With the first match of UEFA Euro 2016 set to kick off on Friday, every European football fan’s attention has turned to France and the battle for the Henri Delaunay Trophy. So what’s the story behind this prestigious tournament, and which nations and players have accomplished the most at the event?
Henri Delaunay’s Legacy – The Origins of the Championship
Way back in 1927, FIFA board member and Secretary-General of the CFI (Comité Français Interfédéral), Henri Delaunay, and Austrian referee and coach, Hugo Meisl, submitted a proposal for a European Cup competition to FIFA. Their idea was for a biennial tournament that ran side-by-side with the World Cup, and which featured a qualifying event.
In 1954, UEFA was established and, after the organisation’s first meeting, Delaunay announced that a committee had been set up to look into the matter. However, the following year, he passed away.
At around the same time, ‘L’Equipe’, the renowned French sporting newspaper, had been pushing for a European tournament to be introduced. Delaunay’s son, Pierre, lent his voice to the campaign and was invited to become the secretary for the committee to organise a European Nations Cup, which later became known as the UEFA European Championship.
The Development and Expansion of the Euros
The first championship competition took place between 1958 and 1960, with 17 teams participating in the qualifying stage. The final tournament featured just four teams: Czechoslovakia, France, Yugoslavia and the USSR. The Soviets became the first ever European champions when they beat Yugoslavia by 2 – 1 in the final, in Paris.
The 1964 championship saw a dramatic increase in the number of teams competing, with 29 nations taking part. This time, it was Spain that took the title, with a 2 – 1 win over the defending champions in Madrid.
By 1980, UEFA had decided that it was time to make some changes to the format of the event. The number of teams progressing to the final stage increased from four to eight, and a group stage was introduced. The winners of each group went through to the finals, while the second-placed teams competed to secure third place. The new rules also enabled the host nation to progress straight through to the final competition. The tournament was held in Italy and West Germany took the win.
In 1984, the format was tweaked again, so that the top two teams from each group in the finals went through to the semi-finals. UEFA also decided to stop having a match to decide third place. France hosted the event and claimed the title when they beat Spain by 2 – 0.
The championship finals were expanded again in 1996, with 16 teams competing for what was now one of the most coveted football trophies in the world. England hosted the tournament this year and made it through to the semi-finals, before being knocked out by Germany, who went on to become the champions.
The forthcoming 2016 European Championship will see yet another change to the finals, with 24 teams set to take part.
Stars of the UEFA European Championship
Germany and Spain have been the most successful countries at the UEFA European Championships, with three tournament wins apiece. France is just a win behind them, however. The USSR, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands have all taken the trophy home once.
Michael Platini holds the record for the highest number of final tournament goals with a tally of nine. Alan Shearer’s seven goal total earned him second place on the table, while Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Patrick Kluivert, Nuno Gomes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud Van Nistelrooy tie for third with six goals each.
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