Our timeline tracks how the EUROs have consistently stretched the frontiers of European football - from pioneer Henri Delaunay’s 1920s dream of a new continental championship for national teams to UEFA EURO 2020, a tournament bridging 12 host countries.
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UEFA Direct: How the European Championship came into being
Henri Delaunay, general secretary of the French Football Federation (FFF), and Austrian Hugo Meisl, coach of Austria’s Wunderteam of the 1930s, propose the launching of a European national team cup. FIFA rejects the proposal, but Delaunay never gives up on his dream.
Delaunay, recently installed as UEFA’s founding general secretary, sets up a three-member committee to explore the case for a European competition for national teams. Despite the committee’s proposal to use the new tournament as a qualifying competition for the FIFA World Cup, UEFA’s inaugural Congress in Vienna in March 1955 rejects the idea. Europe’s clubs are reluctant to release players for an increased number of international matches.
Henri Delaunay sadly passes away – but his son Pierre Delaunay, who succeeds his late father as UEFA general secretary, continues to press for a European national team competition. “Whether we like it or not,” he says, “the momentum is uncontainable … the European competition will take off in the end, and sooner or later it will have the virtually unanimous backing of the associations.”
The proposal for a European football championship is finally back on the agenda at the Stockholm Congress on 4 June, and still on the menu when delegates adjourn for lunch. UEFA President Ebbe Schwartz (Denmark) saves the day, declaring that “the draw will take place on 6 June” – two days later and two days before the start of the World Cup finals, also to be staged in Sweden.
The competition is called the European Nations’ Cup, with Ebbe Schwartz proposing that the trophy be called the Henri Delaunay Cup in recognition of the Frenchman’s pioneering role in getting the tournament off the ground. Seventeen teams pay the entry fee of 200 Swiss francs to enter the 1958-60 tournament – but the four British teams, along with the Dutch, Germans, Italians and Swedes, are all absent.
The first-ever Nations’ Cup game takes place in Moscow on 28 September, with the Soviet Union defeating Hungary 3-1 in a round of 16 encounter watched by 100,572 spectators. Anatoli Ilyin takes just four minutes to claim the honour of scoring the competition’s first ever goal.
The inaugural four-team final round takes place in France, with the Soviet Union winning the first European title thanks to a 2-1 victory over Yugoslavia in Paris in July 1960. The competition is up and running – and when the second edition starts two years later, the number of national teams entering the draw rises to 29!
With the introduction of qualifying group matches, the European Nations' Cup becomes the European Championship. The group stages are followed by quarter-finals, played on a home-and-away basis. The final round remains unchanged, with semi-finals, a third-place play-off and a final.
For EURO 1976 in Yugoslavia, UEFA scraps replays of finals – setting the scene for a famous penalty shootout. After extra-time, surprise finalists Czechoslovakia and reigning champions West Germany are locked at 2-2. When Uli Hoeness sends his penalty for the Germans high over the bar, Antonin Panenka steps forward to coolly chip the ball into the middle of the goal and seal a hat-trick of football firsts:
• Czechoslovakia’s first EURO title;
• The first penalty shootout to settle a championship;
• The first player to give his name to a type of penalty.
For the first time in the EUROs, teams enter the final round straight from the qualifying groups. At EURO 1980 in Italy, the eight teams are divided into two groups. The winners go straight into the final, with the runners-up contesting third place in a play-off.
UEFA again refines the final round by introducing semi-finals after the group matches and removing the third place play-off.
At EURO 1996 in England, UEFA expands the number of teams participating in the final round to 16 – essential to accommodate the growing size of Europe’s football family.
UEFA accepts a request from the Scottish Football Association, backed by the Republic of Ireland, Latvia and Sweden, for a feasibility study into a 24-team final tournament..
In 2016, the number of final round participants grows from 16 to 24. UEFA’s move reflects the underlying strength of the European game and has an immediate impact at EURO 2016 in France. Debutants such as Iceland and Wales not only qualify for the first time, but advance deep into the competition.
To mark the tournament’s 60th anniversary, UEFA breaks with tradition whereby one country hosts the EUROs or two countries share the event. At EURO 2020, matches will take place in 12 different cities stretching across the entire continent.
Seven European countries will host their first-ever European football championship: Azerbaijan, Denmark, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Russia, Scotland.