History of the European Championship Part V: The 2010s
History of the European Championship Part V: The 2010s

“The reward today was for beautiful football,” crooned Vicente del Bosque after his Spain side withstood the Netherlands’ aggressive tactics to win the 2010 World Cup. On that day, the Spaniard’s had over 61% possession and out passed their opponents 524 to 262.  

That Spain performance, inextricably linked to the rise of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, gave us a taste of the possession-friendly, pass-heavy style that would characterise the first part of this decade.   

Indeed, the two European Championships in 2012 and 2016 saw the most successful passes per 90 minutes in Euros history.  

Passes per 90 - euros history

And Spain won Euro 2012 having averaged the most possession of any European Championship winner in the modern era. In the same tournament they also set the record for the highest number of completed passes in a European Championship match (788) in their group stage win over Republic of Ireland. 

Euro Championships - most possession by a winner

Victory over Italy in the final saw Spain become the first team to win two consecutive European Championships (2008 and 2012) and the first team to win three successive major tournaments (Euro 2008, WC 2010 and Euro 2012). 

Their 4-0 evisceration of Italy was the biggest margin of victory ever seen in a European Championship final. Fernando Torres netted the third for Spain that day, becoming the first player to score in two European Championship finals. 

Spain 4-0 Italy euro 2012 final

In the process, Vincente Del Bosque became just the second manager to win both the Euros and the World Cup (2008 & 2012) after Helmut Schon (Germany – Euro 1972 & World Cup 1974) 

England’s tournament progress ended predictably meekly at the hands of Italy in the quarter-finals, with Andrea Pirlo’s masterful Panenka the highlight in Italy’s shootout win.  

In truth, England were lucky the match lasted that long. Despite a combined 45 shots from both sides, the game saw no goals scored in 120 minutes of action – the most shots without a goal recorded in Euro history.  Italy racked up 36 of those attempts, generating a total of 3.3 expected goals.  That’s the highest xG tally in a single game in European Championship history for a team who didn’t score.   

Highest xG Without Scoring In A Single Euros Game:

Match  Team  Round  Expected Goals  Final Score
England vs Italy – Euro 2012ItalyQuarter-Finals3.270-0
Italy vs Netherlands – Euro 2000NetherlandsSemi-Finals3.070-0
Netherlands vs Denmark – Euro 2012NetherlandsGroup Stage2.940-1
England vs Republic of Ireland – Euro 1988EnglandGroup Stage2.710-1
Yugoslavia vs Denmark – Euro 1984YugoslaviaGroup Stage2.650-5
Italy 0-0 England shot map

Just two years after reaching a World Cup final, Euro 2012 was a real low point for the Netherlands. The Dutch lost all three of their group stage games in what was their worst-ever performance at a Euro finals tournament. Full-back Jetro Willems did become the youngest player to appear in a European Champion match though, so at least he can take some solace from the tournament.  

Youngest Players to Appear in a European Championship Game:

Jetro Willems18y 071dNetherlandsDenmark09 June 2012
Enzo Scifo18y 115dBelgiumYugoslavia13 June 1984
Valeri Emilov Bozhinov18y 128dBulgariaItaly22 June 2004
Johan Vonlanthen18y 137dSwitzerlandEngland17 June 2004
Marcus Rashford18 y 228 dEnglandWales16 June 2016
Wayne Rooney18y 233dEnglandFrance13 June 2004
Renato Sanches18y 301dPortugalIceland14 June 2016
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain18y 302dEnglandFrance11 June 2012
Emre Mor18y 324dTurkeyCroatia12 June 2016
Lukas Podolski19y 019dGermanyCzech Republic23 June 2004

If 2012 was a low point for the Netherlands, then Euro 2016 was their nadir. Their unsuccessful qualification campaign meant it was the first time the Netherlands had failed to qualify for a major tournament since they missed the 2002 World Cup. 

Instead, Euro 2016 was finally Portugal’s turn in the limelight, as they became the 10th nation to win the tournament. It was a long time coming too; Portugal’s victory over France in the final was their 35th game at the European Championships – no side had played more games without winning it.   

Their path to victory was anything but conventional. Portugal progressed to the knockout stages without winning a single game in their group. In fact, they won just once in normal time throughout their Euro 2016 campaign, against Wales in the semi-finals, progressing via extra-time on three occasions, a record-high in European Championship history.  Their 1-0 extra-time win over France in the final was the sixth final to go to extra-time but the first to finish goalless after 90 minutes.  

The reason Portugal were able to progress despite finishing third in their group was because UEFA expanded Euro 2016 to incorporate 24 teams, rather than 16. This meant that four of the six third-placed teams would make the last 16 based on record. Portugal sneaked through on goal difference.  

The expanded format received criticism from some who felt it resulted in a surplus of ‘meaningless’ and stale matches in the group stages.

There are quite a few numbers which support this theory. 

108 goals were scored in Euro 2016, a rate of 2.12 per game. That’s the lowest average for a European Championships since 1996 (2.06).  

Euros History - goals per game

Stripping that down to just the group stages paints the same picture. Euro 2016 averaged 1.92 goals per game in the group stage, the lowest average since 1992 (1.75).  

Lowest Scoring Euros Group stage in history

That said, the new 24-team format meant there was an additional spot for qualification giving even the lowest ranked teams in the qualifying groups a glimmer of hope of reaching the main event.

Wales, Albania, Northern Ireland and Iceland made the European Championship finals for the first time, while Hungary were back into the main event after a hiatus of 44 years, the biggest gap between successive Euro final appearances in history.  

Four out of those five teams made it to the last 16, two of them as group winners as Wales became the first debuting team to top a group in the history of the European Championships. Indeed, Wales became the first debutant to reach the semi-finals of the tournament since Sweden in 1992.

Crucial to Wales’ success was midfielder Aaron Ramsey. His four assists at Euro 2016 tied the record for the most assists in a Euros tournament since 1980 (level with Ljubinko Drulovic for Yugoslavia in 2000, and Belgium’s Eden Hazard in 2016).

Iceland would go onto produce one of the shocks of the tournament, eliminating England in the last sixteen. One of the most potent weapons in the Icelandic artillery was their danger from long-throws. They attempted a tournament-high 71 long-throws in total, scoring twice from these situations including their first goal against England.

Euro 2016 - long throws

Despite attempting 56 shots more than their opponents at Euro 2016 (82-26), England scored as many goals as they conceded (4). Star striker Harry Kane remained goalless (239 minutes, 0 goals), despite attempting more shots than any other England player at the tournament (13). What didn’t help was Roy Hodgson’s peculiar decision to assign corner-kick duties to the England forward. Indeed, Kane took more corners (7) than he had shots on target (4) at Euro 2016.

For Roy Hodgson it was a desperate and ignominious way to end his four years as England manager.

But at least the game did produce this iconic Icelandic celebration:

At the heart of Portugal’s Euro 2016 victory was, of course, their captain and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.  

Ronaldo made his 17th European Championship appearance in Portugal’s final group game against Hungary, an outright record. Including the final he has now played 21 games in total at the Euros. 

By scoring in that game against Hungary, Ronaldo became the first player to score in four different European Championship finals tournaments (2016, 2012, 2008 & 2004). He now has nine goals in European Championships, equalling Michel Platini as the all-time top scorer at the Euros. 

Most goals in Euros history

Ronaldo has an imperious record on the big stage but in the Euro 2016 final, he had a very different role to play. Forced to come off through injury after just 25 minutes of play, Portugal’s captain was in tears as he was stretched off. Despite the loss of their best player, Eder’s strike in extra-time was enough to sink France.  

Ronaldo couldn’t affect the game on the pitch but did his best to contribute from the touchline: 

While fortune was definitely on Portugal’s side in Euro 2016, it was certainly not smiling on Poland. The Poles didn’t trail for a single minute at Euro 2016 but found themselves eliminated on penalties in the quarter-final by Fernando Santos’ men. They were the only side not to trail at Euro 2016 and can consider themselves unlucky not to progress further.  

France’s charge to the final on home soil was spearheaded by Antoine Griezmann, who scored six goals on his way to winning the Golden Boot. Only fellow countryman Michel Platini (9 in 1984) has bettered that tally in a single European Championship edition.  

And it was a family affair in Lens on June 11, 2016 as Taulant Xhaka (Albania) and Granit Xhaka (Switzerland) became the first siblings in European Championship history to play against each other. It was younger brother, Granit, who had the last laugh on that occasion as Switzerland beat Albania 1-0.  

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