The Evolution of the Euros

As with most parts of this world, soccer is constantly evolving. Just in recent years we’ve seen goal line technology, tech bibs at training to measure player’s movement and heart rate, vanishing spray during free kicks, and more recently the expansion of one of Europe’s biggest tournaments. For the first time ever the Euro’s will have 24 competing national teams. This, of course, shook up the entire tournament format from what we’ve grown accustomed to. This isn’t the first time the Euro’s evolved, however. The truth is the tournament’s been growing since it started in 1960.

Henri Delauney, a French football administrator is widely considered to be the founder of the Euros as it is reported he first proposed the continental tournament in 1927. Delauney passed in 1955 before he could see his idea come to fruition, however, the tournament’s trophy was named after him as a remembrance. The Euros are played every four years (two years after each World Cup) and are widely considered the second largest soccer tournament in the world.

The then called UEFA European Nations Cup was founded in 1960 and had 17 teams enter and participate in preliminary rounds dating back to 1958. The final tournament itself, however, included just four teams (Czechoslovakia, France, Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia) compared to the final tournament this year which will have 24 teams. Politics played a huge part in the participating teams as tensions were high during the period with the Berlin Wall and Cold War between the Soviet bloc and the West.

Some nations such as Spain refused participation due to the Soviet Union’s support of the Second Spanish Republic. Other notable absences were West Germany, Italy, and England. The final tournament included three Communist nations and the hosts, France. The Soviet Union triumphed that year, with a 2-1 extra-time win against Yugoslavia at Paris’s Parc des Princes Stadium.

In 1968, the tournament was renamed to its current name, the UEFA European Championship. A now common structure was also adopted during this tournament as the qualifying two-legged home and away knock-out stage was changed to a group phase. The five-day tournament again had just four teams participating in the finals itself, with hosts Italy coming away victorious.

Italy made it to the final through a coin toss after drawing against the Soviet Union in the Semi-Finals. It is the only time in the history of the sport that a match was decided in such a way. Once in the finals, Italy drew with Yugoslavia 1-1 after extra-time which meant a replay was needed instead of penalties. Two days later, Italy would seal a 2-0 win to win the tournament on home soil with goals from legendary striker Luigi Riva and Pietro Anastasi.

The 1968 qualifying tournament still holds the record attendance for one match when 134,461 fans witnesses a 1-1 draw between hosts Scotland and neighbours England at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

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The 1976 Euros brought another revolutionary and exciting part of soccer to the tournament with the introduction of penalties instead of a replay game if the scores were level after regulation time. After extra-time in all the games from the semi-final stage onwards, penalties were used to decide the final between Czechoslovakia and West Germany after a 2-2 draw after extra-time.

The tie was decided 5-3 in favour of Czechoslovakia when Antonín Panenka stepped up to dispatch the most audacious penalty that the footballing world had ever seen – a chip down the middle of the goal which deceived West German goalkeeper Sepp Maier who had already dived to his left.

The evolution of the tournament continued for a second straight Euros in 1980 with the expansion of an eight-team tournament instead of the four-team system that had been in effect since 1960. With eight teams involved after the qualifying stage, the tournament moved to a group stage system with the two highest teams from each group advancing to the semi-finals.

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The Euros stayed roughly the same for the next decade and a half until the 1996 tournament in England. 1996 again saw a change in structure with an expansion to 16 teams in the group stage of the finals proper. The tournament was an excellent one, with Germany pipping dark horses Czech Republic to the title with a 2-1 extra-time win courtesy of an Oliver Bierhoff brace.

Although the format was still the same, 2004 brought one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. Greece who to that point had qualified for just one Euro and one World Cup in their history went on to win the 2004 Euros after defeating the hosts, Portugal, in the final 1-0.

It was one of the biggest shocks in tournament history with the victory being built on a ‘smash and grab’ mentality – soaking up the pressure with a highly structured and strong defence and nicking a goal via a set-piece or counter-attack. The Greeks were masters of this tactic at the tournament and ended victorious despite scoring just seven goals in the whole tournament – after qualifying for the knock-out rounds, they managed to win 1-0 in all of their games.

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The 2012 tournament didn’t bring any changes, but it did involve a huge promise by then FIFA president Sepp Blatter. He promised the introduction of goal-line technology after a no-goal was called in a group stage match between England and Ukraine which replays clearly showed the ball was well over the line. Since then, goal-line technology has slowly started being included in major tournaments and leagues themselves. 2012 also saw the first time a nation ever won back to back Euros, as well as three major tournaments in a row with Spain winning the 2008 and 2012 Euros and also the 2010 World Cup.

The most recent change to the Euros, of course, is this year’s tournament in France with the expansion to 24 teams which means more group stage matches. It will be by far the biggest Euro to date and will include all of the latest technology in the sport and will be a great demonstration of just how much the Euros have transformed since their introduction in 1960.

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