The UEFA European Football Championship
European football’s premier event, the UEFA European Football Championship runs on a four-year cycle with the event being held on the even year that does not coincide with the FIFA World Cup. Inaugurated in 1960 as the UEFA European Nations Cup, it began as a very low-key and small-scale event, with only four teams taking part in what was a very compact final tournament won by the Soviet Union. The official name of the competition was changed to the UEFA European Football Championship in 1968, with the four-team final round remaining in place until the number of finalists was expanded to eight for the 1980 edition of the tournament. The 1980 tournament also saw for the first time a designated host nation – until then the host for the final tournament had been decided only after the four finalists had been determined.
As the marketing and promotion of international football grew during the late 1970s and early 1980s, so did the status of the UEFA European Championship finals. To increase the event’s marketability, the long-winded official title was supplemented in 1992 with a shortened form of “Euro” and the year – meaning that the 1992 UEFA European Football Championships was also known as “Euro 1992”.
By 1996, a tournament that had started off as a relatively minor four-team gathering had become a sixteen-team event, a simple format that lasted until Euro 2016, when the competition was expanded further to include twenty-four finalists. The expansion led to the adoption of the same structure that had been applied in the FIFA World Cups of 1986, 1990 and 1994 – with the four best third-placed teams from six groups of four joining the top two from each group qualifying for a new second round (last of sixteen) stage.
The format acquired a number of high-profile critics, including German Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw. When the decision was made to move away from the easy to manage – and, frankly, perfectly balanced – sixteen-team format, a number of commentators (including this author) concluded that there had been a clear shift from an elite event to little more than an exercise to generate television revenue. Given that there are only fifty-three UEFA member nations, the presence of twenty-four teams meant that just under one in two (around 45%) of these countries would get to play in the month-long final tournament.
If one were to apply this same percentage to the FIFA World Cup, the final tournament would need to be expanded to accommodate a staggering ninety-three countries. We might as well go one step further: abandon the two years of increasingly pointless qualifying rounds, and throw all of the member countries in together for one all-inclusive two-month footballing jamboree.
Fifteen editions of the Euro have been played since its creation in 1960, and only three teams have won the tournament more than once: Germany (1972, 1980, 1996), Spain (1964, 2008, 2012) and France (1984, 2002). Seven others nations have recorded one victory: the Soviet Union (1960), Italy (1968), Czechoslovakia (1976), The Netherlands (1988), Denmark (1992), Greece (2004) and the most recent winners, Portugal (2016).
The trophy awarded to the winners of the European Championship is the Henri Delaunay trophy, the first General Secretary of UEFA who has initially proposed the idea of a pan-European tournament. The original trophy was made of sterling silver atop a black marble base, and was presented to the winners in every finals tournament until 2004.
In 2008 a new larger, remodelled trophy with the same essential shape and design was introduced, with the base being made wider and the marble plinth removed. While the names of previous winners had before been engraved onto a rectangular metal plaque on the plinth, they are now on the 8kg, 60cm trophy itself, filling the space where a small figure juggling a ball had previously appeared.
Germany’s Participation and Record
Germany has by far the best record in the UEFA European Championship. They have appeared in twelve of the fifteen editions of the tournament, more than any other participating nation; they did not enter the first two events in 1960 and 1964 and have missed out in the qualifying round on only one occasion – when they were pipped by Yugoslavia in the group stage of the 1968 competition. Five of these appearances were made as the Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany (1972-1988) and five since unification (1992-2008).
In these twelve appearances, the Mannschaft have appeared in the final match a record six times, winning three of them – also a record, now shared with Spain after the Spaniards’ victory at Euro 2012. They have played the most matches of any participating nation (49), and have scored the most goals (72), moving clear of the Netherlands during Euro 2012.
Having missed out on qualification for the Euro finals at their first attempt in 1968, Germany did not put a foot wrong the second time around in 1972. Having made it to the last four, they clinically disposed of the opposition to claim the title. Thus began a dominant period for the Mannschaft, where they reached the next final – losing only on penalties to Czechoslovakia – before making it three finals in a row in 1980, when they claimed a second title in beating a competitive Belgian side.
A disappointing tournament in France in 1984 was followed by a semi-final exit at home four years later, before a fourth final appearance in 1992 which resulted in a second defeat at the hands of first-time winners Denmark. It was a case of one place better in England in 1996, when the Mannschaft reached their fifth final in seven tournaments and claimed a third title by beating the Czech Republic and gaining a measure of revenge for the penalty shootout defeat twenty years earlier.
After two barren competitions in 2000 and 2004 which saw ignominious first round exits, the new-look German team returned to the top with their sixth European Championship final appearance in 2008. Unfortunately it was also to bring about their third defeat at the hands of an impressive Spanish team. The German team had been hotly tipped to add a fourth title at the 2012 tournament, but after an impressive start would fall to bogey team Italy in the semi-finals. It was much the same story in 2016, where the Mannschaft were eliminated at the penultimate stage by tournament hosts France.
Since their first European Championship qualifying match against Albania in April 1967, Germany have played a total of ninety-eight matches: winning 70, drawing 19 and losing 8 – scoring 237 goals and conceding 61. At home their record reads played 49, won 39, drawn 8 and lost 2 with a goal count of 141-29, while away from home they have also played 49 games – winning 31, drawing 11 and losing 7 with a goal count of 96-32. The Mannschaft’s first away Euro qualifying defeat was against Yugoslavia in 1967, and until the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign their only other away defeats were against Northern Ireland (Euro 1984), Wales (Euro 92), Bulgaria (Euro 1996), Turkey (Euro 2000).
The recent Euro 2016 qualifying campaign saw the Mannschaft lose two away matches for the first time, with a 2-0 defeat in Poland and a 1-0 reverse against the Republic of Ireland.
It was Northern Ireland who inflicted Germany’s first home defeat in a European Championship qualifying match; in doing so, they became the first and so far only country to do the double over the Mannschaft in any World Cup or European Championship qualifying campaign. Germany’s only other defeat at home came against the Czech Republic in qualifying for Euro 2008, though by that time both sides had already secured their passage to the finals.
Comparative Tournament Records
Only three teams have won the European Championship on two or more occasions: Germany, Spain and France. The following chart shows the tournament record of these three teams from the first tournament in France in 1960: Germany and Spain lead the way with three victories (with the Mannschaft making a record seven final appearances) while France have recorded two victories.
Germany did not enter the first two competitions in 1960 and 1964, and were eliminated at the qualifying stage in 1968; they have made the final cut in every tournament since.
Key: 0 = DNQ; 2 = 1st Phase; 4 = 2nd Phase/Last 16; 5 = 2nd Phase/Last 12; 6 = Quarter-Finalist/Last 8; 8 = Semi-Finalist/Last 4; 9 = Third Place; 10 = Runner-Up; 12 = Winner. Germany’s three tournament victories are marked A, B and C.
UEFA European Championship Finals Tournaments, and Germany’s Tournament Placing
France 1960 (4 finalists) – Did not participate
Spain 1964 (4 finalists) – Did not participate
Italy 1968 (4 finalists) – Did not qualify
Belgium 1972 (4 finalists) – Champions
Yugoslavia 1976 (4 finalists) – Runners-up
Italy 1980 (8 finalists) – Champions
France 1984 (8 finalists) – First Phase
Germany 1988 (8 finalists) – Semi-Finalists
Sweden 1992 (8 finalists) – Runners-up
England 1996 (16 finalists) – Champions
Belgium/The Netherlands 2000 (16 finalists) – First Phase
Portugal 2004 (16 finalists) – First Phase
Austria/Switzerland 2008 (16 finalists) – Runners-up
Poland/Ukraine 2012 (16 finalists) – Semi-Finalists
France 2016 (24 finalists) – Semi-Finalists