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1997: German reign goes on

Germany held on to their crown in 1997 despite being forced to play off to qualify.

Doris Fitschen shows her elation at the end of the final in 1997
Doris Fitschen shows her elation at the end of the final in 1997 ©Bongarts

The UEFA European Women's Championship saw its most radical change in format for the 1997 edition, as an eight-team final tournament was introduced. In addition, the 33 entrants were split into two divisions, with the top 16 separated into four groups of four playing off for qualification, and the other 17 competing for promotion.

Unsurprisingly, competition in the premier division was tough, especially as only the group winners were assured of progress. Indeed, in Group 1, holders Germany finished below world champions Norway, who started with a competition record 17-0 win against Slovakia and crucially prevailed 3-1 in Germany. Russia took until their final game to pip France and Iceland in Group 2, while Italy overcame England by a single point to win Group 3. Denmark had lost a dramatic 1995 quarter-final to Sweden, and in the Group 4 decider fell again - 2-0 to their old rivals in Vasteras.

The runners-up and third-placed teams in the groups played off for the four remaining places in the finals. Three of the second-placed sides sailed through - Germany thrashing Iceland 7-0 overall, France beating Finland 5-0 on aggregate, and Denmark winning 7-1 and 5-0 in their games with Portugal. But Spain bucked the trend against England, following a 2-1 home victory with a 1-1 draw in Tranmere.

Sweden and Norway were selected to host the final tournament, back to its usual summer slot, with one group in each nation. Group A, in Sweden, saw the home favourites defeat Russia and Spain in their opening fixtures to reach the semi-finals with a match to spare. Before the final day, France were three points ahead of Spain, with whom they had drawn 1-1. But while France then lost 3-0 to Sweden, Spain edged past Russia 1-0 to advance on goal difference.

Norway had been in five straight semi-finals in this event, and set out in the right way as they saw off Denmark 5-0 while Germany and Italy drew 1-1. They remained in pole position in Group B in the second set of games, as they drew with the holders, and Italy and Denmark also shared the spoils. But the Italians then defeated the world champions 2-0 and Germany's similar win against Denmark meant the two Scandinavian nations were eliminated.

Sweden welcomed Germany to Karlstad for the first semi-final, with Bettina Wiegmann's goal six minutes from time securing a 1-0 success for the holders. In Lillestrom, Italy raced into a 2-0 half-time lead against Spain through Silvia Florini and Carolina Morace, and an 88th-minute Angeles Parejo Jiminez effort came too late to save her country's campaign.

For the second time Italy were in a European final, but it was Germany's fourth appearance and they were not about to relinquish their perfect record. On 22 minutes Sandra Minnert gave Germany the advantage, and early in the second period Birgit Prinz - still only 19 - scored in her second consecutive final to seal a 2-0 triumph that ensured her and her team-mates would reign supreme yet again.