London: Capsules on each of the previous 13 European Championship tournaments:
The Soviet Union scored the first goal in the qualifying tournament for the inaugural European Championship, and then won the maiden title about two years later at Parc des Princes in Paris. Seventeen teams entered the qualifying tournament, which was called the European Nations Cup. After Czechoslovakia eliminated Ireland in a two-leg playoff, the Soviets beat visiting Hungary 3-1 in the first official match on Sept. 28, 1958, with Anatoli Ilyin scoring the first goal in the fourth minute in front of more than 100,000 fans.
Not everyone was sold on the idea of the competition, however. Italy, West Germany and England all decided to skip the first tournament. The format for the qualifying rounds involved a team playing another at home and away, with the aggregate winner advancing. The second round of qualifying was played using the same system and served as the quarterfinals, meaning only four teams — the Soviet Union, France, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia — played in the final tournament in France, which was selected as host from among the remaining teams.
The Soviets, who advanced without playing Spain in the second round because Gen. Francisco Franco refused to allow them entry to his country, were led by goalkeeper Lev Yashin. They defeated Czechoslovakia 3-0 in the semifinals at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, and Yugoslavia ousted the hosts 5-4 at Parc des Princes. The first European Championship final was played on July 10, and the Soviets won in extra time after a 114th-minute header from Viktor Ponedelnik.
The idea for the tournament came from former UEFA general secretary Henri Delaunay, and it was approved by a UEFA Congress in 1957 — two years after Delaunay's death. The trophy awarded to the winning team is named after Delaunay.
Four years after refusing to play the Soviet Union, host Spain beat the defending champions 2-1 in the final. With 29 teams in the qualifying tournament, including England and Italy for the first time, Spain was chosen as host, but only on the condition that the country allowed the Soviets entry. The Spanish then advanced to the final by beating Hungary 2-1 in extra time, while the Soviets defeated Denmark 3-0. In the final, Marcelino scored the winning goal in the 84th minute.
Politics again played a role in the qualifying tournament, with Greece refusing to play Albania because it was officially at war with its neighbor. Luxembourg was the biggest surprise in 1964. After getting a bye through the first round, the team beat the Netherlands 3-2 on aggregate to reach the quarterfinal stage. Luxembourg then lost to the Danes.
The first official European Championship final took place in 1968, with Italy getting its chance at the title because of a coin toss. Also, the qualifying tournament — which included West Germany for the first time — started to take the shape it still has. Instead of just a two-leg series, teams were split into eight groups with the winners advancing. Those eight teams were drawn against each other and played at home and away to reach the final tournament in Italy.
The Italians eliminated the Soviet Union by the flip of a coin after a 0-0 draw through extra time. Yugoslavia beat World Cup champion England in the other semifinal match. Italy was again held to a draw — this time 1-1 — in the final at Stadio Olimpico in Rome, but went on to beat the Yugoslavians 2-0 in a replay two days later.
In qualifying, the English lost to rival Scotland 3-2 at Wembley, but then won their group with a 1-1 draw at Hampden Park in front of 130,711 fans, the biggest crowd to watch a European Championship match.
Gerd Mueller led West Germany to the title in 1972, scoring two goals in the semifinals and two more in the 3-0 win over the Soviet Union in the final at Heysel Stadium in Brussels. West Germany's 3-0 win is still the largest margin of victory for a European Championship final. Besides Mueller's two goals, Herbert Wimmer also scored.
The German team, which relied mainly on players from Bayern Munich and Borussia Moenchengladbach, is considered to be one the greatest of all time. With many of the same players, including Mueller and Franz Beckenbauer, the West Germans went on to win the World Cup two years later.
The Soviet Union played in the semifinals for the fourth time in four tournaments, and advanced to its third final by beating Hungary 1-0. Host Belgium lost 2-1 to the West Germans. The qualifying tournament was again split into eight groups, with the winners playing in a two-leg playoff for a spot in the final tournament.
Defending champion West Germany was the clear favorite heading into the 1976 tournament, mostly because of its World Cup victory at home two years earlier. Czechoslovakia, however, beat the Netherlands 3-1 in extra time in the semifinals and then went through an additional 30 minutes again in the final against the West Germans before winning its only title 5-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
It was the first time the European title was decided on penalties, and it was also the first continental championship to be played in Eastern Europe. In the semifinals, Dieter Mueller scored three goals in West Germany's 4-2 win over Yugoslavia,
The final tournament expanded in 1980 with eight teams playing in Italy instead of the previous four. The hosts qualified automatically. The qualifying stage consisted of seven groups, with the winners advancing along with Italy and then getting split into two groups of four. The two group winners reached the final.
West Germany then won its second continental title, beating Belgium 2-1 in the final at Stadio Olimpico. Horst Hrubesch scored both goals for the German team, including an 88th-minute header.
The expanded tournament also allowed more top players to participate, including England forward Kevin Keegan, who was named European player of the year in 1978 and '79 while playing for Hamburg.
Michel Platini was the star at home in 1984, scoring nine goals in five games to give France its first major title.
The 1984 tournament was similar in set-up to the previous event, but one extra round was added. There were still seven qualifying groups. and France got through as hosts, but at the final tournament, the top two countries in the four-team groups reached a semifinal stage.
France then beat Portugal 3-2 in extra time in Marseille, with the hosts scoring twice in extra time after the Portuguese had taken the lead in the 98th minute. Platini scored the winning goal with one minute to go. In the other semifinal match, Spain advanced by defeating Denmark 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
Platini then scored the opening goal in the final in the 57th minute to give France the title in Paris with a 2-0 win over Spain.
West Germany 1988
A trio of AC Milan players led the Netherlands to its only major title in 1988. Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard combined under the coaching of "Total Football" inventor Rinus Michels to beat the Soviet Union 2-0 in the final.
The dread-locked Gullit headed in the first goal in the final in Munich, but it was Van Basten's amazing volley from a cross by Arnold Muhren that remains the iconic image of the tournament.
In the group stage, the Soviets had beaten the Dutch 1-0 and went on to win their group. Defending champion France failed to qualify for the 1988 tournament, leaving host West Germany as the early favorite. But the Dutch eliminated West Germany in the semifinals, beating their neighbors for the first time in 32 years with Van Basten scoring the winning goal in the 89th.
In the other semifinal match, the Soviets defeated Italy 2-0.
Denmark failed to qualify for the 1992 tournament in Sweden, but the team was allowed to compete after Yugoslavia was kicked out because of U.N. sanctions. The Danes, who had finished second to Yugoslavia in their qualifying group, had only two weeks to prepare for the tournament. They opened with a 0-0 draw against England, and then lost to Sweden 1-0. With their chances of advancement looking slim, Denmark then beat France 2-1 to reach the semifinals.
After getting past the defending champion Netherlands in a shootout, with Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel saving a penalty from Marco van Basten, the Danes surprised just about everybody by beating a unified Germany 2-0 in the final in Goteborg. The Germans had beaten host Sweden in the other semifinal match.
The Soviet Union, which had reached the final four years earlier, competed as the Confederation of Independent States. The team finished last in its first-round group.
The European Championship expanded to 16 teams in 1996, and it was the first tournament to be decided by a "Golden Goal."
The 15 teams that qualified for the tournament along with host England were split into four groups of four. The top two teams in each group advanced, adding a quarterfinal round. England, playing at home in a major tournament for the first time since winning the 1966 World Cup, was the favorite. But the English couldn't get past Germany in the semifinals, losing 6-5 on penalties at Wembley Stadium after a 1-1 draw.
The other semifinal match also ended 6-5 on penalties, with the Czech Republic beating France after a 0-0 draw. In the final at Wembley, Patrik Berger gave the Czechs a 1-0 lead from the penalty spot, but Oliver Bierhoff equalized in the 73rd and then scored the "Golden Goal" in the 95th.
Belgium and Netherlands 2000
The first European Championship to be hosted by two countries ended in a second straight "Golden Goal."
With England and Germany both eliminated in the first round, World Cup champion France and Italy were the clear favorites heading into the quarterfinals. Neither disappointed, with the Italians reaching the final by defeating the Netherlands on penalty kicks and France rallying to beat Portugal 2-1 in extra time with a 117th-minute "Golden Goal" penalty from Zinedine Zidane.
Italy appeared to be on its way to another European title until Sylvain Wiltord scored a 90th-minute equalizer in the final in Rotterdam. David Trezeguet then knocked in the winning goal in the 103rd.
Greece had never won a match in two previous major championships, but the team managed to beat host Portugal in both the opening and closing games of the 2004 tournament. With German veteran Otto Rehhagel as coach, the Greeks played a defensive game throughout the tournament, also beating France in the quarterfinals and the Czech Republic in the semifinals. In the final, Angelos Charisteas headed in a second-half corner to give the Greeks an unlikely 1-0 win.
Portugal had seemed destined to win its first major title despite the opening loss, finishing first in the group with two wins and then beating England in the quarterfinals and the Netherlands in the semifinals.
France, coming off a disappointing World Cup in which it was eliminated in the first round, started Euro 2004 with an incredible 2-1 win over England. Zinedine Zidane scored both goals in injury time, and both the English and French advanced to the quarterfinals.
Austria and Switzerland 2008
Spain finally ended its championship drought, beating Germany 1-0 in the final and shedding its label of perennial underachiever. Fernando Torres scored the winning goal at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna, capping a tournament in which the Spanish showcased a passing game that delighted fans and wowed opponents.
The Spanish won all three of their group games, and were really only threatened in the quarterfinals, when they had to beat Italy on penalties to advance. Russia was next, but three second-half goals stopped the Russians run and put Spain through.
Germany had a more difficult time reaching the final. The three-time champions lost to Croatia in their second group match and finished behind the Croatians in the opening round. And after a quarterfinal victory over Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, the Germans won an exciting match over Turkey in the semifinals by scoring twice in the last 11 minutes to win 3-2.
The Netherlands left disappointed, however. The high-flying Dutch team provided the most exciting play in the first round, beating both Italy and France by three goals. But after a perfect first round, the Russians put an end to their trip in the quarterfinals, scoring two goals in extra time to win 3-2.
European Championship Champions