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|Euro 2012 Special: The European Championships - A History Lesson|
SoccerAnchor's Rick D'Andrea has delved through the European Championships' history books and brought us a snippet as to why this is the best footballing tournament outside of the FIFA World Cup - and it certainly rivals that in terms of drama...
All good footballing tournaments have a strong storyline behind them. The FIFA World Cup was originally called a "failure" before being transformed and embraced into the tournament we hold dearly every four years.
And it is the same with the European Championships. Henri Delaunay had a vision in 1927 to have a pan-European football tournament, but it was not until 1958 - three years after the French Football Federation administrator's death - that an event remotely similar to what we now call the European Championships was put into practice.
17 nations entered the first-ever tournament, which ended with the Soviet Union holding the Henri Delaunay trophy - named after the founder - aloft. But the tournament was full of controversies. England, West Germany and Italy failed to partake in the qualifying process, whilst Spain pulled out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage due to political protests - giving the USSR a walk-over into the semi-finals.
On top of this, the matches leading up to the final were not played over a four-week span like we have been accustomed to these days, but over a three-year period. The Round of 16 matches began to be played in September 1958, and the first quarter-final took place in December 1959 between host nation France and Austria.
Only four teams technically qualified for the tournament - Czechoslovakia, USSR, Yugoslavia and France - with the Soviet Union claiming the title by beating Yugoslavia 2-1 in the final.
Spain went on to hold the 1964 edition of the tournament, and held off the previous winners 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu. 29 nations entered the qualifying phase, and the three-year span between the first and last match also remained. The one major controversial moment from the tournament was Greece being drawn up against Albania in the preliminary round. The two nations were at war with one another at the time, and the Greeks opted to pull out altogether,giving the Albanians a walk-over into the Round of 16, where they lost 4-0 to Denmark.
There were several firsts at the Italy 1968 European Championship tournament. It was the one and only time that a match was decided by a coin toss, and the Final was replayed after a draw in the first match.
Here's how Italy Captain Giacinto Facchetti described the remarkable coin-toss event:
"I went up with the Russian captain," said Facchetti [after the semi-final 0-0 draw]. "We went down to the dressing rooms together, accompanied by two administrators from the two teams.
"The referee pulled out an old coin and I called 'tails'.
"It was the right call and Italy were through to the final. I went racing upstairs as the stadium was still full and about 70,000 fans were waiting to hear the result.
"My celebrations told them that they could celebrate an Italian victory."
The Azzurri claimed their first piece of silverware, defeating Yugoslavia 2-0 in the replay, after the first match ended in a 1-1 draw.
West Germany's dynasty as champions of Europe and the World began in Belgium, as the side led by Franz Beckenbauer in defence and Gerd Muller up front thumped the USSR 3-0 in the final.
Muller scored twice in the semi-final against the hosts and another brace in the final, stamping his name into folklore.
The Belgians were looking to replicate the previous two hosts, as both of them claimed the Delaunay trophy, but exited at the semi-finals.
If the coin toss was controversial in 1968, the penalty shootout was introduced in Yugoslavia 1976, and was it going to cause a stir. 1976 was the final tournament in which four teams took part in, and the last in which the host nation had to qualify.
The Final between Czechoslovakia and Germany ended in a 2-2 draw a.e.t, but the tournament will most be remembered for what they saw midfielder Antonin Panenka do.
With the score at 4-3 in the penalty shootout, Panenka stepped up face German goalkeeper Sepp Maier. Should he score, the title would be going to the Central European nation. Should he miss, the shootout would continue. Maier dived to his left, but it was the 'arrogance' of the Panenka penalty which still left many people stunned.
The then 32-year-old opted to chip the ball over the line in audacious fashion, and one French journalist nicknamed him "a poet" for attempting the move.
"Nobody had ever taken a penalty like that before," Panenka recounted. "I came up with the idea because I used to practice penalties after training at Bohemians with our goalkeeper Zdenek Hruska.
"To make it interesting, we used to wager a beer or a bar of chocolate on each penalty. Unfortunately, because he was such a good 'keeper, I ended up losing money as he kept saving more shots than I could score.
"As a result, I ended up lying awake at night thinking about how I could get the upper hand. I eventually realised that the goalkeeper always waits until just before the last moment to try and anticipate where the ball is going and dives just before it's kicked so he can reach the shot in time. I decided that it was probably easier to score by feinting to shoot and then just gently tapping the ball into the middle of the goal.
"In this way the 'keeper had always dived by the time the ball was kicked and had no chance of recovering in time to save the shot. I tried it out on the training ground and it worked like a charm. The only problem was that I started getting a lot fatter because I won back all those beers and chocolates,"he stated.
"About two years before the European Championships I began trying it. At first I did it during friendly matches and then I did it once or twice during Czechoslovak league matches. It worked so well that I decided that I would use the technique if I got a penalty at the European Championships. Of course, it was pure chance that the opportunity came in the final after the Germans equalised in the last minute and then, when it went to penalties, the German player missed his kick before it was my turn. It was like the will of God. I was one thousand percent certain that I would take the penalty in that way and that I would score."
Looking back, the audacious player jokingly stated that: "If it were patentable, I'd have it patented."
And the Czech star should have, as several players across Europe and the world have since practiced and mastered the move, and it has bcome almost common place to see a "Panenka" done in a penalty shootout.
Expansion was on the cards in 1980, with eight teams now involved in the tournament. It also involved a more structured event, with two groups of four teams, with the two Group winners meeting in the Final whilst the runners-up meeting in a third-place play-off.
Viewers got to see another West German title being won, as they defeated Belgium 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy.
Horst Hrubesch felt his place in the Final was in jeopardy , as he had failed to trouble the scoresheet. But the forward opened the scoring on 10 minutes with a header - something he became noted for throughout his career - and did the same thing from a corner in the 88th to ensure the West Germans claimed their second European crown.
Michel Platini etched his name into the history books, becoming the only player to score nine goals in the tournament. He still holds the record to this day, and what makes the achievement even more remarkable is that the French genius did it over the course of five matches, scoring two hat-tricks. Denmark's Frank Arnesen was second on the goalscorer's list with three.
The format of the tournament also changed somewhat. The two teams that topped the Group Stages progressed to a knock-out style of competition, meaning the third-place play-off was also abolished. This was different compared to what was seen only four years prior.
The current UEFA president opened the scoring in the 1984 Final against Spain at the Parc des Princes, and Bruno Bellone assured victory in the 90th minute, giving Les Bleus their first international trophy, and the nation's first-ever team sport success.
The team which also had former Bordeaux coach Jean Tigani in the starting XI are still regarded as the best-ever French side to play in a European Championship, eclipsing the won that also had success in 2000.
A real contender for goal of the century was seen in Euro 1988, as well as one of the biggest shocks to grace the tournament up to this stage. West Germany hosted the event, and were seen as favourites to claim another European success to their illustrious trophy cabinet. But the team faced a determined Netherlands outfit in the semi-finals, which was laden with superstars, including Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit, just to name a few.
MvB, 23, not only scored a hat-trick against England earlier in the tournament, but also the matchwinner against the West Germans, which saw the Dutch public celebrate vociferously throughout the coming days.
And their celebrations were capped off in style, as the Oranje claimed their first piece of silverware, defeating the USSR 2-0 in the final, with an acute volley struck by the PSV and Milan legend.
This is how the hitman recalled the moment:
"It was in the second half and I was a little tired," Van Basten commenced. "The ball came from Arnold Muhren and I was thinking, OK, I can stop it and do things with all these defensive players or I could do it the more easy way, take a risk and shoot.
"You know, you need a lot of luck with a shot like that. Everything went well. It is one of these things that sometimes just happen. You try to do it, but you need so much luck and at that moment, it was given to me, to do it at the right time.
"I can tell a lot of stories, but it was just a fantastic feeling," continued MvB. "I have to be happy and thankful that such a moment was given to me and to Holland.
"That was the moment where we could say: 'It is 2-0, we can win this game.' But the excitement about the goal, I did not really understand it and what I did. You can also see that in my reaction. I am asking: 'What is happening?'"
If The Netherlands provided the shock of the European Championships only four years earlier, what does one have to say about Denmark? The only reason the Danes were allowed into the tournament was because some of the states that constituted Yugoslavia were at war with one another.
Denmark finished second behind Yugoslavia in their qualifying group, and only 10 days prior to Euro 1992 kicking off in Sweden, notice was received stating the team had been allowed to participate into the tournament. Brian Laudrup - who had only returned to the national team after 'retiring from international football two years prior with his brother Michael in protest of the team's defensive tactics - and a young Peter Schmeichel led the Red and Whites to victory.
Having beaten the reigning European Championship holders Holland in the semi-finals on penalties, the side led by coach Richard Moller Nielsen defeated the then-current World Cup winners Germany 2-0 in the final to claim their first trophy.
With the number of teams participating in the tournament lifted to 16, England hosted the Euro 1996 Championships, and plenty of fanfare was being made about the Three Lions' team, led by Alan Shearer.
So much conjecture about an English squad had not been heard since the nation won the 1966 World Cup, and signs were pointing to a tournament win early on. But the team could not get past a unified German outfit, which won the semi-final clash 6-5 on penalties.
The Final also saw another first for European tournaments - Golden Goal. Just as Antonin Panenka re-invented what it meant to win a penalty shootout, supersub's Oliver Bierhoff's header in the 95th minute against the Czech Republic stole the headlines and placed the towering German into folklore.
Plenty of firsts had occurred up until this stage, but another came about in 2000, as two nations co-hosted the tournament. The Netherlands and Belgium had agreed to terms in regards to running the event, and it would prove to be a positive for subsequent competitions employing the same tactic.
France were the reigning World Cup holders after defeating Brazil 3-0 in the Final thanks to Zinedine Zidane's heroics, and came in as favourites. Having made it to the Final, Les Blues had to do it the hard way, as Italy's Marco Delvecchio gave the Azzurri a 55th-minute lead. But Sylvain Wiltord and David Trezeguet - both playing off the bench - would shape history.
Wiltord entered the match just before the hour mark, and it was his strike with the very last play of regular time that sent the match into extra-time. Squirming his low, driving shot past Francesco Toldo, the French breathed a sigh of relief.
'Trezegol' ensured the trophy would be going to France when he beat Toldo in the 103rd minute with a shot into the roof of the net. The match immediately stopped, and the Champions had been decided.
Greece's Euro 2004 win was just as surprising as Denmark's 12 years earlier. Having only qualified for one World Cup (1994) and one other European Championship (1980), Greece stunned everybody.Rank outsiders even to be considered possible winners - especially at odds of 150-1 - Otto Rehhagel's men played in a similar vein as the Danes - with defence being of the utmost importance.
The Galanolefki beat strong opposition to get to the final, including hosts Portugal in the final and in the Group Stages 1-0. They also defeated reigning champions France in the quarter-finals 1-0 and the Czech Republic by the same scoreline.
What was interesting about the Czech win was that the 'Golden Goal' rule that applied only four years earlier had been changed. The 'Silver Goal' meant that all 30 minutes in extra-time had to be played out, no matter if one team had scored.
Awakening a sleeping giant has been the best way to describe the happenings at Austria/Switzerland. Spain, the perennial underachievers at the highest level, had not won any form of major silverware since 1964, and brought what seemed an extremely strong line-up to the tournament.
Littered with stars fom both Real Madrid and Barcelona, it was the emergence of two players from other clubs which stole the headlines. Up front, Valencia's David Villa - known for his goalscoring ability - and Fernando Torres combined effectively to see La Furia Roja through to the Final.
Villa's four up to this point meant pressure was on Torres, as he had not torubled the scoresheet. But it was his ability to hold off Germany's Philipp Lahm in a one-on-one contest and slot the ball past Jens Lehmann in the 33rd minute of the final which ensured victory.
Spain got to hold up a "heavier and longer" version of the Henri Delaunay trophy, as it was remodelled especially for this tournament and beyond.