header from Ray Houghton secured a famous victory for the Irish underdogs.
  • 1992 Final: Germany 0-2 Denmark: This was a true David vs Goliath moment. Germany were the heavy favourites, having won the World Cup two years prior. Denmark, who only qualified for the Euros as a last-minute replacement for Yugoslavia, defied the odds with a well-organized defensive display and goals from Kim Vilfort and John Jensen.
  • 2004 Final: Portugal 0-1 Greece: Like Greece's triumph, Portugal were heavily favoured on home soil. Greece, known for their defensive tactics, frustrated the Portuguese attack and snatched victory with a surprise goal from Angelos Charisteas.
  • 2016 Round of 16: England 1-2 Iceland: This was a sensational upset for a small nation like Iceland. England, boasting a star-studded lineup, were stunned by a spirited Icelandic performance. Goals from Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Ragnar Sigurðsson secured a historic victory for the underdogs.
  • 2020 Round of 16: Netherlands 0-2 Czech Republic: This was another unexpected result. The Netherlands were considered strong contenders, but the Czechs, led by the experienced Patrik Schick, showcased their defensive resilience and clinical finishing to pull off a surprising win.

These are just a few examples, and there have been many other unexpected results throughout the history of the Euros. These upsets add to the excitement and unpredictability of the tournament, making it a captivating spectacle for fans around the world.

The UEFA European Championship has captured the imagination of football fans for over six decades.

From the first tentative steps in 1960 to the global extravaganza it is today, the Euros have witnessed moments of brilliance, tactical innovation, and national pride. The competition has served as a platform for legendary teams like the then West Germany and Spain to showcase their dominance, while also providing a stage for underdogs like Denmark and Greece to etch their names in history. With every edition, the Euros continue to surprise and enthral, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of European football.

The UEFA European Championship is due to kick off next month! Here's a quick rundown of what’s happening:

  • Dates: The tournament kicks off on Friday, June 14th, 2024, and runs all the way to July 14th, 2024.
  • Host: Germany will be hosting the event, marking it the third time the European Championship will be played on German soil.
  • Teams: 24 teams will be competing, with Georgia making their debut in the European Championship finals.
  • Current Champions: Italy won the most recent championship, which took place across Europe in 2021 (having been postponed from 2020 due to COVID-19).