European Championship History: The Early Years
Soccer

European Championship History: The Early Years


History of the European Championship Part I: The Early Years
History of the European Championship Part I: The Early Years
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The first-ever edition of the UEFA European Championships was in 1960. The format was simple – a qualification campaign involving 17 teams in Europe and the finals tournament consisting of just four teams. The 1960 and 1964 editions were labelled as the European Nations’ Cup before the European Championship name was used for the first time in 1968. 

Although the team involved in qualifying grew with each tournament the Euros remained a four-team finals competition until 1980, where the number of teams taking part doubled to eight. 

In this edition of our look back of the European Championships, we focus on the tournament between 1960 and 1976. 

The first match to kick off in European Championships would prove to be a goal frenzy unlike any other seen in 285 games in the competition since. 

Host nation France’s 5-4 defeat to Yugoslavia in Paris remains the highest-scoring game in the history of the tournament, with no other match since seeing more than seven goals scored. High scoring games seemed to be a theme in Yugoslavia’s participation in the Euros – only four games have seen seven or more goals scored, with the first three all involving them. 

European Championship highest scoring games

The Soviet Union won the inaugural tournament in 1960, thanks to a 2-1 extra-time comeback victory over the Yugoslavs in the final, but they would get a taste of their own medicine four years later as Spain were to turn a 1-0 deficit round and pick up the first of their three European Championship titles in 1964 with a 2-1 victory in Madrid. 

Quite possibly down to pitch quality or lack of foresight around the concept of tiki-taka (who knows), but the first two European Championship finals saw every side complete under 70% of their passes.  

Only five teams have managed to misplace 30% or more of their passes in European Championship history within a final match, with the Czech Republic in 1996 the only team outside of the 1960s to do so.

European Championship Finals – Worst Passing Accuracy %

TeamOpponentDatePassesPassing Accuracy %
USSRYugoslaviaJuly 10, 196040465.4
USSRSpainJune 21, 196431567.0
Czech RepublicGermanyJune 30, 199628467.6
SpainUSSRJune 21, 196441268.5
YugoslaviaUSSRJuly 10, 196045269.9

1968 saw the third European Championships tournament and in many ways, it was a tournament that helped to shape the future of football. 

At the semi-final stage, Italy and the Soviet Union could not muster a goal after 120 minutes of action so a coin toss was used to decide which team progressed to the final – the first and only time that was used in European Championship history.  

Italy were victorious and so played Yugoslavia in the final. Another match went through extra time without a victor, with the two sides playing out a 1-1 draw. A replay was called two days later to decide a winner of the tournament and Italy prevailed 2-0 thanks to goals from Luigi Riva and Pietro Anastasi. 

These two matches, alongside a game between Israel and Bulgaria in an Olympic qualifier later that year were said to be the main deciding factors to introduce a new way to decide a victor of a tie – the penalty shootout. 

18 matches at the European Championships have been decided by a penalty shootout since then, with the first of these coming in arguably the most exciting final in the history of the competition in 1976. 

1976 European Championship Final

Czechoslovakia and West Germany played out a 2-2 draw across 120 minutes, that saw more shots (67) and more shots on target (27) than any other final in Euros history. This would still be the case inside the 90 minutes of the 1976 final, with 52 shots and 20 shots on target before extra time. 

That night in Belgrade became iconic, as seven successful penalty kicks were followed by a Uli Hoeneß miss for West Germany, before Antonín Panenka stepped up to the spot. Panenka coolly dispatched his penalty with a lofted shot over the diving Sepp Maier and wrote his name in footballing folklore, with his name now synonymous with that form of taking a spot-kick. 

The two Euros of the 1970s saw two Müllers win the Golden Boot with four goals apiece. 1972 saw a player score four times in a single tournament for the first time, with Gerd Müller scoring two goals in the semi-final against Belgium before a further brace in the 3-0 final win over the Soviet Union. He was the first player to score more than once in a Euro final; a feat that’s only been replicated twice since, both by Germans: Horst Hrubesch against Belgium in 1980 and Oliver Bierhoff in 1996 against Czech Republic. 

Dieter Muller Frame

Four years later, Dieter Müller scored the first-ever hat-trick in European Championship history with a treble in a 4-2 semi-final win over Yugoslavia. He netted again in the final to secure back-to-back Golden Boots for West German strikers named Müller. 

The five editions of the European Championships across the 1960s and 1970s produced five different winners and it wasn’t until 1980 and the sixth edition did we see a second-time winner. The 1980s saw the tournament double in size, with eight teams playing in the finals tournament as it moved into a new era.  


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