The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, better known as Euro 2012, will take place in Poland and Ukraine from June 8 to July 1 and will feature the top 16 football teams from across Europe. It is the third time the event has been co-hosted and will be the final tournament with only 16 completing teams. The 2016 European Championship will feature 24 teams.
Spain are the kings of the world and Europe having won the 2010 World Cup to back up their Euro 2008 title and will try and become the first team to win the treble of major trophies this summer.
Poland and Ukraine automatically qualified as hosts; the remaining teams were determined by qualifying round over the last two years with Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark (first appearance since 2004), England (first appearance since 2004), France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Republic of Ireland (first appearance in 24 years), Russia, Spain (defending champions), Sweden.
The European Championship is always one of the most watched soccer tournaments and Soccer 365 will have coverage on all the action and the World Soccer Shop has a great selection of official soccer jerseys and more from all the teams.
Despite the tournament’s modern day prestige, it is a relatively new quadrennial event compared with other regional championships with the first champion, the Soviet Union, crowned European Champion in 1960.
The idea for a European soccer championship was discussed as early as 1927 when Henry Delaunay, the first UEFA General Secretary and former French national association general secretary, made a call for a European soccer championship. The request fell on deaf ears as many detractors thought a European championship would take away from the development of the FIFA World Cup which was scheduled for the inaugural event in 1930.
Twenty year later in 1950, the movement began to gain backing with distinguished French sports newspaper L'Equipe calling for a European soccer championship. This gained momentum in 1954 when UEFA was established and the need for a regional champion of Europe was more evident.
Sadly, Delaunay passed away in 1955 before his vision could be enacted but his son, Pierre, took the role his father had played for so long and finally was able to establish the European Championship at the 1957 UEFA Congress.
The inaugural tournament, known as the European Nations' Cup, was held over 22 months between 1958 and 1960. The first European Championship was entered by 17 teams but did not include Italy, West Germany or England, with all three soccer powers deciding not to enter.
The Euro was based around a format of knockout home-and-away games until the semi-final stage with France, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia making it to the semi-final.
The inaugural tournament was not without controversy most notably with Spain’s General Franco refusing entry to the Soviet team for the last eight, effectively handing Gavril Kachalin's side a bye, and entry to the semi-final.
The Soviet Union downed Czechoslovakia in the semi-final and then defeated Yugoslavia in the final off a Victor Ponedelnik header to seal the Soviet Union's first and only trophy.
"There are matches and goals which are really special, sort of a climax of a player's sporting life," Ponedelnik said looking back on his game winner. "That was the star moment of my life."
The European Nations' Cup was a success and by the second playing of the event in 1964 there were 29 teams entered with Italy and England deciding they should compete for the Henri Delaunay Trophy.
The USSR, Denmark, Spain and Hungary made the finals with Spain and USSR in the final match at the Santiago Bernabéu. Behind goals from Jesús Pereda and Luis Suárez, Spain triumphed to first and only major championship.
"Other Spanish national teams I played in were much better than that 1964 side but we never achieved anything," Suárez said. "That one was a team rather than a selection of top players."
The tournament took a new look in 1968 with the tournament taking the name the UEFA European Championship, West Germany entering the soccer tournament for the first time, the home and away knockout stage being replaced by the system of qualifying groups still in place today, and the final being determined on a replay unfortunately no longer in place today.
Italy was on a mission. After being bounced from the 1966 World Cup by minnows North Korea, the Azzurri were greeted by tomato throwing fans when they returned home and knew they needed a better performance while hosting the European Championship.
Italy needed a little luck on their side and got it when they advanced to the final. After 120 minutes of scoreless action in the semifinal against the Soviet Union, the referee settled matters with the toss of a coin.
The final with Yugoslavia ended 1-1 with Italy scoring ten minutes from time in a game that goalkeeper Dino Zoff said, "To be honest, we didn't deserve to draw," and forced a replay two days later.
The 1972 European Championship was all about the unstoppable German soccer team and a team some think was the best ever in Europe. West Germany coach Helmut Schön had at his disposal Franz Beckenbauer, attacking from the sweeper position, Paul Breitner Uli Hoeness, and the most dangerous of the lot Gerd Müller.
In the final, 'Der Bomber' knocked in a brace to lead West Germany past the Soviet Union 3-0, the most lopsided final in European Champions history.
"Everything worked," recalled Müller. "We had a good harmony and understood each other very well. That also goes for when we were on the pitch. You cannot ask for more."
The European Championship finals was played in Eastern Europe for the first time in 1976 and it fittingly was won by, Czechoslovakia, an underdog eastern European nation among a trio of giants albeit by way of penalty kicks, making their first appearance at a major tournament.
In addition to Czechoslovakia, the semifinals featured the 1974 World Cup winners and European Championship holders, West Germany, 1974 World Cup runners-up Holland lead by Johan Cruyff and host nation Yugoslavia.
After going down 2-0 in the final, West Germany battled back with the equalizer coming in the last minute from Bernd Hölzenbein to level matters at 2-2. The extra time ended scoreless and the game turned to penalty kicks.
With the fourth kick for West Germany, Uli Hoeness stepped up to even matters but his shot sailed high and opened the door for Antonín Panenka to play the hero and he took full advantage of center stage by waiting for West German goalkeeper Sepp Maier to dive before chipping the ball down the middle.
"If it were patentable, I'd have it patented," he joked.
Italy hosted their second European Championship in 1980 and saw the finals expanded from 4 to eight teams. The format had two groups with the group winners advancing directly to the European Champions final.
After trading goals in the final, Horst Hrubesch headed home a Karl-Heinz Rummenigge corner to reclaim the European title.
The 'Le Carré Magique,' the magic square, Michel Platini, Alain Giresse Jean Tigana, and Luis Fernandez, in the midfield for France set the tone and lifted the hardware for France on home soil in 1984. It was France’s first major championship.
The 1984 European Championship kept the two group format but saw the return of the semifinal as the top two finishers in each group progressing to the elimination round.
France coasted to the top of their group with Platini notching two hat-tricks and 7 goals in the opening three matches. Denmark finished second to advance as well. In the other group, Spain and Portugal advanced.
The host nation would not be denied despite a scare in the semifinal against Portugal. After equalizing late in regular time, Portugal took a 2-1 lead in the 98th minute only to see Les Bleus fight back with a goal from Jean-François Domergue followed by the winner from Platini in the final minute.
In the final at the new Parc Des Princes, France grabbed the lead in the 57th minute off Platini’s 9th goal of the tournament which still is a record. They were forced to hold on after Yvon Le Roux was sent off but added an insurance goal late by way of Bruno Bellone for a 2-0 victory.
"It was an overwhelming joy to become champions," explained Platini. "To do that in front of our own fans was the icing on the cake."
Germany hosted their first European Championship in 1988 and many thought Die Mannschaft would win another title but it was not to be as a strong Holland team with the A.C.Milan triumvirate of Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten leading the way.
After winning in 1984, France was a noticeable absence four years later. And Jack Charlton’s England side which looked so impressive in qualifying failed to make it out of the group stage.
In the semifinals, Holland faced the host for the first time in 32 years despite going down an early goal via the penalty spot from Lothar Matthäus. Ronald Koeman levelled from the spot and Van Basten notched the winner to advance to the final.
The Soviet Union faced Italy in the other semifinal with the Soviet team winning 2-0.
With almost the entire nation watching their efforts, the Netherlands defeated the Soviets 2-0 with a dreadlocked Gullit heading in the opener and Van Basten knocking in a memorable insurance goal over the goalkeepers from a tight angle on the right flank.
The 1992 European Championships was quite unusual as a team that did NOT even qualify, Denmark hoisted the trophy in Sweden. Denmark was a late addition after Yugoslavia was denied their spot due to the developing crisis in the Balkans.
With new life but lacking key playmaker, Michael Laudrup, who decided not to play, Denmark made hard work of earning a spot in semifinal. After drawing their first match to England, losing their second to Sweden, they put together a surprising win against Platini’s France squad to take second in the group.
The other group was noteworthy as Germany was competing as a unified nation for the first time while the former Soviet Union was playing as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The holders Holland and Germany advanced to the semifinals.
After regulation and extra time ended tied at 2-2, Denmark prevailed when Peter Schmeichel denied the hero from 1988 van Basten in penalties to advance. Germany defeated Sweden 3-2 to advance to the final.
The Cinderella story was not to be denied in the final when John Jensen scored after 18 minutes, Kim Vilfort added an insurance goal and Schmeichel lived up to larger than life appearance to deny any and all of German’s opportunities on goal.
The 1996 installment of the European Championship returned the home of the sport and for the first time their were 16 teams with four groups, the Golden Goal was in play during extra time but the outcome was similar to previous events with Germany taking the title.
Terry Venables was confident of England’s chances with Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer leading the way for the home side. Venables side was ultimately denied against Germany in penalty kicks in the semifinal when Gareth Southgate missed his kick and England was finished.
The Czech Republic outlasted France, also on penalties.
In the final, the Czech Rep took an early lead off when Patrik Berger converted from the spot, but the final belonged to second half substitution Oliver Bierhoff, who headed in the equalizer and added the first ever Golden Goal four minutes into extra time.
France backed up their 1998 FIFA World Cup title in 2000 by winning the 2000 European Championship when for the first time the event had co-host, Belgium and the Netherlands.
France defeated Portugal 2-1 while Italy bettered Holland in penalties (3-1) after the match ended 0-0. The soccer gods were certainly not looking down favorably on the co-host in the semifinal. They missed two penalties in regulation and three in the shoot-out all the while playing against 10 men from the 34th minute onward.
In the final Marco Delvecchio put Italy in the lead and it looked as though the Azzurri would win and deny France the chance to back up their FIFA World Cup title with a European championship. And Italy was not going to let their lead slip, using their 3 substitutes in a defensive manner all the while France was loading up on attackers.
France finally broke through when substitute Sylvain Wiltord scored late goal, beating Francesco Toldo at the near post to level the matter and then David Trezeguet scored the winner off a superb volley.
With all eyes on the big stars and big name teams, Greece stole the show at the 2004 European Championship to lift the silverware. They opened the show by making a statement beating the host country, Portugal. After advancing from the group stage they downed France in the quarters and the Czech Republic, considered the favorites by many heading into the tournament to advance to face Portugal for the second time in the final.
Despite losing the opener, Portugal advanced from group play and defeated 10 man England after Wayne Rooney saw red after a foot stomp to Cristiano Ronaldo, club teammates at Manchester United, England by way of penalties in the quarterfinals and then downed Holland 2-1 in the semifinals.
In front of a home crowd, Portugal was ready to reverse past woes to win a major title but it was not to be. Veteran German coach Otto Rehhagel had his Greek side ready and with a solid defense and opportunistic approach defeated Portugal 1-0. Angelos Charisteas was the hero after heading home from a corner kick early in the second half and the defense made the goal stand up and glory for Greece.
For the second time in tournament history, Euro 2008 had joint hosts with Switzerland and Austria providing the venues. Both nations were hosting the event for the first time and for the first time in tournament history neither of the hosts advanced to the elimination round.
With a history of not playing to their potential, Spain put those demons behind them and became the first team since 1996 to win the tournament undefeated. Spain came into the tournament having earned the maximum points from the qualifying stage and were arguably the best team in the world.
But they were not the only team on a roll heading into Euro 2008 finals. Holland and Croatia also took maximum points from their qualifying campaigns.
In the final, Spain met traditional European power Germany. Die Mannschaft advanced to the final with 3-2 wins over Portugal and Turkey in the quarterfinals and semifinal, respectively. The Turkey game almost slipped away until a 90th minute goal from Philip Lahm sank Turkey’s hopes.
Spain’s one hiccup in the tournament came against Italy in the quarterfinals. The two sides finished level at 0-0 but Spain prevailed 4-2 on penalties. Iker Casillas was the hero denying Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale to erase past PK failures. Spain lost three previous quarterfinal shoot-out in Euro action. They easily dispatched Russia 3-0 in the semifinal.
Germany came out strong and took early control in hopes of winning their 4th European title. The side was boosted by Michael Ballack’s return but as the game settled in it was Spain that slowly found the possession and opportunities. With David Villa out with a thigh injury, head coach Luis Aragonés implemented a new 4-5-1 formation with Fernando Torres the lone striker.
It paid off in the 33rd minute when Xavi played Torres through behind the defense and ‘the Kid’ held off a challenge from Lahm before chipping the ball over a diving Jens Lehmann and inside the far post. The goal was just reward for his play as Torres earlier saw a header knock off the post.
While Spain had the better chances the game remained tense until the final whistle. Joachim Löw’s side had ridden to the final on the strength of taking advantage of limited opportunities and they were confident to find the needed goals from similar limited chances on this day.
But the goal never came and for the first time since 1964 Spain were kings of Europe.
But that is all past history! What matters now is who will win in 2012.
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