THE FIRST four winners of the European Championship were the Soviet Union, Spain, Italy and West Germany. The competition didn’t really take off until 1972 when a brilliant German side captivated the continent with its progressive football. When the USSR won in 1960, Real Madrid were very keen on snapping-up their players, but it wasn’t to be, but it highlighted how pan-European competitions could spread awareness of lesser-known teams and players.
The European Nations Cup as it was called in its early days, didn’t see England reach the closing stages until the 1968 competition. Having declined to enter in 1960, England took part in the second series and were beaten by France at the first hurdle. In 1968, the home internationals were used as a qualifying group and England, despite dropping three points out of four to Scotland, edged past their old rivals. In the quarter finals, they beat Spain before surprisingly losing to Yugoslavia in the last four. Four years on, England had little difficulty winning a qualifying group that included Switzerland, Malta and Greece before losing to West Germany in the quarter-finals over two legs.
USSR 1960: Lev Yashin, Giri Chokheli, Anatoly Krutikov, Anatoli Maslyonkin, Yuriy Younov, Igor Netto, Slava Metreveli, Viktor Ponedelnik, Valentin Ivanov, Valentin Bubukin, Mikheil Meskhi.
Manager: Gavriil Kachalin
Achievement: European Championship winners 1960 – beating Hungary, Czechoslavakia and Yugoslavia to win the competition.
Key men: Lev Yashin, considered the world’s best goalkeeper at the time, renowned for his bravery and athleticism. Vocal and very authoritive both for the USSR and his club, Dynamo Moscow; Igor Netto, captain of the team and one of the Soviet Union’s greatest players. An intelligent central midfielder who played for Spartak Moscow; Slava Metreveli, fast winger who was born in Georgia and played for Dinamo Tbilisi. Won 48 caps for USSR.
Perception: Muscular team who were too physical and strong for their opponents.
Spain 1964: José Angel Iribar, Feliciano Rivilla, Isacio Calleja, Ignacío Zoco, Ferran Olivella, Josep Maria Fustré, Carlos Lapetra, Luis Suárez, Marcelino Martinez, Jesús Maria Pereda, Amancio Amaro.
Manager: José Villalonga
Achievement: European Championship winners 1964, beating USSR in the final and before that, Romania, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland.
Key men: Jesús Maria Pereda, Barcelona midfielder who also played briefly for Real Madrid. Catalan-born players who won 15 caps for Spain. Had a very good eye for goal; Luis Suárez, Galician-born inside forward or attacking midfielder, an elegant player possessing an explosive shot. Starred for Barcelona and also played for Inter Milan and Sampdoria; Amancio, outside right who was known as El Brujo (the magician). Played 14 years with Real Madrid and won 42 caps for Spain.
Perception: Skilful but inconsistent team of individuals.
Italy 1968: Dino Zoff, Giacinto Facchetti, Tarcisio Burgnich, Aristide Guarneri, Ernesto Castano, Giovanni Lodetti, Giorgio Ferrini, Antonio Juliano, Sandro Mazzola, Angelo Domenghini, Pierino Prati, Pietro Anastasi, Luigi Riva.
Manager: Ferruccio Valcareggi
Achievement: European Championship winners 1968, beating Yugoslavia in the final and the USSR in the semi-final. In the previous rounds, overcome Bulgaria, Romania, Switzerland and Cyprus.
Key men: Pierino Prati, AC Milan forward who was opportunistic in front of goal. Strong all-round player, good in the air and full of pace – could also play on the wing; Dino Zoff, imposing goalkeeper who was pragmatic rather than flamboyant. Played for Napoli from 1967 to 1972 before joining Juventus. Won the World Cup in 1982 during a 112-cap career with Italy; Giacinto Facchetti, Inter Milan and Italy skipper who played 94 times for Italy and made over 600 appearances for Inter. Combined pace, stamina and power to become one of the best full backs in the world.
Perception: Defence-minded team, hard to beat, strategically savvy.
West Germany 1972: Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer, Horst-Dieter Höttges, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Paul Breitner, Herbert Eimmer, Uli Hoeneß, Günter Netzer, Juup Heynckes, Erwin Kremers, Gerd Müller.
Manager: Helmut Schön.
Achievement: World Cup third place 1970, European Championship winners 1972.
Key men: Franz Beckenbauer, one of Germany’s greatest of all time, “Der Kaiser” was one of the outstanding players of the 1970s, captaining his country and Bayern Munich. Midfielder, sweeper or central defender; Günter Netzer, powerful charismatic midfielder who played for Borussia Mönchengladbach before moving to Real Madrid. 1972 was his year, by the time 1974 World Cup came along, he was out of favour; Gerd Müller, prolific goalscorer for West Germany and Bayern Munich, top scorer in both the 1970 World Cup and 1972 Euros.
Perception: Wonderful team, full of energy, power and skill. Arguably stronger than in 1974 when they were World Cup winners.
Part two: 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988.