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Ranking the best UEFA Euro Championships of all time

Euro 2020 has now been postponed until the summer of 2021
Euro 2020 has now been postponed until the summer of 2021
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 21 Apr 2020
Top 5 / Top 10

Football fans across the world were looking forward to this summer, as Euro 2020 was planned to take place across Europe before converging on London for the final.

Of course, that was before the COVID-19 pandemic, and due to the chaos caused by the virus, the tournament has now been postponed until the summer of 2021. Despite the postponement, 2020 remains a landmark year for the Euros; it marks 60 years since the inaugural tournament back in France in 1960.

Since then we’ve had 15 tournaments with various winners, and numerous changes have made their impact too. And so with the 60th anniversary now edging closer – and no Euro 2020 to look forward to – here’s an attempt at ranking all of the previous editions of the Euros in order of how memorable they were.


#15 Euro 1968

Italy won Euro 1968 in somewhat bizarre fashion
Italy won Euro 1968 in somewhat bizarre fashion

Italy hosted the Euros in 1968, and it was in fact the first edition of the tournament to be officially named the ‘European Championship’. Like all of the early editions of the Euros, Euro 1968 had just 4 teams competing; in this instance it was the hosts, plus England, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, a good line-up on paper did not make for a great tournament. Italy’s dull semi-final with the Soviets ended 0-0 after extra time, and as penalty shoot-outs had not yet been introduced, the hosts advanced to the final after a coin toss.

The other semi-final was nearly as bad; overmatched on paper by the reigning world champions, Yugoslavia simply decided to attempt to kick England off the pitch. A bad-tempered game ended 1-0 to Yugoslavia, after Alan Mullery had become the first England player to be red-carded following his retaliation against an especially bad challenge.

The final couldn’t salvage things either; Italy and Yugoslavia played to a 1-1 draw after extra time and had to replay the game two days later, with the hosts finally winning 2-0. Overall though, this was definitely a tournament to forget.


#14 Euro 1960

The Soviet Union claimed the trophy in the inaugural edition of the Euros in 1960
The Soviet Union claimed the trophy in the inaugural edition of the Euros in 1960

The inaugural edition of the Euros, the 1960 tournament in France was actually titled the European Nations’ Cup. Like its modern namesake – the UEFA Nations League – it featured just four teams, with two semi-finals, a final and a third-place playoff. In this instance, joining the hosts were three communist countries; the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

The tournament actually got off to an incredible beginning; Yugoslavia defeated the hosts 4-5 after a wild match saw them go 3-1 and then 4-2 down before a spree of three goals in just four minutes. Despite scoring first in the final though, they couldn’t become the inaugural champions.

That honour went to the Soviet Union, whose legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin largely kept them in the final at 1-0 down, allowing them to equalise early in the second half. The game eventually went to extra time, and a goal from Viktor Ponedelnik with 7 minutes to go was enough to hand the Soviets the trophy.

Despite the great Yugoslavia/France game, it’s hard to rank this edition any higher. Only 17 teams entered the qualifying stage of the competition as a whole, with the likes of England, West Germany, Italy and Spain all missing, meaning the pool was incredibly shallow.


#13 Euro 1980

Negative tactics reigned at Euro 1980 which was won by West Germany
Negative tactics reigned at Euro 1980 which was won by West Germany

The 1980 edition of the Euros took place in Italy and was the first time that the tournament expanded beyond four teams. This time, West Germany, Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Spain competed for the trophy alongside the hosts, comprising two groups of four.

However, unlike later editions – which saw the group winners and runners-up facing off in semi-finals – Euro 1980 simply sent the two group winners into the final. This meant that many teams were essentially playing for nothing after two games, and also meant that negative tactics – essentially playing not to lose rather than to win – were the norm.

To make matters worse, England’s group stage match against Belgium was marred by hooliganism. Fans of the Three Lions rioted when Belgium scored, forcing the Italian police to unleash tear gas, holding the game up by five minutes. Thankfully for the tournament overall, England were eliminated at the first hurdle – despite beating Spain in their final game – as Belgium won the group.

In the end, West Germany – who edged Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands before drawing 0-0 with Greece in a dull match to make the final - ran out victors. They defeated Belgium 2-1 in the final thanks to a brace from striker Horst Hrubesch. Overall though, this was an edition of the Euros worth forgetting, due to the prevailing negative tactics and questionable format.


#12 Euro 1964

Spain claimed their first international trophy at Euro 1964
Spain claimed their first international trophy at Euro 1964

Unlike the inaugural edition of the Euros, 29 teams entered the qualification stage for Euro 1964. And when the finals came around, 4 teams were left standing: hosts Spain, along with Hungary, Denmark and the Soviet Union. Fascinatingly, the Danes – who beat Malta, Albania and Luxembourg to qualify for the finals – were still an amateur side at the time.

The semi-finals saw Spain defeat Hungary 2-1 after extra time, while the Soviets put an end to Denmark’s surprising run by beating them 3-0. That set up a fascinating final, as the 1960 Euros had seen Spain pull out of the qualification stage; right-wing dictator General Franco had refused to allow his side to play against the communist Soviets.

With the final taking place in Madrid though, La Roja clearly couldn’t back out. Anyone expecting fireworks from Spain and the Soviets though were sorely mistaken. A largely dull final saw both sides score within the first 10 minutes, before Spain found an 84th-minute winner. And all three goals were caused by major defensive errors.

Overall – like many of the early editions of the Euros – the format, along with the dull final, meant that fans would have to wait a little longer for the competition to really hit its stride.


#11 Euro 1972

Gerd Muller helped West Germany to victory at Euro 1972
Gerd Muller helped West Germany to victory at Euro 1972

The Euros headed to Belgium in 1972 for another four-team tournament; this time the hosts were joined by West Germany, the Soviet Union and Hungary. And in a tournament largely devoid of any major drama, it was the Germans who came out on top – setting the stage for their World Cup victory two years later.

If anything, the German side of 1972 was stronger than the one that won the World Cup. Striker Gerd Muller won the tournament’s Golden Boot with 4 goals while World Cup stars Franz Beckenbauer and Uli Hoeness were also named in the Team of the Tournament.

Here though, Helmut Schon’s side could also call upon a world-class playmaker in the form of Gunter Netzer, who set up both of Muller’s goals in their semi-final win over Belgium. The final meanwhile saw the Soviet Union blown away by 3 goals in the first hour, handing West Germany their first title.

The one unfortunate part of this tournament? The final saw two pitch invasions, forcing the referee to call a halt to play. And while the match was eventually completed, it led to a UEFA ruling that major games would take place in front of stands that were fenced in – something that had disastrous consequences in the future.


#10 Euro 2016

Portugal won Euro 2016 despite stuttering through the group stage
Portugal won Euro 2016 despite stuttering through the group stage

Euro 2016 was the first edition of the tournament to expand to 24 teams, but unfortunately, the switch from four groups to six did more harm than good. Sure, it was fun to see sides like Wales, Iceland and Albania facing Europe’s giants in a tournament, but seeing a team like Northern Ireland make the knockout stages with a single win was also jarring.

In another indicator of the problems that the expansion had caused, eventual winners Portugal claimed the trophy after defeating hosts France 1-0 in the final. Somehow they’d made their way there by winning just a single game in normal time. Under normal circumstances, their 3 draws in the group stage would’ve seen them eliminated!

The tournament did see a handful of entertaining games; Hungary vs. Portugal, England vs. Wales and Italy vs. Belgium were all fantastic. But by the time the knockout stages began, the games on offer were for the most part either one-sided (Belgium 4-0 Hungary, Germany 3-0 Slovakia) or dull, cagy affairs (Croatia 0-1 Portugal, Wales 1-0 Northern Ireland).

Fans of sides like Iceland and Wales, who surprised everyone with their success, will probably look back at Euro 2016 fondly. For the majority of fans though, all the tournament did was trigger nostalgia for the days of the 16-team format.


#9 Euro 1992

Denmark pulled off a huge upset by winning Euro 1992
Denmark pulled off a huge upset by winning Euro 1992

The final edition of the Euros to take place with just 8 teams, Euro 1992 saw a major upset as Denmark won the tournament despite initially failing to qualify. Instead, they took the place of Yugoslavia – who were disqualified due to the ongoing Yugoslav Wars – with less than two weeks to go before the beginning of the competition.

After making the knockout stages by escaping a group also containing France, England and hosts Sweden though, Richard Moller Nielsen’s men found themselves facing the holders Netherlands. After a 2-2 draw, the Danes then made the final after a penalty shoot-out victory – keeper Peter Schmeichel saving Marco van Basten's shot – and then defeated Germany 2-0 to claim the trophy.

Despite the massive entertainment value of this underdog victory, Euro 1992 was not a vintage tournament by anyone’s standards. The knockout stages were fantastic – Germany’s 3-2 win over Sweden in particular – but the group stages were filled with negative play, in particular from England and France, who both disappointed.

The result of this negative play was actually a positive – the back-pass rule was introduced directly after it and all of the tournaments that followed saw teams awarded three points rather than two for a win. For this reason though – only three sides scored more than three goals in the group stage – it’s hard to rank this edition any higher.


#8 Euro 2012

Spain retained their title at Euro 2012
Spain retained their title at Euro 2012

Spain retained the title they claimed at Euro 2008 by coming out on top at Euro 2012, but to be honest, it wasn’t a vintage tournament despite the best efforts of Vicente del Bosque’s men. The tournament almost certainly suffered when both hosts – Poland and Ukraine – crashed out in the group stage, and the majority of the games were tight, somewhat cagy affairs.

The dual hosts – both of whom were amongst the weaker sides on offer – both being seeded in the draw may have contributed to this. It meant Group A (Greece, Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic) was far weaker than the other groups, which largely contained much stronger teams – meaning many of them took a cautious approach.

The best game on offer was probably England’s exciting 3-2 win over Sweden in the group stage. But that was largely offset by the Three Lions’ dull games against Ukraine and then Italy in the quarter-finals. And like at Euro 2016, the majority of the knockout games were either razor-close, or one-sided.

In the end, Spain destroyed Italy – who’d produced a great performance to eliminate Germany in the semi-final – 4-0 to retain their title. Unfortunately though, it capped off a somewhat forgettable tournament with a handful of high points.


#7 Euro 1988

Stars like Ruud Gullit made the Netherlands
Stars like Ruud Gullit made the Netherlands' Euro 1988 winning team a legendary one

Euro 1988 is a fondly remembered tournament for the simple fact that the eventual winners – the Netherlands – remain one of the most entertaining international sides of all time. This was the team of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard – a trio of world-class players whose goals and performances drove them to glory.

They actually started the tournament – held in West Germany – badly, as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat to the Soviet Union.However, wins over England and Ireland moved them into the semi-finals, where they famously came from behind to defeat the hosts 1-2.

The Soviets meanwhile were doing well themselves, defeating England to make the semis before beating Italy 2-0. Repeating their earlier feat in the final proved to be impossible, though. A header from Gullit put the Netherlands ahead after half an hour, before Van Basten sealed things with one of the competition’s all-time great goals – a volley from a seemingly impossible angle.

Overall, Euro 1988 was an excellent tournament that only ranks as low as it does due to the even better nature of some of the other editions of the Euros.


#6 Euro 1996

Euro 1996 is still fondly remembered in England thanks to the team
Euro 1996 is still fondly remembered in England thanks to the team's run to the semi-finals

Recency bias means that Euro 1996 is perhaps even more fondly-remembered in England than the other home tournament – the 1966 World Cup – despite the Three Lions failing to win the trophy as they’d done 30 years earlier. A lot of England fans would probably have Euro 1996 as their comfortable #1 in this list in fact.

Unfortunately, in some circles the tournament has a different reputation. With an average of 2.06 goals per game, it has been argued that like some of the earlier editions, negative football led the way. But that wasn’t really the case; sure, France were terribly boring and made the semi-finals despite scoring just five goals, but there were plenty of fantastic games.

Essentially, anything involving the Czech Republic, Croatia or England was fantastic – from Croatia’s 3-0 win over Denmark complete with Davor Suker’s chip, to the Czechs’ wild 3-3 draw with Russia. Perhaps the best game though was the dramatic semi-final between England and Germany that ended – as always – with the Germans winning a penalty shootout.

It would be Berti Vogts’ men who would lift the trophy in the end, defeating the Czechs 2-1 in the final thanks to a ‘Golden Goal’ in extra time from striker Oliver Bierhoff. Essentially then, Euro 1996 isn’t the stone-cold classic that English fans remember, but it was still a great tournament and the expansion to include 16 teams was an idea that definitely paid off.


#5 Euro 1976

Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia's Antonin Panenka wrote his name into the history books with this penalty at Euro 1976

The only major tournament to take place in Yugoslavia, Euro 1976 was almost certainly the best edition to use the old four team format. Alongside the hosts, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands and West Germany comprised the line-up; hardly a surprise given the latter two sides had contested the World Cup final two years prior.

Incredibly, unlike some of the earlier editions of the Euros, literally every game on tap was absolutely fantastic. The first semi-final saw the Czechs overcome the Netherlands 3-1 after extra time – scoring twice with just minutes to go to break the deadlock. Normal time had seen them take the lead through Anton Ondrus, only for the defender to then score a comical own goal for the Dutch equaliser.

And the second semi was equally as good, with the Germans coming back from 2-0 down to defeat the hosts 2-4 after extra time, with a hat-trick from Gerd Muller winning them the game. Finally, after an entertaining final ended 2-2 – with West Germany equalising in the 89th minute – a famous penalty shootout decided the winners.

Czechoslovakia would come out on top, becoming the only side to beat a German national side in a shootout. Midfielder Antonin Panenka scored the winning spot-kick, introducing the deft chip down the middle that now bears his name. With more games – an 8-team format for instance – Euro 1976 could well have topped this list.


#4 Euro 2004

Nobody expected rank outsiders Greece to win at Euro 2004
Nobody expected rank outsiders Greece to win at Euro 2004

Like Euro 1992, the 2004 edition of the tournament – which took place in Portugal – saw a shocking upset winner. Underdogs Greece came through to claim the trophy, defeating the hosts 1-0 in the final after coincidentally overcoming them 2-1 in the opening game. Unlike Euro 1992 though, the majority of Euro 2004’s games provided incredible entertainment.

Sure, Otto Rehhagel’s Greek side weren’t that much fun to watch. A team built on defensive stability, they won all 3 of their knockout games 1-0 and only scored 7 goals across the whole tournament. But Portugal – along with England, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands produced some football of the highest quality.

England’s games against France and Croatia were both fantastic, as was their quarter-final clash with Portugal. On the other hand, the Czechs’ 2-3 win over the Netherlands – a game that saw them come back from 2-0 down – was probably the best of the entire tournament.

With the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Milan Baros all rising to fame thanks to their performances – as well as other upsets such as Germany crashing out in the group stage – this was a high-level tournament with plenty to enjoy for any football fan.


#3 Euro 1984

Michel Platini
Michel Platini's 9 goals helped France to win Euro 1984

Euro 1984 was the second edition of the tournament to use an 8-team format, but after the disaster that was Euro 1980, this time the group winners and runners-up went through into semi-finals. Essentially then, this tournament – which took place in France – could be seen as the real precursor to the much-loved format that ran until 2016.

And for the most part, it was a genuinely fantastic competition, with 41 goals scored across just 15 matches. Nine of those goals belonged to France’s Michel Platini, who led Les Bleus to victory overall. The midfielder’s haul remains the record for the most goals scored in any single European Championship. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored as many, but over four tournaments while Platini played in just one!

France strolled through the group stage with three wins – scoring nine goals in the process – but came up against it in their semi-final against Portugal. In the tournament’s best game, the hosts fell 1-2 down in the 8th minute of extra time – but somehow came back, scoring two goals in the final five minutes including a 119th minute winner from Platini.

The final was more straightforward; Les Bleus rolled over Spain – who overcame Denmark on penalties in the semi-finals – 2-0 to claim their first European Championship title. For the entertainment it provided, Euro 1984 remains one of the best-remembered editions of the competition today and for good reason.


#2 Euro 2008

Spain were victorious at Euro 2008, a truly fantastic tournament
Spain were victorious at Euro 2008, a truly fantastic tournament

Held across Austria and Switzerland, Euro 2008 saw the crowning of the Spanish tiki-taka system, as Luis Aragones’ side claimed a second title for La Roja. Spain were irresistible throughout the tournament, defeating Russia, Sweden, Greece, Italy, Russia (again) and finally Germany. The likes of Andres Iniesta, David Villa, Xavi and Fernando Torres starred throughout.

Early on though, it appeared that the Netherlands were the team to beat with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben firing on all cylinders. They destroyed France, Italy and Romania – only to crash to earth in the quarter-finals when underdogs Russia defeated them 3-1 after extra time.

Meanwhile, it was Turkey who proved to be the tournament’s big entertainers. They escaped the group stages after last-gasp wins over the Czech Republic and Switzerland – their winning goals coming in the 92nd minute and the 89th minute – and then somehow got past Croatia in a remarkable quarter-final. The game saw the Croats take the lead in the 119th minute – only for Turkey to equalise three minutes later, before winning a penalty shoot-out.

Fatih Terim’s side were finally defeated by Germany in another thriller that ended 3-2, and in turn, Joachim Low’s side fell to Spain in the final thanks to a lone goal from Torres. Overall, only the quarter-final between Spain and Italy disappointed somewhat in what was truly a brilliant tournament.


#1 Euro 2000

Euro 2000 - won by France - is considered perhaps the greatest international tournament of all time
Euro 2000 - won by France - is considered perhaps the greatest international tournament of all time

Like the 1998 World Cup two years prior, Euro 2000 fell into the period prior to the dominance of the Champions League, and so was arguably the last international tournament of what ought to be remembered as a golden era of sorts. Held across the Netherlands and Belgium, Euro 2000 provided an unbelievable amount of drama from start to finish and easily tops this list.

The group stages saw some astonishing matches, from Portugal’s 3-2 win over England and Yugoslavia’s 3-3 draw with Slovenia to the Netherlands’ 3-2 win over France and Spain’s 4-3 victory over Yugoslavia.

What was the best thing about Euro 2000 you ask? The fact that nearly all the sides on show sported a maverick playmaker. It featured modern heroes like Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Francesco Totti as well as old-school veterans like Pep Guardiola, Dragan Stojkovic and Gheorghe Hagi. These creative stars ensured negative tactics never shone through like they had in past editions of the Euros.

In the end, both of the semi-finals went to extra-time. Zidane’s 117th minute penalty took France past Portugal, while a dramatic game between Italy and the Netherlands ended 0-0. The hosts missed two penalties in normal time before the Azzurri won out after a penalty shootout, breaking Dutch hearts.

It would be Roger Lemerre’s World Cup winners who eventually lifted the trophy, defeating Italy 2-1 with an extra-time ‘Golden Goal’ from David Trezeguet in the 103rd minute. Overall, Euro 2000 remains the best edition of the Euros to date – and could well be considered the greatest international tournament of all time, too.

Published 21 Apr 2020
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