Euro Cup UEFA European Championship
UEFA European Football Championship, European Championship
The UEFA European Football Championship, less formally the European Championship and informally the Euros, is the primary association football tournament organized by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). The competition is contested by UEFA members’ senior men’s national teams, determining the continental champion of Europe. The competition has been held every four years since 1960, except for 2020, when it was postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe, but kept the name Euro 2020. Scheduled to be in the even-numbered year between FIFA World Cup tournaments, it was originally called the European Nations’ Cup, changing to the current name in 1968. Since 1996, the individual events have been branded as “UEFA Euro [year]”.
Before entering the tournament, all teams other than the host nations (which qualify automatically) compete in a qualifying process. Until 2016 the championship winners could compete in the following FIFA Confederations Cup, but were not obliged to do so.
The sixteen European Championship tournaments have been won by ten national teams: Germany and Spain have each won three titles, Italy and France have won two titles, and the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, and Portugal have won one title each. To date, Spain is the only team in history to have won consecutive titles, doing so in 2008 and 2012. It is the second-most-watched football tournament in the world after the FIFA World Cup. The Euro 2012 final was watched by a global audience of around 300 million.
The most recent championship, held across Europe in 2021 (postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic), was won by Italy, who lifted their second title after beating England in the final at Wembley Stadium in London on penalties.
The idea for a pan-European football tournament was first proposed by the French Football Federation’s secretary-general Henri Delaunay in 1927, but it was not until 1958 that the tournament was started, three years after Delaunay’s death. In honor of Delaunay, the trophy awarded to the champions is named after him. The 1960 tournament, held in France, had four teams competing in the finals out of 17 that entered the competition. It was won by the Soviet Union, beating Yugoslavia 2–1 in a tense final in Paris. Spain withdrew from its quarter-final match against the Soviet Union because of two political protests. Of the 17 teams that entered the qualifying tournament, notable absentees were England, the Netherlands, West Germany, and Italy.
Spain held the next tournament in 1964, which saw an increase in entries to the qualification tournament, with 29 enterings; West Germany was a notable absentee once again and Greece withdrew after being drawn against Albania, with whom they were still at war. The hosts beat the title holders, the Soviet Union, 2–1 at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid.
The tournament format stayed the same for the 1968 tournament, hosted and won by Italy. For the first and only time, a match was decided on a coin toss (the semi-final Italy vs. the Soviet Union) and the final went to a replay after the match against Yugoslavia finished 1–1. Italy won the replay 2–0. More teams entered this tournament, a testament to its burgeoning popularity.
Belgium hosted the 1972 tournament, which West Germany won, beating the Soviet Union 3–0 in the final, with goals coming from Gerd Müller (twice) and Herbert Wimmer at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. This tournament would provide a taste of things to come, as the German side contained many of the key members of the 1974 FIFA World Cup Champions.
The 1976 tournament in Yugoslavia was the last in which only four teams took part in the final tournament and the last in which the hosts had to qualify. Czechoslovakia beat West Germany in the newly introduced penalty shootout. After seven successful conversions, Uli Hoeneß missed, leaving Czechoslovakian Antonín Panenka with the opportunity to score and win the tournament. An “audacious” chipped shot, described by UEFA as “perhaps the most famous spot kick of all time” secured the victory as Czechoslovakia won 5–3 on penalties.