Join us on a journey through time as we use Opta Analyst’s unrivalled performance and historical data to uncover the hidden stories buried in UEFA European Championship history.

Welcome to Opta Analyst‘s European Championship historical hub. With the build-up to Euro 2024 in full swing, we delved into the archives to unearth some of the best insights, stories and statistical quirks from European Championship history. 

The Early Years

In part one of our series, we look back at the early years of the European Championship in the 1960s and 1970s.

Beginning as a four-team event in 1960 initially called the European Nations Cup, the tournament exploded into life with what is still the highest-scoring match. Host nation France suffered a 5-4 defeat against Yugoslavia in the opening game.

The Soviet Union won the inaugural tournament in 1960 thanks to a 2-1 extra-time comeback victory over Yugoslavia 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 around to pick up the first of their three European Championship titles with a 2-1 victory in Madrid.

Italy scooped up the trophy in Euro 1968 before Gerd Müller fired West Germany to victory at Euro 1972 with two goals in the semi-final against Belgium before a further brace in the 3-0 final win over the Soviet Union.

Euro 1976 saw Czechoslovakia win the tournament after defeating holders West Germany in the final on penalties following a 2–2 draw after extra time.

European Championship History Early Years
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The 1980s

The 1980s saw the tournament double in size, with eight teams playing in the finals tournament as it moved into a new era. In Euro 1980, West Germany become the first team to win multiple titles, after their previous success in 1972

We then witnessed one of the all-time great European Championship performances from Michel Platini in Euro 1984. The Frenchman netted two hat tricks on home soil, finishing as the top goalscorer with nine goals as France clinched the title.

No stranger to Euro-related heartbreak, England put in their worst-ever tournament appearance four years later in 1988. In 24 World Cup and European Championship finals combined, the Three Lions have never performed worse than their three defeats in three games at Euro 88.  Marco van Basten was another player to shine at that Championship.

Euro 1988 would be the final tournament to see the back-pass rule in effect. 

European Championship History 1980s
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The 1990s

We turn our attentions to the 1990s where the tournament saw the unlikeliest of victors and changes in the laws of football. 

Denmark were not even supposed to be at the 1992 event but, having been brought in as a late replacement for Yugoslavia, they would knock out reigning champions the Netherlands in the semi-finals before triumphing over reigning FIFA World Cup winners Germany in the final. 

Despite the abolition of the back-pass rule, goalkeepers found other ways to keep busy at Euro 96 – via penalty shootouts. Germany would be victors at that tournament. It was a heady summer where it looked like football would be coming home as hosts England went on a run to the semi-finals. It did not work out that way.

Despite that, Alan Shearer finished as the tournament top scorer with five goals and is still the only English player to win the top scorer award at a Euro finals. Prior to the Euro 1996 opener at Wembley Stadium versus Switzerland, Shearer had gone 12 England appearances and 640 days without a goal for the Three Lions.

European Championship History 1990s
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The 2000s

In part four of our European Championship history series, we turn our attentions to the 2000s and the era of goals. Each of the three tournaments that took place during this decade rank in the top four tournaments for goals-per-game.

A golden goal was needed in the 2000 event to separate the finalists as France secured back-to-back Euro and World Cup triumphs.

There was yet more heartache for England. Despite leading in all three of their group stage matches, they crashed out in the group stage in heart-breaking fashion, a 89th-minute penalty from Romania’s Ionel Ganea sending them home. 

At Euro 2004 it was surprise package Greece celebrating. Having progressed through Group A at the expense of Spain and Russia, they knocked out France in the quarter-finals before beating Czech Republic in the semis. A rematch and victory against Portugal in the final capped a crazy tournament for the 150/1 outsiders.

The tournament also saw the arrival of two players who would go on to become global superstars: Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.

Euro 2008 would see the start of Spain’s dominance of the beautiful game. And while Euro 2004 saw the youngest goalscorer record fall, Euro 2008 is home to the oldest goalscorer in Euros history, with Ivica Vastic netting for Austria against Poland at the age of 38 years and 257 days.

European Championship History 2000s
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The 2010s

Euro 2012 saw Spain triumph as they became the first nation to win consecutive European Championships with a 4-0 thumping of Italy in the final.

Four years later, their Iberian neighbours Portugal became the 10th nation to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy despite finishing third in their group. Wales also had a strong run at Euro 2016, becoming the first debutant to reach the semi-finals of the tournament since Sweden in 1992.

European Championship History 2010s
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The 2020s

The opening European Championship tournament of the 2020s was unlike an other before it. Firstly it was delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Secondly it had no set host nation(s), instead seeing matches played across the continent in 11 different European countries.

Italy prevailed following a penalty shootout win over England in the final at Wembley Stadium to pick up their second European Championship title. It was their first in 53 years (also 1968), which is the longest-ever gap between championships in the tournament by a single nation, surpassing Spain’s 44-year wait from 1964 to 2008.

European Championship History 2020
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