Which are the top 5 teams in the European Championship history?
With Euro 2020 around the corner, taking a look back at sides of yesteryear is always a fun little game.
Judging sides against one another across football history is genuinely difficult, however. Different eras, different tactical ideologies, different levels of play on the technical front; there are far too many variables to have a definitive ranking list. But that does not mean we cannot try.
There have been some phenomenal sides to grace the Euros since its first instalment back in 1960. And, without further ado, here are our top five sides in European Championship history.
5) USSR (Euro ‘60)
Usually connected to their dominant years in ice hockey, the USSR – despite the decades of political issues associated with them – fielded quite a few competitive teams across multiple sports. Their period of influence in football was considerable, and not widely-enough spoken on.
From 1960 till 1972, the USSR reached the Euro final on three occasions (‘60, ‘64, ‘72), while winning the competition’s first-ever edition in 1960.
The headline name of the Soviet side in ‘60 was not Valentin Ivanov or Victor Ponedelnik, but goalkeeper Lev Yashin. To this day, many still rate the Moscow-born and career Dynamo Moscow shot-stopper as the best goalkeeper in football history.
Four years prior to Euro ‘60, the Soviet Union won Olympic gold in Australia, with Yashin leading the way. 1960 was the real beginning of a golden period in Soviet football, deserving of their place on this list.
The greatest goal in Soviet football history – Viktor Ponedelnik’s golden goal vs Yugoslavia in the Euro-1960 final. The goal which won USSR the first ever European Championship
Ponedelnik was the last living member of that team. Was. Until tonight. RIPpic.twitter.com/1OJ8LNf8qG
— Alexey Yaroshevsky (@YaroLFC) December 5, 2020
4) Netherlands (Euro ‘88)
After l0sing their opening group stage match at Euro ‘88 to the Soviet Union, no one would have expected the Netherlands to go on and win their first and only trophy as a nation. But revenge against the Soviets would come in a 2-0 win in the finals, where, once again, Marco van Basten had something to say on the matter.
Famously dubbed the Swan of Utrecht, Van Basten’s short yet astonishing career saw him hit 218-goals in just 280-appearances combined for Ajax and AC Milan, with a further 24-goals in 58-outings for the Netherlands. Five of those goals came in the summer of ‘88, where Van Basten and an incredible supporting cast, bested both West Germany and the Soviet Union en route to the high-water mark in Dutch football.
Van Basten would be joined by Rudd Gullit, Jan Wouters, Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard, and Hans van Breukelen in the Euro team of the tournament, making up six of the eleven selected.
It was a memorable summer that the nation has surprisingly been able to recreate since.
3) France (Euro 2000)
Perhaps the first real contentious selection on this list, France’s Euro-winning team from 2000 was a monster not just on paper, but on the pitch as well.
With a starting XI comprised of Fabian Barthez, Lilian Thuram, Laurent Blanc, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu, Patrick Vieira, Didier Deschamps, Youri Djorkaeff, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, and Christophe Dugarry, France became the first nation since West Germany 26-years prior to win a World Cup and Euro in back-to-back tournaments.
On the back of a player of the tournament performance from none other than Zinedine Zidane, France rebounded after losing to the Netherlands 3-2 in the last round of group play after holding a 2-1 lead, only to turn it up another gear in the knockout stages while seeing themselves past Spain, Portugal, and a comeback win against Italy in the final thanks to a stoppage-time goal from Sylvain Wiltord and an extra-time strike from David Trezeguet.
France has not won the Euro since, but will be looking to correct that this summer.
2) West Germany (Euro ‘72)
West Germany at the 1972 Euro was one of the best sides on paper in history. Full stop.
The early tournaments are always harder to gauge given that there were only four participants and no group stage play, but despite that, for me, their larger influence is why I have placed them so high on the list.
A starting XI that featured Sep Meier, Berti Vogts, Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, Uli Hoeness, Wolfgang Overath, and Gerd Muller is absolutely on another level of absurd.
Seven Germans featured in the team of the tournament justifiably so, and their success in ‘72 (Germany’s first Euro win) kicked off a period for the national team that saw them make three Euro finals in succession, winning two of them.
Two years later the nation won the second World Cup in its history and truly laid the framework for Germany to be – to this day – one of the most dominant nations in football, and certainly the biggest in Europe.
1) Spain (Euro ‘12)
Few would argue that Spain in her pomp was nothing short of sensational.
Still the only nation to win back-t0-back tournaments at the Euro (2008 & 2012), their immense success on the continent was supported further by their World Cup win in 2010 in South Africa.
Spain were anchored by a midfield quartet featuring Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, and Cesc Fabregas, whose understanding at club level at Barcelona was a chief component to La Furia Roja becoming the dominant entity that they did.
Winners of a group featuring Italy, Croatia, and the Republic of Ireland, Spain would go on to dispatch France and Portugal (on penalties) before a rematch against Italy in the final saw Spain put on a clinic in a 4-0 win.
While scoring in the final, Fernando Torres not only secured winning the Golden Boot, but became the first player to score in back-to-back Euro finals, while Iniesta booked a player of the tournament nomination in one of the most brilliant finals displays in history.
Three tournament wins in the span of four years is an incredible achievement, and 2012 put the final accent mark on a period in Spanish – and European – football history that has yet to be matched.
Summary: Top 5 teams in the European Championship history
- USSR (Euro ‘60)
- Netherlands (Euro ‘88)
- France (Euro 2000)
- West Germany (Euro ‘72)
- Spain (Euro ‘12)