The Euros – 1976 to 1988: Penalties, Platini and volleys

The European Championships evolved from a four-team event to an eight team affair in 1980 and although that particular edition was somewhat tame, in 1984 and 1988, Europe was treated to two excellent tournaments in France and Germany respectively.

Prior to the reformatting, 1976 produced one of the competition’s outstanding moments, the famous penalty from Antonín Panenka in Belgrade. Everyone anticipated a re-run of the 1974 World Cup between West Germany and the Netherlands, but the Czechs pulled off a unique double.

Czechoslavakia 1976:  
Ivo Viktor, Anton Ondruš, Ján Pivarnik, Koloman Gögh, Jozef Čapkovič, Karol Dobiaš, Jozef Móder, Antonín Panenka, Marian Masny, Zdenêk Nehoda, Ján Švehlík, Ladislav Jurkemik, František Vesely.

Manager: Václav Ježek

Achievement: European Championship winners 1976, beating West Germany on penalties in the final after disposing of Netherlands in the semi-final and USSR in the last eight. Came through a qualifying group that included England, Portugal and Cyprus.

Key men: Zdenêk Nehoda, striker/winger who netted a goal every three games. Played for Dukla and then went to play in Belgium, France and Germany later in his career; Marián Masny, skilful winger, rated among the world’s best, from Slovan Bratislava; Antonin Panenka, attacking midfielder, famous for his jinked penalty that won the Euros but also his quality passing and dead-ball expertise.

Perception: Surprise winners of the Euros who beat both of the 1974 World Cup finalists. Very skilful in attack, but an inconsistent team. 

West Germany 1980: Harald Schumacher, Uli Stielike, Berard Dietz, Karlheinz Förster, Manfred Kaltz, Hans-Peter Briegel, Bernd Schuster, Hansi Müller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Horst Hrubesch, Klaus Allofs, Berhard Cullmann.

 Jupp Derwall

Achievement: European Championship winners 1980, beating Belgium in the final after meeting Netherlands, Greece and Belgium in the group phase. Also faced Turkey, Wales and Malta in the qualifying competition.

Key men: Hans-Peter Briegel, versatile defender who played for Kaiserslautern before going to Italy. Won 72 caps for West Germany; Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, flexible forward who possessed great speed, agility and goalscoring power. Scored 45 goals in 95 appearances for his country; Bernd Schuster, powerful and skilful midfielder who never quite lived up to his early promise. Played for Köln before moving to Spain and appeared for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. Won 21 caps for West Germany.

Perception: Not as compelling as other German teams of the period, but good enough to win the European Championship in Italy.

France 1984: Joël Bats, Patrick Battiston, Maxime Bossis, Yvon Le Roux, Jean-Francois Domerque, Luis Fernandez, Alain Giresse, Michel Platini, Bernard Lacombe, Bruno Bellone, Manuel Amoros, Bernard Genghini, Jean-Marc Ferreri, Dominique Rocheteau, Jean Tigana, Didier Six.

Manager: Michel Hidalgo

Achievement: European Championship winners 1984; World Cup semi-finals 1982 and 1986. In Euro 1984, in which they were the host nation, beat Denmark, Belgium, Yugoslavia and Portugal before overcoming Spain in the final.

Key men: Michel Platini, one of the outstanding players in the history of European football. Elegant, skilful, incisive and capable of scoring goals on the floor and in the air. A marvellous individual; Alain Giresse, stocky midfielder who dovetailed with Platini. An intelligent playmaker who was agile and capable of accelerating from midfield; Jean Tigana, one of the best box-to-box midfielders of his generation. Great pace and stamina, he was also an excellent team player.

Perception: A formidable team with an all-star midfield. Very unfortunate not to win the World Cup, they were the best team in Europe in the mid-1980s.

Netherlands 1988: Hans van Bruekelen, Berry van Aerle, Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman, Adri van Tiggelen, Gerald Vanenberg, Jan Wouters, Arnold Muhren, Erwin Koeman, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, John Bosman, Wim Kieft.

Manager: Rinus Michels

Achievement: European Championship winners 1988, beating USSR in the final after winning 2-1 against hosts West Germany in the semi-final. Also faced England, Ireland and the Soviets in the group stage. Earlier came top in a qualifying group that featured Greece, Hungary, Poland and Cyprus

Key men: Frank Rijkaard, quick, strong and tenacious defender who read the game perfectly. Started with Ajax and went on to be a key member of the AC Milan team of the late-80s- early 1990s. 73 caps for the Netherlands; Ruud Gullit, skilful and versatile midfielder who was pivotal in the re-emergence of the Dutch in the late 1980s. Strong, extremely athletic and very good in the air. Could also play as a striker; Marco van Basten, one of the most complete and exciting strikers of his generation. Nicknamed “the swan of Utrecht” due to his elegance and intelligent attacking play. Capable of scoring spectacular goals, such as his volley in the Euro final of 1988.

Perception: The latter day exponents of modified Total Football. Wonderful technique and individualism. Short-lived success, but a brilliant team and worthy European champions.

Photo: ALAMY

It’s not quite 1996, but England can forge some advantage

EURO 2020 could be one of the most open competitions in recent memory. A combination of countries and clubs in transition, the pandemic, fatigue and just a little anxiety could mean the viewing public may be in for a surprise or two. Very few people expected Portugal to win in 2016, but in some ways, it provided Cristiano Ronaldo with an opportunity to sign-off in theatric style, only he didn’t. 

Five years on, we have seen the emergence of a very good French side, Belgium have still to rubber-stamp their status as the world’s most fancied, if not decorated team, and Germany appear to be a little troubled. England, who have been relatively quiet about their own chances, have a cluster of decent young players and unlike the past, half of the squad has been playing Champions League football in 2020-21.

There’s a very important element in this year’s competition that could seriously help England: home status. All of their group games are at Wembley and given their record in the European Championship, this should prove to be an advantage. They are not the only nation to benefit from this, the others include Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany, who will play all their group games on familiar turf. For England, there’s an added bonus – the semi-finals and final are at Wembley. If they can win their group, it will mean that all bar the quarter-final will be a home game.

Past records demonstrate this invariably suits England. In 1966, they won five of their six games and conceded just three goals, while in 1996, their only loss was on penalties against Germany in that semi-final. More importantly, since 2008 when they were eliminated in qualifying thanks to a 3-2 home defeat against Croatia, England have lost twice in European Championship action, once in the qualifiers against Czech Republic and a rather red-faced defeat at the hands of Iceland. Oh yes, there’s also that loss on penalties to Italy in 2012.

It has to be remembered, though, that qualifying results can be misleading as, in all reality, England will not face strong opposition until the finals.

Host status was once a guarantee of a good tournament, but that doesn’t ring so true anymore.  The World Cup, for example, had five host winners between 1930 and 1978, but has had one (France 1998) since. The European Championship has only had three, Spain in 1964, Italy four years later, and France in 1984. In the latter, France were definitely the best team around, with Michel Platini on fire in the eight-team finals.

Home advantage might not be so exclusive these days, but it also underlines how bizarre the 2020 format is. The pandemic would have scuppered any chance of having the “carnival” that characterised one-nation competitions such as the World Cup in 2006 and the Euros in France four years ago, so it’s all a bit academic now. But both UEFA and FIFA cannot resist making things more complicated, with multi-country structures and ever-increasing participants. 

More teams does not mean better teams, it usually means a dilution of quality, long drawn-out schedules that test the endurance levels of the fans, and a greater chance of fatigue. The European Championship is just about the least anticipated of recent major competitions, not because it doesn’t have credibility, but because the old complaint, “there’s too much football on TV” is just about right. We’ve been flooded with broadcasted football for 18 months and the novelty of wall-to-wall football has worn off. For once, I sympathise with the players, no sooner has the domestic season finished than we’re off with an intense, 24-team bun fight. We will, of course, watch avidly and the cross of St. George will suddenly, and rather ominously, appear all over town and on car aerials as expectation soars to unrealistic levels. 

So what can we expect to see? The last throes of CR7 in a group of death that includes the European champions, World Cup winners and hardy perennials Germany, will be fascinating. There should be goals from Harry Kane as he shop windows himself, but England will have to be wary of Czechs and Croatians bearing banana skins. Brave displays from Wales and Scotland? And how about this year’s surprise packages – Robert Lewandowski’s Poland? 

And then there’s Italy, who rarely claim they have a good side but know how to reach finals. It’s easy to look no further then France and Belgium, but this could be the latter’s last chance with its current roster. The Game of the People hopelessly inaccurate prediction (I am still reminded about my 1978 World Cup forecast of France v Hungary when both went out at the first call), is a shock win for the Italians and England to reach the last eight. Please don’t remember where you heard it first.

Photo: ALAMY