European football’s premier competition has had a lasting effect on the sport over the years. From the libero to the false-9 formation, nations have experimented and profited greatly in the continental championships, eventually also changing the way the sport is played. HT looks at how the Euros have shaped football:
The first Euro competition in 1960 was a time of football revolution. Teams had started breaking away from the age-old convention of bombarding the opposition’s box with players to focus on their own defensive third.
The previously-favoured 2-3-5 formation gave way to more structured line-ups like the 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 (right) formations to provide greater defensive cover and concede fewer goals. The formations have gone on to become the most preferred in modern football.
While focus on formation and a sturdy defence was paramount, Euro 1968 winners Italy capitalised on the individual talent of their full-back Giacinto Facchetti who was able to make runs up and down the wing to assist in attack while falling back to defend.
Facchetti’s performances in the title triumph redefined the role of full-backs who were no longer seen as flat members of a back-four.
One of the most famed defensive positions of the 1970s was the libero; also known as the sweeper. Sitting behind the traditional centre-backs, the libero would essentially breakdown attacks and sweep up the ball up for his teammates.
No player has stamped his authority on the position more than the supremely elegant Franz Beckenbauer. Helping West Germany to the trophy in Euro 1972, Der Kaiser would venture out of his defensive quarters to kick-start his team’s attacks. However, the position did not stand the test of time as few players could replicate the success achieved by Beckenbauer.
Pele’s immaculate form in the 1960s had already put the position of the playmaker to the fore. But few European players could do as much with the ball as the legendary Brazilian—until Michel Platini (left) stamped his mark on Euro 1984.
Platini proved that a creative player could also be a proven goalscorer by finding the net from open play and dead-ball situations, forever changing the way Europeans looked at the role of a playmaker.
The 1990s saw an experimentation of formation wherein a midfielder could function as an auxiliary striker or as an additional defender. The 4-4-2 diamond formation, initially adopted by Terry Venables for England in 1996 with a defensive and an attacking midfielder, was most preferred.
Some teams also elected to line-up with two defensive midfielders who were capable of putting in the legwork to cover the length of the pitch—another experiment in the famed 4-4-2 formation—as the emphasis on fitness and health increased in the footballing world.
The game had reached the peak of its pace in Portugal 2004 and players needed to be fitter than ever to deal with it. Wingers had come to the limelight and their pace to get in behind defences was proving to be the difference between sides.
On the other hand, defensive and positional discipline had become extremely important as proved by champions Greece who won the tournament with tactical discipline and game management.
Spain took the world by storm, starting with Euro 2008. Finding it impossible to win the physical side of the game with their diminutive players, the Spaniards instead opted to utilise their exceptional skill and passing talent.
Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were the generals of Spain’s midfield, passing opposition teams into submission through the tiki-taka style of play.
Spain continued to favour their passing style of play in the 2012 edition but found it difficult to find the perfect lone striker from within their ranks. So they changed their approach to the game.
Playing midfielder Cesc Fabregas in a withdrawn striker’s role, Spain employed a false No 9 (right) that could pull defenders out of position to open up space for runs by ball-playing midfielders. The approach was successful as Spain won a successive Euro tournament.
Text courtesy: Uefa.com