European Nations Cup
In 1956, the groundwork for a European national team competition was laid. Two years later, in 1958, the first European Nations Cup began. The original format of the competition saw the early rounds played in home and away matches between the countries on a knockout basis. This continued until the semi-finals, where the remainder of the competition was played in the host country, chosen from the four semi-finalists.
The French Football Federation?s Henri Delaunay came up with the idea of a European championship in 1927. Given the immense efforts that Delaunay had put into setting up a European national teams competition, UEFA deemed it appropriate that the inaugural competition be hosted by France. The trophy presented to the competition winner still bears his name.
The first final was held in Paris and saw the Soviet Union defeat Yugoslavia, after extra time, and be first to have their name engraved onto the trophy.
The 1964 competition was the first European Nations Cup to be affected by politics as it saw Greece refusing to play Albania as they were technically (though not officially) at war. The finals were hosted by Spain, and they saw the hosts beat the Soviet Union 2-1 in Madrid.
European Football Championship
The 'European Nations Cup changed its name to the UEFA European Football Championship for 1968 and also a new format was introduced. Eight groups of seeded teams played each other twice and the top side of each group proceeded to two-legged quarter finals. The semi-finals and final were played in the host country of Italy who won the competition after a 2-0 replay of the final, having drawn 1-1 in the first against Yugoslavia.
In the 1972 tournament, the same structure was retained, with Belgium being the host of the finals. West Germany won the competition, beating the Soviet Union 3-0 in the final. The 1976 final round was hosted by Yugoslavia. In the final, Czechoslovakia squandered a two-goal lead before penalties were needed. When Uli Hoeness missed, it allowed Anton?n Panenka to chip into the space vacated by Sepp Maier's anticipatory dive for a Czechoslovakian victory.
Expansion to 8 teams
In 1980 UEFA introduced a new format, which saw eight teams go to the finals instead of four, and then play each other in two groups of four teams; the winner of each group then proceeded to the final. West Germany faced Belgium in the final, which they won 2-1 after two goals from Horst Hrubesch. This new format was slightly modified in 1984: the group stages remained but semi-finals were reinstated for the top two teams of each group. The competition was held in France for the second time, and the new format proved an outstanding success with two thrilling semi-finals. The hosts won 2-0 in Paris against Spain with goals from Michel Platini and Bruno Bellone. Platini had dominated the Euro as no other player had before or had done so ever since, he scored nine goals that tournament while the next highest scorer had three, and no other player in the Euro's history has ever scored more than five goals.
The 1988 competition was held in West Germany, while the format from the 1984 competition was retained and proved equally satisfactory. Marco Van Basten led the Netherlands, scoring what was later voted the best goal ever in the competition.
The 1992 competition was held in Sweden (using the same format as the 1984 and 1988 instances). In a time of European political change, a united Germany was represented and as a result of the break up of the Soviet Union, a Commonwealth of Independent States of the former Soviet Union. Yugoslavia made it to the finals but were excluded as a result of hostilities in their country, Denmark replaced them. Surprisingly, the Danes went on to win the competition after a 2-0 victory over world champions Germany in the final.
Expansion to 16 teams
Upon the breakup of the Soviet Union, all of the former Soviet republics formed independent football associations in 1992 and entered their national teams in Euro and World Cup qualifying. That same year, Israel moved from the Asian Football Confederation to UEFA. With 48 teams now competing for final-round berths instead of 33, qualifying for an eight-team tournament?which was already more difficult than qualifying for a World Cup before 1992?would have become so unlikely as to discourage many teams from mounting serious attempts. Expansion of the final round to 16 teams was thus decided and took effect for Euro 1996 in England. The teams were put into 4 groups, the winner and runner-up of each group progressed to a new round of quarter-finals. The semi-finals and final remained the same. This format was (still is) in fact exactly the same as that of the World Cup up to 1970, except for the introduction of the golden goal rule and minor differences in breaking ties between teams even on points in the first round. Germany actually benefited from a golden goal (by Oliver Bierhoff) to defeat a surprising Czech Republic side in the final, 2-1.
Belgium and the Netherlands became the first countries to jointly host the event in 2000. Once again a golden goal decided the outcome, this time by David Tr?z?guet of France in a 2-1 win over Italy. In 2004, the Euro was held in Portugal, with the silver goal rule being used for the first time. The rule saw Greece beat the Czech Republic in the semi-finals. Underdogs Greece went on to win the competition, when they had been put at pre-tournament odds of 100 to 1.
The next tournament will be co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria in 2008. The format will be the same as in 2004 except that the silver goal rule has been abandoned and extra time must again be played in its entirety.