The European Championship went from one of the most prestigious events in football into a bloated World Cup style tournament which now features every side in Europe in the finals.
In the 1960’s teams like Spain and the USSR were allowed to win the title when nobody else in Europe gave a stuff about it. When the predictable likes of West Germany and Italy began to take notice they won the cup on a regular basis. However a clause in the tournament contract permitted a less fancied team like Czechoslovakia to win the cup every 30 years or so.
The cup expanded to an eight team tournament in 1980 and saw England knocked out in the group stage, playing in front of a crowd of 492 against Belgium. Of course West Germany won the tournament, stating the clause which allowed them a title every other championship.
France upset the apple cart in 1984, winning on home soil as captain Michael Platini scored all the sides 25 goals, including a 156th minute winner against Portugal in the semi finals. England did not make it in 1984, but were on hand in 1988 to lose every group game, including a loss to Ireland, where they lodged 76 shots on goal to Irelands one. Holland won the title featuring a side comprised of only Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten, although Frank Rijkaard and Arnold Muhren were allowed brief runs. This is Ipswich Town’s only claim to fame since winning the 1978 FA Cup final.
Germany won in 1992 after losing to Denmark 2-0 in the final, successfully taking the Danes to court claiming it had been 12 years since they last won. England bowed out in the group stage, scoring a single goal and battling to ten 0-0 draws. In 1996 it looked like they had a chance on home turf but Germany decided they’d win again and knocked them out on penalties.
England flopped again in 2000 after leading Portugal 12-0 after 15 minutes, yet still conspiring to lose. Germany let them win, as a favor for 1996 but Romania, aware England would taint the final rounds, won in the last minute, driving Kevin Keegan back to Newcastle. France won the cup over an Italy side that saved 23 penalties against Holland in the semi-finals. The tournament is also noted for the increase to 32 teams.
Greece won the cup in an abhorrent display in 2004, scoring one goal and playing in their own half for the whole tournament. Nobody can remember a single member of their team and the tournament history has been wiped from FIFA’s records.
Spain won their first cup of any repute in 2008 after it was learned their 1964 win was considered a ‘joke tournament’. England failed to qualify which meant nobody cared in the rest of the world.
It was decided soon after that there would no longer be a qualifying tournament for the 2012 cup and every side in Europe would compete, leaving England to navigate a tricky group with Luxembourg, Albania and Belarus in Group Q.
The 2012 tournament will be hosted by Poland and Ukraine from April to August because of each nation only providing two stadia each and the anticipated 256 match feast.