Soccer fans will gather for the final of the Union of European Football Association (UEFA)’s Euro Cup competition. All thirty preceding games will have been played during June , and involved the men’s national teams of the sixteen qualifying countries.
The captain of the winning team will receive big trophy. The Henri Delauney trophy bears the name of the former French Football Federation president who conceived the idea of the competition, and whose son, Pierre took on his dream after his death, and was responsible for the creation of the original trophy. UEFA decided to upgrade the original in both size and quality and they entrusted its creation to the silversmiths, Asprey London. The trophy is 60 cm high and made of sterling silver, with the names of every winning team since the first in 1960 engraved on its back. The original cup was smaller, lighter, and set on a marble plinth bearing the winning teams’ names.
Henri Delauney first suggested this competition in 1927, but it was over thirty years before the first tournament started in 1958. Delauney’s suggestion was made to FIFA (The International Federation of World Football), which was in the process of setting up its World Cup competition, and that, of course, had to take precedence.
As a FIFA delegate, Delauney also played a role in the creation of the World Cup, but firmly believed that a Euro Cup need not interfere with it. He suggested that a qualifying competition should begin every two years for national teams. Other stipulations were that it should be organized in such a way that there would be a limit on the number of games to be played and that competitors should meet different opponents in different tournaments. So the rules of the competition began to evolve.
For the qualifying rounds, a UEFA committee seeds the national sides according to their recent performance. They are then placed in groups by a draw that takes place when the World Cup’s qualifying games have been completed. Through the initial games within these groups, the teams are awarded points that rank them – three points for a win and one for a draw. All the teams in a group play each other. The top two in each group qualify, along with the host country or countries.
Where more than two top teams have gained equal points, or there is a tie for second place, a number of criteria have been set to distinguish between the equally ranked teams. These include, for example, a higher number of goals scored in away games (as opposed to games played at their home venue), and the fair play conduct of the team’s players. As a last resort, another draw will be arranged.
In the final stages of a tournament, according to current rules, no match may end in a draw. If the goal scores are equal at the end of the two 45 minute halves of the game, two more sessions of 15 minutes each are played. If the scores are still equal, each team has five penalties where one team player competes against the opposing goalkeeper by attempting to shoot a goal from the penalty spot. If necessary, a series of ‘sudden death’ penalties follow, where the first person failing to score loses the game for his team.
At the first Euro Cup match, held in Moscow in September 1958, the home team was victorious and went on, over the succeeding 22 months to beat off all comers and win the cup in July 1960. Through the intervening decades this championship has been repeated every four years. It has gained top status among the world’s sporting events, and the Henri Delauney trophy is one of the most coveted.
Over the years, the membership of UEFA has developed to include emerging nations, such as former members of the USSR and other new countries in the former eastern block. As UEFA has grown, so has the number of competing teams for its Euro Cup. In 1960, four teams, out of a total of 17, went into the final stages of the competition. In 2008, it will be 16 from a total of 52. Two of the latter will be the host countries’ teams, which are automatically qualified.
Although every effort has been made to make a level playing field, smaller or poorer countries are still disadvantaged if they cannot meet the requirements of a host country. The number of stadiums needed, each in a different city and at the required standard, and the investment that may be required to provide transport between them, plus facilities for the visiting teams and their supporters, means that some have not been able to take a turn as host, and get the automatic qualification. But since 1990 two hosts have been allowed, making this possible for more countries.
The Euro Cup should not be confused with the UEFA Cup, or the European Champions League. These annual competitions are not for national teams but for qualifying football clubs within individual member countries. The countries with most Champions League wins from one of their teams are England, Italy and Spain, with 11 each. In contrast, England has never won the Euro Cup but twice been placed third, and for this year failed to qualify; Italy has won once, in 1968, when it was a host country, and it has come second once; Spain has also been placed second on one occasion, and won the title when it was the host, in 1964.
The make up of individual teams is currently subject to controversy because of the practice of buying international talent. But national teams are just that – made up of their own citizens. Footballers can often be recalled from other countries for the honor of playing for their national teams. So competitions like the Euro Cup or FIFA’s World Cup, where national teams are pitted against each other, are a better indicator of where national talents lie, and perhaps where some nations need to be more encouraging and to invest more in their upcoming young sportsmen.