The 16th ever European Championship is upon us and not a moment too soon.
The squads have been announced, the wall-charts blutacked, the hype trains boarded. I guess the only sensible thing left to do now is rank every tournament winner so far…
It kind of has to be… sorry!
Still, bottom of the pile or not, Greece’s story in Portugal during the summer of 2004 is absolutely incredible.
80/1 shots before the tournament and ranked by FIFA as 35th in the world, Otto Rehagel’s Greece advanced from a group containing Spain and Portugal. They then knocked out holders France in the quarters, a much-fancied Czech side in the semis and then the hosts again in the final to top it off and leave a young Cristiano Ronaldo crying.
Final: Portugal 0-1 Greece
Star players: Angelos Charisteas, Traianos Dellas, Theo Zagorakis
Tournament memories: Silver goal, Nike templates, Rooney’s metatarsal
Only the third-ever European Championship, it’s fair to say that it wasn’t taken quite as seriously as it is today…
In a format not dissimilar to today’s Nations League, after a serious of qualifiers, the final four progressed to the semis, held in Italy.
After drawing with the USSR in the semis, the hosts sensationally were allowed to progress to the final on a coin toss… yes, really.
They then had the added fortune of avoiding reigning world champs England in the final, who were victims of a shock upset by Yugoslavia.
When the final finished 1-1, the game was replayed (better than a coin toss at least). Italy eventually won that 2-0, with the legendary Luigi Riva among the scorers.
Final: Italy 1-1 Yugoslavia, Italy 2-0 Yugoslavia
Star players: Dino Zoff, Sandro Mazzola, Luigi Riva
Tournament memories: Coin toss, replays, England’s collapse
There’s no doubting USSR were a force to be reckoned with back in the day; it’s just that they didn’t get to prove it against the best…
The first ever Euros was notable for the absences of big hitters England, Italy, Spain and West Germany. Though held in France, the finals were a mostly Eastern European affair.
The Soviets slapped the Czechs in the semis, before beating Yugoslavia 2-1 after extra time in Paris in front of a disappointingly modest 18,000 people.
Goalkeeper Lev Yashin ‘the black spider’ became an icon, later winning the Ballon d’Or.
Final: USSR 2-1 Yugoslavia, AET
Star players: Lev Yashin, Igor Netto, Viktor Ponedelnik
Tournament memories: Yashin’s saves, Spain’s disqualification for refusing to travel to USSR
Only slightly less crazy than Greece’s triumph 12 years later, Denmark won Euro 92 in neighbouring Sweden despite not qualifying for the finals.
The Danes were only called up as a last-minute replacement for Yugoslavia who were disqualified due to the raging warfare and, y’know, breakup of the country.
Amazingly, the Danes held their own in the groups, getting a draw out of England, losing to Sweden and then beating France.
In the semis, penalties saw the rank outsiders edge out holders Netherlands after a 2-2 draw, before stunning Germany 2-0 in the final.
Final: Denmark 2-0 Germany
Star players: Henrik Larsen, Brian Laudrup, Peter Schmeichel
Tournament memories: CIS’ only tournament, Schmeichel saving Van Basten’s penalty, John Jensen’s screamer in the final
Heading into Euro 2020, Portugal have one of the best attacking squads going – while some are even arguing the team are better off without one Cristiano Ronaldo.
That is quite different from the last tournament when an unbalanced Portugal side was dragged through to the knockouts despite not winning a game, after Ronaldo scored twice to earn a 3-3 draw with Hungary.
Fernando Santos’ men improved as they went on, though they undoubtedly had the easier half of the draw, steering past Croatia, Poland and Wales.
Swansea flop Eder struck in the 109th minute to stun a much-fancied France in the final.
Final: Portugal 1-0 France
Star players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Pepe
Tournament memories: Eder’s extra-time winner, Wales fun, Iceland beating England
The one thing we all know about the 1976 Euros is that it was the birthplace of the Panenka penalty.
But did you know that the penalty was the tournament decider? Antonin Panenka was fifth in line to take his spot kick in the shootout of the final against world champions Germany – who, to this day, have never lost another tournament shootout.
Absolute nerves of Vibranium.
Anyway, the Czechs – who have not won another tournament in their history – saw off England, Portugal and the Netherlands en route to the final.
Final: Czechoslovakia 2-2 Germany (Czechoslovakia won 5-3 on penalties)
Star players: Ivo Viktor, Antonin Panenka, Zdenek Nehoda
Tournament memories: Panenka penalty, Panenka penalty, Panenka penalty
Sandwiched between disappointments at the World Cups in 1994 (quarter finals exit to Bulgaria) and 1998 (quarter finals exit to Croatia), Germany managed to re-discover their winning groove for the Euros in England… much to the annoyance of the home crowd.
Make no mistake, this was not a vintage Germany side, but even a not particularly great Germany side is still good enough to win trophies from time to time. It’s just what they do.
After acing a group with Czech Republic, Italy and Russia, Berti Vogts’ team bettered Croatia and, famously, England on penalties to get to the final.
Instead of coming home, football went to Germany… again. And they weren’t even that great.
Final: Czech Republic 1-2 Germany (golden goal)
Star players: Matthias Sammer, Oliver Bierhoff, Jurgen Klinsmann
Tournament memories: ‘Football’s Coming Home’, Gazza’s goal against Scotland, Germany’s first win as a unified country
After refusing to travel behind the iron curtain for the inaugural Euros – thus denying the continent a chance to see naturalised stars Alfredo di Stefano and Laszlo Kubala at a tournament – Spain came back with a vengeance four years later.
Spain, eager not to incur the wrath of dictator General Franco on home soil, saw off Hungary in the semis, before beating the Soviet Union 2-1 in the final at a packed Bernabeu.
With a squad stocked with Real Madrid and Barcelona heavyweights as well as Inter’s Luis Suarez – the first man to win the Euros and European Cup in the same year – La Roja were worthy winners of their first international title.
Final: Spain 2-1 USSR
Star players: Luis Suarez, Amancio Amaro, Marcelino
Tournament memories: Suarez’s brilliance, Brylcreem
If you thought Ronaldo was crucial for Portugal’s win in 2016, times that by 10 for Michel Platini’s influence in 1984.
The Juventus star did everything but sell programmes at the tournament in his homeland, scoring back to back hat-tricks in the groups on the way to a never-bettered total of nine goals.
Without their captain and talisman, France may not have made it out of the group, while Platini’s extra-time winner in the semis against Portugal and opener against Spain in the final confirmed his place as the best player in the world.
Shame about all the post playing career stuff, though.
Final: France 2-0 Spain
Star players: Michel Platini, Michel Platini, Michel Platini
Tournament memories: France’s adidas kit, Platini going full GOAT
The second of their three Euros title, West Germany were a decent side back in 1980, reaching their third final on the spin.
In the first eight-team tournament, the Germans beat holders Czechoslovakia and previous World Cup finalists the Netherlands to top their group and progress to the final against Belgium.
The star power of the likes of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Bernd Schuster (the pair finished one and two in the Ballon d’Or rankings after the tournament) proved too much for Belgium.
Heading monster Horst Hrubesch scored twice, including an 88th-minute winner on a scorching day in Rome to give the Germans victory.
Final: Belgium 1-2 Germany
Star players: Uli Stielike, Bernd Schuster, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge,
Tournament memories: First eight-team Euros, Hrubesch’s headers, adidas Tango
Remember when Spain were regular underachievers just like England?
Well, that ended in 2008 when Luis Aragones took the golden generation to European glory.
This more raw, risk-taking version of La Roja may not have been as complete as the sides that dominated in 2010 and 2012, but it was probably more fun.
Spain swept their group aside with three wins and eight goals before beating Italy on penalties and putting tournament dark horses Russia to the sword 3-0 in the semis.
An edgy final against a workmanlike Germany was won by a moment of class when emerging Liverpool superstar Fernando Torres dinked Jens Lehmann for the winner.
Final: Spain 1-0 Germany
Star players: Fernando Torres, David Villa, Xavi
Tournament memories: Turkey’s comebacks, Russia’s run, tiki-taka
Their first and most impressive Euros title, Germany were a force to be reckoned with in 1972.
The West Germans had a team full of world-class talent including Sepp Maier, Paul Breitner, Franz Beckenbauer, Jupp Heynckes as well as goal pervert Gerd Muller.
This was the beginning of an incredible period of dominance for Germany (even by their standards) in which they would go on to make three consecutive Euros finals and win the World Cup in 1974.
Host Belgium were Mullered in the semis, before the Soviet Union took a 3-0 beating in the final. Impressive stuff.
Final: West Germany 3-0 USSR
Star players: Franz Beckenbauer, Gunter Netzer, Gerd Muller
Tournament memories: Muller’s goals, long 70s hair, German domination
Speaking of world dominators, France’s period at the top might not have been quite as prolonged as Germany’s in the 70s, but they were the undisputed kings of football for two tournaments in 1998 and 2000.
After their first World Cup win, the question was whether this undoubtedly special France side could do it again without the benefit of the home crowd. The answer was, unequivocally, oui.
Thierry Henry, who had been an impact sub in 1998, became the main main, while Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira, Lilian Thuram and more were all at their peak. Meanwhile, old heads like Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly still had enough left in the tank for one more lap.
They may have won all their knockout games by a slim 2-1 margin (Spain, Portugal, Italy), but France were very worthy winners.
Final: France 2-1 Italy (golden goal)
Star players: Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet
Tournament memories: Toldo penalty heroics, Yugoslavia’s mad results, Abel Xavier’s hand and hair
Underachievers of international football for so long, the Netherlands finally came good on their promise in 1988… and it was worth the wait.
The architect of ‘totaalvoetbal’ Rinus Michels’ Netherlands played some of the best football the continent has ever seen, with an array of legendary talent including Milan trio Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard.
The Dutch actually finished second in their group after losing 1-0 to the USSR. However, they picked up steam in the knockouts, beating old rivals West Germany 2-1 on their own patch in the semis for a historic victory.
The final is of course best remembered for the best goal ever scored at the Euros.
Final: USSR 0-2 Netherlands
Star players: Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Ronald Koeman
Tournament memories: Gullit’s hair, that adidas kit template, Van Basten’s volley
Probably the greatest international team there has ever been, Spain got a taste for trophies after their first tournament win in 2008 and peaked at Euro 2012.
Vicente del Bosque’s talent-riddled side actually drew their opener with Italy, but tonked Ireland 4-0 and then ground out a 1-0 win against Ireland to make the quarters.
France were brushed aside, while it took penalties to overcome Portugal. However, Spain saved the best for last with a 4-0 win over Italy in the final – despite not starting a recognised striker.
Iker Casillas, Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Fernando Torres and more set the bar impossibly high for Spain and the rest of European football.
Final: Spain 4-0 Italy
Star players: All 23 of them
Tournament memories: Balotelli celebration, Fabregas being forced into a Barça shirt, Iniesta masterclass in the final