The UEFA European Championship, better known as simply Euro, is the highest national team competition organized on that continent and whose first edition was in France in 1960, although the idea of its creation had already been around for several years in football institutions.
The tournament is highly prestigious and is, after the FIFA World Cup, the most important team championship in the world of football because of the quality of the teams and the history behind some of them.
France, through the national football federation, was the one football federation who proposed the idea of creating the tournament and that is the reason why the first edition was played in Les Bleus territory. That first Euro consisted of a qualifying phase in which 17 national teams participated, which defined who the four teams that would play the final stage were. The competition consisted of two semifinals, a match for third place and the final. That first tournament was won by the now-defunct Soviet Union.
In 1968, the championship was played in Italy and there was an at least curious moment in which, to define the tie between the local national team and the Soviet Union in the semifinal, a coin toss was used since, back in those days, the penalty shoot-out did not exist. Luck favored the Azurra, who would end up being the champions of that edition.
Eight years later, Czechoslovakia and West Germany met in the final after playing extra time and remained at a two goals stalemate. By this time, penalty shoot-outs already existed, although it was the first time it was used to define such an important tournament. After Germany missed the fourth penalty, it was the turn of the Czechoslovak attacking midfielder, Antonín Panenka, who after making a great run gave a soft touch to the ball that would slowly enter the middle of the goal defended by Sepp Maier, creating the now-famous Panenka penalty.
In 1980, the format would be changed to allow eight national teams in the final stage, also creating a group stage of four teams each where the winners of each group would meet in the final.
In 1992, an unprecedented event occurred at this level of professional football as the Denmark national team, which had not qualified for the competition, was called in to replace Yugoslavia by the Yugoslav Wars. Most of the players were on vacation although they accepted the last minute call. Finally, Denmark would be the surprising champion of the 1992 Euro.
In 1996, 16 national teams and a group stage of four teams would be included each group. Here the teams that were on the first and second places would qualify to the quarterfinals, then to the semifinals until reaching the final. In 2004, Greece, surprisingly, would win the competition defeating the Portugal national team of a young Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo in the final. It is worth mentioning that the tournament was played in Portuguese lands.
A last expansion would take place in 2016, when the Euro was again organized by France, in which the number of national teams in the final stage was increased to 24, forming six groups of four teams. The best two of each group and the best four third places qualified for the round of 16, passing the different rounds until reaching the final. In that edition, Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo now established as a world star, would manage to lift the title that eluded him in 2004.
Since its creation, the Euro was taking place every four years without exception, until in 2020, as a consequence of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, where it had to be postponed to 2021. In 2020, the Euro was 60 years old and as to commemorate it, UEFA decided to use multiple venues across the continent which were the following:
• Saint Petersburg
Each venue is represented by a category 4 stadium according to UEFA criteria. Until the quarter-finals, there is a fairly equal distribution of the matches in the different venues while the semi-finals and the final will be played at the Wembley Stadium in London.
France: Although Euro 2020 has a series of teams that have shown a very good competitive level, the current world champions have a very talented squad as it has some of the leading figures in European football. It is enough to see names like Kylian Mbappé, Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba, N’golo Kanté or Raphael Varane to point out that the France national team is, on paper, the strongest team on the continent.
Belgium: It is not one of the most traditional national teams in terms of football heritage when speaking about the favorites for an international tournament, but, for a decade, Belgium has a golden generation that led them to finish third in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which is its best ever result to date in that competition. The tactical approach of manager Roberto Martínez is quite attacking and this could be the double-edged sword that could end up damaging the team when defending.
Portugal: The current champions cannot be left out of the favorites list as they maintain the backbone of the team that won in Euro 2016 and have added some young players such as Bernardo Silva, Rubén Dias or Joao Felix who strengthen Cristiano Ronaldo’s national team. Portugal’s game with Fernando Santos has been based on the counter attack and that is what has led them to be a tough rival in many different contexts.
With what has been seen so far in the tournament, we can talk about two types of surprises: one that would cause a certain impact if they become champions and another that of a team that reaches the advanced rounds because they did not have high expectations prior to entering the competition.
In the first case, we have Italy, who have won their two games 3-0, showing excellent ball possession and attacking football. Of course, Italy is a great national team with a lot of history but it must be remembered that the Azurra have not gone through decent times recently, if we consider that they did not even manage to qualify for the last FIFA World Cup.
As for a national team that exceeds expectations, it is Wales who already have 4 points in two games, which almost guarantees their presence in the round of 16. Gareth Bale, Daniel James and Aaron Ramsey, Wales’ star players, have had good performances so far in the tournament. And the rest of the team have shown to be very committed, having a solid block that has had them at this point and that in 2016 already took them to the semi-finals of the Euro.