Best EURO debuts: which teams went furthest at their first EURO?
Thursday, November 12, 2020
With Finland and North Macedonia set to embark on their first EURO adventures next summer, UEFA.com recalls the best maiden finals campaigns to date.
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Four teams have won the UEFA European Championship in their first finals appearance, while Wales made a gigantic splash at their first EURO in 2016.
With Finland and North Macedonia due to embark on their first EURO adventure in summer 2021, we look back on the first-timers who struck lucky at the UEFA European Championship.
1960: Soviet Union
1972: West Germany
The first four editions of the competition were won by first-time entrants, though their achievements were relatively modest by modern standards, since the final tournament featured just four teams. Only 17 countries had entered qualifying for the first ‘European Nations’ Cup’ which, like the subsequent 1964 staging, was a straight knockout competition; indeed, eventual winners the USSR were given a bye through the quarter-finals because Spain withdrew from the competition, meaning it took only two games (i.e. their round of 16 tie) for them to reach the final tournament in France.
Following that Soviet Union success, Spain and Italy both won their first EUROs as finals hosts, then West Germany (powered by goal machine Gerd Müller) won the 1972 edition after beating hosts Belgium in the semi-finals.
Having overcome Bulgaria and Portugal over two legs to get to the first final tournament, Yugoslavia pulled off the competition’s first major shock when they eliminated hosts France in the semis. Their 5-4 victory at Parc des Princes on 6 July 1960 is still the highest-scoring game in EURO finals history, and is all the more impressive given they were 4-2 down after 62 minutes.
They were less fortunate in the final; despite taking the lead through Milan Galić, Yugoslavia were pegged back by the USSR and eventually lost in extra time, Viktor Ponedelnik scoring a 113th-minute winner.
Czechoslovakia (1960) – third place
France (1960) – fourth place
Hungary (1964) – third place
Denmark (1964) – fourth place
England (1968) – third place
Belgium (1972) – third place
Netherlands (1976) – third place
Up to and including 1976, the finals consisted of just four sides, so merely reaching the tournament guaranteed teams a semi-final place (with a third-place play-off in prospect for all losing semi-finalists).
Portugal’s feat in 1984 was perhaps more impressive, since they had to negotiate a final-tournament group stage to get to the semis – draws with holders West Germany and neighbours Spain followed by a 1-0 win against fellow newcomer Romania. Fernando Cabrita’s men then took a Michel Platini-enhanced France to extra time in the semi-finals before losing 3-2 to the hosts in one of the most celebrated games in EURO history.
Sweden qualified as host nation in 1992, but proved they were worth their status, finishing top of a group containing Denmark, France and England before yielding 3-2 to Germany in the semis.
Wales' 2016 exploits were no less eye-catching, Gareth Bale inspiring Chris Coleman’s charges as they navigated the group stage and then ousted Northern Ireland and (most surprisingly) Belgium before succumbing to eventual champions Portugal in the last four.