This competition, second in
prestige only to the World Cup, began as the
European Nations Cup in 1960 and became known as the European Championship in 1968.
It has been staged every four years since its inception.
not enter the first competition in 1960, but have taken part in all
since the first, beginning with the 1964 edition. Despite their
recent dismal qualification for the 2008 final tournament, they had reached the final tournament seven times in
have qualified through play in the preliminary competition
on six occasions (1968, 1980, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2004) and as the host
country once (1996). They have failed to qualify for the final
tournament on five occasions (1964, 1972, 1976, 1984 and 2008).
have never won the European
Championship or even reached the final match. They have had some
success in only two of the twelve tournaments they entered before the 2008
edition. Twice they have finished
third. At the 1968 final tournament in Italy,
they lost to Yugoslavia, 2-1, in the semi-finals and beat the USSR,
2-0, in the third-place match. At the 1996 final tournament on
home soil, they
fell to Germany on penalty kicks after a 1-1 extra-time draw and,
since the consolation match had been shelved, shared third place with
France as beaten semi-finalists.
England's performance in the
ten other European Championship tournaments they entered before the
2008 tournament have been dismal. Not only have they failed to reach the final tournament
altogether on five occasions, but they have failed to advance from the
first round group stage another four times (1980, 1988, 1992 and 2000). They have advanced
past the initial group stage of the final tournament only once in the
last nine competitions stretching over 36 years, and the single
exception came in 1996, when they qualified automatically as host
nation and enjoyed the considerable advantage of playing all their
matches at their home ground, Wembley Stadium.
This appalling record, more than anything
else, establishes that England long ago lost their place among the first-rank football powers. The overall quality of the teams
at the European Championship final tournament is considerably higher than
at the World Cup
final tournament, and performance in the European Championship is thus
a much better indicator of international standing.
Championship Format History
Qualification for the first two tournaments (1960 and 1964) was
conducted on a home
and away knockout basis. Beginning with the 1968 tournaments,
qualification was achieved through group play.
Through the 1976 competition, only four teams qualified for the final
tournament, which consisted of the semi-finals, the final and the
third-place match. The quarterfinals were conducted on a home and away knockout basis and were not part
of the final tournament.
From 1980 through 1992, eight teams reached the final
tournament and were divided into two groups for round-robin play
followed by semi-finals and the final.
Since 1996, the
final tournament has consisted of 16 teams with round-robin play in four
groups followed by quarterfinals, semi-finals and the final.
From France 2016,
the format of the final tournament will
consist of six groups of four teams, followed by a round of 16,
quarter-finals, semi-finals and final. The top two from each group would
qualify in addition to the four best third-ranked sides, the same system
as was applied in the World Cups from 1986 to 1994. This format would
generate a total of 51 games, compared with 31 now, to be played over a
period of 29 to 31 days depending on the match schedule. This decision
gives middle-ranked countries a much greater chance to qualify for the
finals. The traditional qualifying structure, with groups of six and
five teams, will remain in place.
A third-place match was held from the
initial tournament in 1960 through the 1980 tournament, but later
tournaments have dispensed with it, and third-place has instead been
shared by the beaten semi-finalists.