The return of the UEFA European Championship in Euro 2016 is but days away. Hosted in Paris this time, we look at what’s in store for fans and teams, and reveal a few little known facts about the championship.
1. What’s in a name?
Like many UEFA leagues and championships, the European Championship did not always carry the name we all know today. Set up in 1960, the tournament was originally referred to as the UEFA European Nations’ Cup, a name that was used until 1968. The common ‘Euro 2016’ name format didn’t materialise until a re-brand in 1996.
The first tournament, also hosted by France, took place in 1960 in a world, and a Europe, very different from today. Spain was still under the rule of fascist dictator Franco, and the Soviet bloc still covered half of Europe. Due to disagreements about the Soviet Union’s role in supporting the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, against whom Franco had fought, the Spanish team dropped out of the tournament to avoid playing their old enemies.
This left three communist countries - the Czechs, Soviets and Yugoslavs - as semi-finalists alongside the French hosts. In a famously tense few games, the French came in fourth place while the Soviet Union, aided by legendary keeper Lev Yashin, went on to take the title with a 2-1 victory over Czechoslovakia.
2. England have their work cut out for them
As part of the re-brand in 1996, the European Championship was also expanded to include 16 teams. The 1996 tournament was hosted by England, and the team performed admirably, with Alan Shearer as the top scorer, who netted five goals and was the only player throughout the entire tournament to do so. It wasn’t enough, however: England equalised 1-1 with Germany in the semi-finals, but famously lost on penalties 5-6.
The defeat was marked by rioting in Trafalgar Square, with German-made vehicles coming under attack. This was a serious issue for the host nation, especially considering that English clubs had only just been allowed back into UEFA tournaments, having been banned back in 1985 for rioting and disorder among fans. England has never won the European Championship, but fingers are crossed up and down the country for good results this summer.
Germany, however, went on to beat Czechoslovakia in the final, taking their third European Championship title and their first as a unified nation (the first two having been won by West Germany). The final was extremely close, with the score at 1-1 by the 90th minute. It wasn’t until five minutes into extra time when Czech keeper Kouba fumbled the ball in an attempted save, handing Germany a win through the ‘golden goal’ rule - the first such win in the entire history of the tournament.
3. It’s not always held in one place
Euro 2000 was the first championship to be shared between two host nations, in this case Belgium and the Netherlands. Neither host went on to win, unfortunately. Belgium failed to leave the group stage, having lost to Italy and Turkey 2-0. The Dutch found more success, winning every group stage game but losing to Italy on penalties in the semi-finals. Ultimately, France took the millennial title, beating Italy 2-1, another victory via the golden goal.
Euro 2008 was similarly co-hosted between Austria and Switzerland, and the 2012 tournament saw teams playing in Poland and Ukraine. The Spaniards won both of these tournaments, becoming the first nation in history to successfully defend a European Championship title, and the first country to win three major international tournaments - Euro 2008, the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and Euro 2012.
More excitement and travel is in store for fans in 2020, as the tournament will be split between an incredible 13 host nations. This will happen in honour of the 60th anniversary of the European Championship. Dedicated fans will be able to watch games played from London to St Petersburg, as well as Baku, Azerbaijan, to Bilbao in Spain.
4. It doesn’t always go smoothly...
One of the main reasons that football is perhaps the best-loved game across the world is because you can never truly predict the result until the final whistle is blown. Bookies may be right most of the time, but there’s always a chance for the underdog to take everyone by surprise and win the title.
And of course, the European Championships are no exception. In Euro 1992, with Yugoslavia embroiled in civil war, UEFA gave their slot to Denmark instead. The Danes would not have qualified for the tournament otherwise, but this proved to be a blessing. Denmark managed to knock out the defending title holders the Netherlands in the semi-finals on penalties, and used this momentum to beat then-world champions Germany 2-0.
5. All bets are off
A further upset unfolded in 2004. At the time, Greece had only managed to qualify for one World Cup and one European Championship, and failed to win a single match in either of these tournaments. The team was on fire this time, however, beating defending champions France in the quarter-finals and knocking out the Czech Republic with a golden goal, a rule that was abolished shortly afterwards.
Greece had beaten host nation Portugal 2-1 in the opening match of the tournament, and for the first time ever, the two same teams met again in the final. Before the championship began, odds for Greece taking the title were 150-1. Defying all expectations, in what must have been a nail-biting match to watch, they emerged victorious, defeating their Portuguese hosts 1-0 in the final.
Spain is the current favourite to win Euro 2016, but who can say for sure? One thing is certain - it will be an unmissable tournament!