European Championship grows from humble roots

Updated: 25 February 2007 09:06 IST

The early years of the European championship may have lacked sophistication, but there certainly was not any shortage of intrigue.

European Championship grows from humble roots

London:

The early years of the European championship may have lacked sophistication, but there certainly was not any shortage of intrigue. The Soviet Union won the inaugural tournament in 1960, and Spain was eliminated in the quarterfinals when Gen Francisco Franco's government refused to let his team travel to Moscow. The side included stars like Alfredo Di Stefano and Luis Suarez. The Soviets claimed their only major victory, beating Yugoslavia 2-1 in the final in Paris on a header by Viktor Ponedelnik in extra time. Four years later, the largest crowd in championship history - 125,000 at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid - saw the Spanish claim their only European championship, 2-1 over the Soviet Union on a winning goal by Marcellino. Many still call it the most important goal in Spanish history; a showdown between the world's two best goalkeepers - Lev Yashin and Jose Angel Iribar. Nations Cup to European Championship By 1968 the name was changed from the Nations Cup to the European Championship. Again the powerful Soviet Union was involved, and it suffered a loss that was as controversial as they come. Scoreless after 120 minutes, the semifinal in Naples against Italy was settled by a coin toss with Italian captain Giancinto Facchetti guessing right and calling heads. After a 1-1 draw in the final against Yugoslavia, the Italians won 2-0 in the replay. West Germany won two of the next three - Czechoslovakia the other - with a team featuring some of the most famous players in the game - midfielder Franz Beckenbauer, goalkeeper Sepp Maier, defender Berti Vogts and attackers Jupp Heynckes, Uli Hoeness, Gerd Muller and Erwin Kremers. In 1972, they beat the Soviets 3-0 in the final in Belgium with Muller, known as "Der Bomber", scoring two. He netted a remarkable 68 goals in 62 appearance for West Germany. In the final in Belgrade in 1976, the Germans were held to a 2-2 draw by underdog Czechoslovakia, which won on penalties when Hoeness missed an attempt and Antonin Panenka struck the winner with a soft shot right into the center of the goal, one of the finest executions of a spot kick in history. Czech 'keeper Ivo Victor was named the player of the tournament. In 1980, the tournament began to take on some of its present character. The final field was increased to eight teams from four and played in Italy over 10 days instead four. West Germany defeated Belgium 2-1 in the final with Horst Hrubesch scoring both. The '80 tournament was short on scoring. It did see Wilfried van Moer come back after a five-year injury absence to lead the Red Devils, with Bernd Schuster and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge leading the Germans.The 1980s For France, 1984 is a watershed. The Michel Platini-led team defeated Spain 2-0 in the final in at Parc des Princes in an evenly matched final. France fielded the strongest midfield in Europe - Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and Bernard Genghini - and picked up the victory when Spanish 'keeper Luis Arconada knocked the first goal over his own line. The 1988 title went to the Netherlands, 2-0 winners over the Soviet Union in the final in West Germany. Only three of the eight finalists from '84 qualified, France failing to make it. After losing to the Soviets in a group game 1-0, the Dutch rebounded in the final with Ronald Koeman, Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard in the lineup. The Russians were led by Oleg Kuznetsov, Vassily Rats, Alexey Mikhailichenko and Oleg Protasov. Van Basten scored one of the most memorable goals in tournament history, a dipping volley from a sharp angle that helped him win the first European Footballer of the Year award. Danes dominateFour years later came the biggest shock in tournament history when Denmark won after UN sanctions forced out war-torn Yugoslavia. Eleven days before the championship began, Denmark was not even in the field. In one of the most amazing results ever, Denmark shocked defending World Cup champion Germany 2-0 in Goteborg, Sweden, behind goals from John Jensen and Kim Vilfort. Peter Schmeichel was in goal. A red wave of cheering Danes marched through the city and tens of thousands celebrated Copenhagen's biggest party since V-E day. "We're the world's best team" Vilfort said "we beat the world champions." "Football's coming home" was the motto of the 1996 championship in England. But in the final the English were nowhere to be seen, with Germany beating the Czechs 2-1 on a 94th-minute Golden Goal by Oliver Bierhoff. The victory avenged a loss to the Czechs in the 1976 final. Coming on as a substitute, Bierhoff scored in the 73rd and then got the winner. It was the first Golden Goal in a major international championship. England went out in a heartbreaker to Germany in the semifinals, losing 6-5 on penalties when Gareth Southgate missing the deciding penalty for England before 76,862 at Wembley Stadium. French ruleWhich brings us to 2000. What happened in that final will be difficult to top in 2004. With just 30 seconds to go in Rotterdam, Italy was celebrating its first European Championship title in 32 years. But the party began too early. Sylvain Wiltord shocked Italy by tying the game 3 1/2 minutes into injury time, and David Trezeguet scored the Golden Goal winner 13 minutes into overtime to give the World Cup champions a 2-1 victory. The win gave France its first European title since 1984. They French became the first defending World Cup champion to win the European Championship. In 1972, Germany won the European Championship and then won on the subsequent 1974 World Cup. "I think a thing like this you won't forget for a lifetime," defender Alessandro Nesta said after the loss. "Thirty seconds from the end and it all goes up in the air." (AP)



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