Explore the captivating journey through the last four UEFA European Championships in The Tale of the Last 4 UEFA European Championships. Relive the thrilling moments and epic matches that defined European football history in this must-read account.
Next summer, the European Championships will take centre stage. The tournament - officially known as UEFA Euro 2024 - will take place in Germany, kicking off on June 14th with the final taking place exactly a month later in Berlin's famed Olympiastadion. However, it is unknown which teams will compete for glory.
At present, nine teams have punched their ticket to the tournament. Odds provided by a popular sports betting site have made England and France the early 4/1 favourites, and they are two teams that have already qualified. Alongside them are 2016 champions Portugal, Turkey, Scotland, Spain, Austria, and Belgium, as well as hosts Germany, who have all secured their spot at Euro 2024. The other 15 spots will be decided in the coming months.
Teams as varied as reigning champions Italy to the likes of Armenia, Moldova and Kazakhstan all still harbour hopes of featuring in the coveted competitions. And one thing is for certain, next summer will certainly be a festival of football, just as the last four editions of the tournament have been.
The most recent edition of the tournament was Euro 2020 however, global events saw the tournament rescheduled to take place in the summer of 2021. It was hosted across 11 cities in Europe for the first time ever, with UEFA attempting to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the competition. Prior to the tournament, world champions France were many people's pick however, they were dumped out in the second round by Switzerland, with superstar Kylian Mbappe missing the all-important spot-kick which sent the Swiss through.
Much to the surprise of everyone, it was Italy who managed to navigate their way to glory. They managed to knock off Belgium and two-time champions Spain to secure their spot in the Wembley showpiece against England, who were competing in their home stadium.
As such, the Three Lions were heavily expected to win their first major title since 1966, especially when Luke Shaw gave them a third-minute lead. But the Azzurri would equalize through center-back Leonardo Bonucci before Gianluigi Donnarumma's penalty shootout heroics secured the trophy for just the second time in their history and the first time in 52 years.
Euro 2016 was hosted in France, and it was the start of a purple patch for Les Bleus. They went on to reach the final on home turf, with the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Dmtri Payet announcing themselves to the world as genuine superstars. They would meet Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal in the final and once more it was the hosts who were big favorites to pull off the victory. That favorites tag grew larger when CR7 was forced off early in the first half with an injury. But a heroic defensive display from the Navegadores kept them in the contest, allowing unheralded striker Eder to lash home from 30 yards in the 116th minute to secure the victory, the first major trophy in the history of Portuguese international football.
The tournament produced some unlikely heroes, such as Iceland and Wales, who both made it to the quarter-finals. Iceland knocked out England in the second round, while Wales knocked off Belgium in the quarters before running into Ronaldo and co. The tournament was the first of a more expanded European championships, with 24 teams competing instead of 16, and both the Welsh and the Icelandics took full advantage.
Euro 2012 marked the first time that UEFA had ventured into Eastern Europe, with Poland and Ukraine cohosting the tournament. Despite both teams avoiding defeat in their first game - and the latter actually defeated Sweden courtesy of a double from veteran striker Andriy Shevchenko - they were both eliminated at the group stages, much to the disappointment of the home faithful. For much of the competition, it looked as though Spain and Germany were on a collision course to meet once more, just as they did in the final four years prior and as they did in the 2010 FIFA World Cup semifinals.
However, those plans were obliterated by maverick striker Mario Balotelli. The Italian hitman's brace stunned the Germans in the semifinals and set up a meeting against Spain in Germany's stead. Unfortunately for the Azzurri though, that was as good as it got. They were routed 4-0 by Las Rojas in Kyiv, with David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata completing a 4- 0 rout, the biggest margin of victory in any European Championship final.
Four years prior to their success in Kyiv, Spain secured their first major trophy in some 44 years with success in Austria and Switzerland. A solitary Fernando Torres goal was enough to down a game against Germany in Vienna, bringing the curtain down on one of the best European Championships in recent memory.
This was the birth of Spain's golden generation, with iconic former Atletico Madrid manager Luis Aragones debuting a fluid passing game which would become known as tiki-taka. His young side featured the likes of the aforementioned Torres, as well as David Villa, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, all of whom combined to make the new system work.
The shock of the tournament saw Russia advance all the way to the semifinals. Despite scraping through the group stages, they produced an extra time masterclass in the quarterfinals against tournament favorites the Netherlands with goals from Dmitri Torbinski and Andrei Arshavin securing a meeting with Spain in the final four.