A history of the European Football Championship as UEFA starts brand-new Nations League

This summer’s combined multi-sport European Championships in Glasgow and Berlin represented a major change for European sport. 
Football was not a part but UEFA have also shaken up their format for their own European Championships in 2020.
It was former UEFA President Michel Platini who came up with the idea of a Europe-wide Championship to celebrate the tournament’s 60th anniversary. Even he described it as a “perhaps a bit of a zany idea, but a good idea”.
At first glance the new format seems unwieldy and somewhat over-complicated. It all begins this week with a Nations League phase involving 55 teams. The more familiar qualification groups begin in earnest next March.
The group stages of the Euro 2020 tournament and knockout stages up to the quarter finals will be in twelve cities across Europe from Dublin to Baku, then on to Wembley for the semi-finals and final.
Platini described his plan as ‘’romantic’’ but it was another French official Henri Delaunay who proposed European Championships as long ago as 1927. An “International Cup” was introduced for teams in central Europe and other tournaments followed but there was nothing continent-wide.
In fact UEFA itself was not founded until shortly before the 1954 World Cup. Delaunay, appointed secretary, grasped the nettle once more and proposed a ”European Cup” as a means of qualification for the World Cup tournament.
“Our mosaic of European countries needs this outlet for sporting expression. All other sports organise European Championships. Will football remain in its outdated models?” He asked.
Delaunay died in 1955. His son Pierre succeeded him as secretary of the French Football Federation and in the same role at UEFA. 
In 1958, European officials met in Sweden before the World Cup to agree on what was officially called the “European Cup”.
This soon became known as the European “Nations Cup” but West Germany, Italy, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales did not enter the first tournament.
This was a two-legged home and away knockout competition, where matches were played across Europe, rather like Euro 2020. The semi-finals and final were in a single host nation. It sounds rather familiar, except in 1960 the venue was chosen once the identities of the four participating teams were known.
In order to reduce 17 entries for the competition to 16, Republic of Ireland faced Czechoslovakia in a preliminary round.
In the words of UEFA, the fixture list was “less rigorously enforced”. The preliminary match took place after the first round had begun.
UEFA’s report noted Moscow’s stadium was “bursting at the seams” as 100,000 watched the USSR beat Hungary. France began with an emphatic 7-1 victory against Greece.
In the quarter-finals Spain were drawn against the Soviet Union. The Spanish leader General Franco would not allow travel to Moscow.
Days before the match was due to be played, Spanish Football Federation President Alfonso de La Fuente Chaos asked UEFA if the match could be played on neutral ground. His plea was rejected and Spain were expelled.
The Soviets were thus in the semi-finals. France were the hosts, while Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia also made it through.
The Soviets were the first winners of a trophy UEFA had named after Delaunay. It weighed 10 kilograms and stood 50 centimetres high.
The second competition retained the same format but UEFA claimed “teams which had declined to enter now realised their mistake”.
The increased entry of 29 included England, who drew with France at home but lost the second leg 5-2.
Elsewhere, Spain beat both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to reach the last four. They were then chosen to host the mini-tournament. Spain beat the Soviets in the final inspired by the first great player named Luis Suarez who was Spanish, not Uruguayan. 
They were watched by the same General Franco who’d banned his team from playing the same opponents in Moscow four years earlier.
By now, Gustav Wiederkehr of Switzerland had become UEFA President. At his suggestion came eight qualifying groups, which were seeded to produce eight quarter-finalists.
In 1968, Albania took part for the first time, as did Scotland, who beat World Cup holders England 3-2 at Wembley. The match was not only part of European Championship qualifying group eight but also the British Championship as Northern Ireland and Wales were also in the same group.
Other results enabled England to reach all the way to the semis to be joined by Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. Italy also qualified and were chosen as host nation. They drew 0-0 after extra time against the Soviets and the result was decided by the toss of a coin.
Yugoslavia beat England in the other semi-final but the final finished 1-1 after extra time and the regulations specified a replay, which took place two days later. 
The Italians made five changes and first-half goals from star strikers Luigi Riva and Pietro Anastasti proved enough to beat the Yugoslavs and lift the trophy.
In the early 70s, West Germany gave notice of their potential with an impressive victory over England in the quarter-finals. Belgium hosted the final four in 1972 but no one could stop the Germans who beat the Soviets in the final. It was a prelude to World Cup triumph two years later.
The competition maintained the same format one last time in 1976. This time it was in Yugoslavia but they lost to the Germans in the semi-finals. 
The final between Czechoslovakia and West Germany finished 2-2 after extra time. By this time there was a new way for deciding drawn matches and the first penalty shoot out in a major tournament saw Germany come off second best, remarkable in itself. Antonin Panenka’s unusual chipped penalty won it for Czechoslovakia.
More radical changes to the Euros were unveiled in December 1977 as UEFA wanted to ‘’attach even greater importance to the event by modifying the final tournament.’’
Italy were given automatic qualification as hosts of a new eight-team tournament to be played in June 1980. The other seven would emerge from qualifying groups. 
Hooliganism overshadowed the early stages of these finals, much of the play was negative and there were no semi-final ties, so the only actual knockout match was the final itself in which West Germany beat Belgium. UEFA admitted the “experiment had not been totally convincing”.
Even so, same format was retained for the next three tournaments but with the sensible addition of semi-finals. Platini guided France to glory in 1984 but only after an epic last-four win over Portugal and in 1988 the Dutch painted Munich orange.
The eight team format had a dramatic swansong in 1992. Yugoslavia had qualified but war escalated in the Balkans and they were barred from the finals in Sweden. Denmark were invited to replace them and confounded the odds by winning the title. The tournament was considered a “major success”.
As UEFA considered 1996 they noted “a rapidly increasing number of Football Associations” in the wake of the break up of the Soviet Union. They were determined to make the tournament “even more attractive” and an upgrade to 16 teams for Euro 96 was agreed.
“Football’s Coming Home” ran the song by comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner and it caught the mood of a successful event. The official song by Mick Hucknall – “We’re in this together” - has been all but forgotten.
After England’s Gareth Southgate missed the vital kick in a semi-final penalty shoot out against Germany, the Germans faced the Czech Republic in the final with a new regulation.
‘’If at the end of normal time, the final tie ends in a draw, extra-time shall be played until a deciding goal is scored.’’ Germany won with a “golden goal”.
Belgium and The Netherlands established a new pattern co-hosting in 2000 – but hosting was not a guarantee of success.
In 2008, joint hosts Austria and Switzerland both failed to reach the knockout phase, while Spain launched their golden age with victory. They retained the Henri Delaunay trophy in another co-hosted event in Poland and Ukraine in 2012.
‘’It was a great Euro but it was very expensive. Almost as expensive as the Olympic Games,” said then UEFA President Platini. At the time he insisted his new format was “an intelligent solution, not chasing the fans all over Europe”.
The Pan-European Euro 2020 tournament will feature 24 teams, the same as Euro 2016 in France, a memorable competition won by Portugal.
The draw for Euro 2020 qualification groups is set to be made in Dublin on December 2. This will produce 20 of the teams. Unlike previous tournaments, no-one is exempt from qualification.
Current UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin re-affirmed his long held position during the last week. “I doubt we shall do it again,” he said.
Kazakhstan meet Georgia in the opening match of the Nations League, the first phase of the whole revamp. 
In the first weekend, France against Germany and England versus Spain will whet the appetite but the real relevance of the League will not be revealed until after the Euro 2020 qualifying phase. 
Then the best performing Nations League teams not otherwise qualified for the European Championship take part in a mini-tournament to provide four teams that will make up the full complement of 24.

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