The UEFA European Football Championship is the main football competition of the men's national football teams governed by the UEFA. Held every four years since 1960, in the even-numbered year between World Cup tournaments, it was originally called the European Nations Cup, changing to the name European Football Championship in 1968. Specific championships are often referred to in the form "Euro 2008" or whichever year is appropriate.
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 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 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 Henri Delaunay Trophy, which is awarded to the winner of the European Football Championship, is named in honor of Henri Delaunay, the first General Secretary of UEFA, who came up with the idea of a European championship but died five years prior to the first tournament in 1960. His son Pierre Delaunay was the person in charge of making the trophy.
Since the first tournament it has been awarded for the winning team to keep for four years, until the next tournament. For the 2008 tournament, the trophy was slightly remodelled making the trophy larger, as well as minor cosmetic changes. The trophy was made 18 centimetres taller and two kilograms heavier.
A step further
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. However the newer format was not retained in 1984, and a different format was used, again employing group stages, but this time in place of only the quarter-finals. The top two teams from each of the two groups progressed to the semi-finals.
The 1992 competition was held in Sweden during 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.
With the break up of the Soviet Union all of the former Soviet bloc countries were required to enter separately. Now that there were more teams, a format that accommodated this was required. With 48 teams entering the competition, and after the enlargement of the World Cup which had more European sides qualifying for it than the European Championships themselves, 16 teams travelled to the finals 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.
Belgium and the Netherlands became the first countries to jointly host the event in 2000. France won, again the final was decided by golden goal, David Trezeguet was the scorer. In 2004 the event was held in Portugal, with the silver goal rule being used for the first time.
The next tournament will be co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria in 2008.
A recent innovation has allowed countries to act as joint hosts. Belgium and the Netherlands were the first countries to co-host the competition in 2000. In the 2008 tournament Austria and Switzerland will co-host the event, held from 7 to 29 of June, 2008. Many also talk about an expansion of the tournament grid to 24 teams, due to the increasing number of FAs in Europe after the Yugoslavia and USSR breakups.
Selection of the host country or countries for the 2012 competition is currently in progress. The host will be chosen in December 2006 from a shortlist including Italy and joint bids from Poland/Ukraine and Croatia/Hungary.