The Geography of European Championships Success

Figure A: Number of times each country has won the European Championships

Adrian Kavanagh, 12th June 2012

As the previous post showed, certain countries such as Germany, Spain, Russia and France have tended to do excel in the European (Soccer) Championships over the decades since the contest began in the last 1950s.  The level of success of different countries has varied over time. The 1996 contest acts as a significant break in this regard, marking not only the contest where the championships moved from having an 8-team Finals to having a 16-team Finals but also the first such contest to take account (in terms of its list of contestants) of the impacts of the political changes impactsing on central and eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s . Different countries have been either less or more successful in the championships before this crucial 1996 contest. For instance, while Hungary achieved some degree of success albeit not on a par with the stronger countries (two semi final appearances and three appearances in the last eight of the contest) in contests leadign up to the 1992 Finals, the country has failed to make the Last 16 (Finals) on any occasion since the introduction of the 16-team Finals for the 1996 contest. By contrast, the fortunes of countries such as Greece and Turkey, and indeed France, have improved significantly over the same time period.

Figure 1 shows the level of success of countries in the European Championships in all contests from the late 1950s up until the 1992 Finals. (Each countries rating/score is based on the system devised and outlined in the previous post.)

Figure 1: Countries’ relative ratings for performances in the European Championships in all contests leading up to the 1992 Finals inclusive.

This shows Germany (or rather West Germany for practically all of this period) emerging as one of the most successful countries in this competition (with two wins, one other final appearance, one other semi final appearance and one other quarter final/Last 8 appearance over this time period). But Germany is strongly rivalled in this case by the Soviet Union, the country which was undoubtedly the most successful country in the first decade of this contest’s history but which tended to regularly figure in the final stages of contests during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s culiminating in a defeat to the Netherlands in the 1988 Final. The next most successful countries over this period, as Figure 1 shows, includes Spain, Italy and France, but also Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. By contrast and despite winning the World Cup in 1966 and reaching the 1990 World Cup semi final, England (represented on the map by the United Kingdom – sorry base map doesn’t distinguish between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) is shown to have a relatively low success rating here and its rating sits on a par with countries such as Hungary and Belgium. All the UEFA countries, with the exceptions of Finland, Iceland and Cyprus but including Luxembourg, are shown to have achieved some degree of success over this period, even if this amounted to just making the Final 16 of the contest, while there is no major difference in success levels between the eastern and western part of the continent.

Figure 2: Relative success levels of countries competing in the European Championships between 1996 and 2012

Figure 2 shows a somewhat different trend to the geographical pattern of European Championships success detailed in Figure 1. This shows a decided swing to the West across the championships held over the mid-to-late 1990s and 2000s, with most of the main stalwarts of East Europe (Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia) no longer being in existence by this point in time  or else experiencing a significant dip in their footballing fortunes (Hungary). With the exception perhaps of the Czech Republic and, to a lesser extent, Russia and Croatia, the European Championships fortunes of the successor states to the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia paled in comparison with the levels of success attained by these states in the period leading up to the late 1980s. By contrast, a number of the main footballing powers in the western part of the continent, including Germany and France, but also Spain and Portugal as well as the Netherlands and Italy, attained consistently high levels of success in the contests held during the mid to late 1990s and 2000s. The stronger concentration of European Championships success in western hands over the 1990s and 2000s of course stands in stark contrast to the eastwards trends observed in relation to success in the Eurovision Song Contest over the same time period. France’s relative rating in particular, but also that of The Netherlands and Portugal, improved significantly during the period with the French now rivalling the Germans as the most successful European Championships country across this time period. The general west-wards trend is somewhat breached by the improving fortunes of Greece and Turkey over this same time period, with the Greeks actually succeeding in winning the 2004 Finals and Turkey reaching the 2008 semi final and 2000 quarter finals. In a similar vein, a number of western European countries experienced a significant decline in their European Championships fortunes during this time period, most notably Belgium and Austria but also, to a lesser degree, England and the other “Home Nations” as well as the Republic of Ireland.  

Figure 3: Number of times countries succeeded in qualifying for the European Championship Finals between 1996 and 2012 (including host countries)

As Figures 2 and 3 shows, a number of countries failed to make it to the Finals on any of five occasions between 1996 and 2012, while three countries only took part in Finals by virtue of these countries acting as co-hosts for the contests in questions (Belgium in 2000, Austria in 2008, Ukraine in 2012). Iceland, Finland and Cyprus are still left waiting to make a breakthrough in this contest as indeed is Israel and a number of other smaller European countries, including Andorra, San Marino, the Faeroe Islands and Liechenstein. Most of the successor states to the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are still waiting to make the debut appearances in a European Finals, including Estonia, Lithunia, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazahkstan (apart from Russia, Latvia is the only other Former Soviet state to actually qualify for the European Championships Finals), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia, and also Slovakia (despite that country reaching the Last 16 in the 2010 World Cup Finals). That said, it is worth noting that the relatively poor fortunes of former Soviet and Yugoslav states in contests in the mid-to-late 1990s and 2000s stands in somewhat stark contrast to the results of the first series of group matches in the 2012 Finals with Ukraine, Croatia and Russia being amongst the only five countries (in addition to Denmark and Germany) to register wins in these games.  

Finally, the last set of maps show the relative levels of success of countries in terms of winning the European Championships across the entire history of the contest, but also in relation to the numbers of finals, semi finals and quarter finals reached over the same time period. For the purposes of simplifying matters in these maps (and this is by no means a rigorous approach), results achieved by the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are attributed respectively to Russia, Serbia and the Czech Republic.

Figure 4: Number of times each country has reached the European Championships quarter finals/Last 8

Figure 4 shows the number of times that each of the UEFA countries has made it to the last eight of the competition throughout its history, with the relatively high ratings for Ireland (1964, 1988) and England deserving attention, especially when contrasted with these countries’ fortunes in the much later stages of the comptetition. Spain emerges as the most successful country in terms of reaching quarter finals (that country’s relative successes in the early 196os allowing it to steal a march on the Germans) but as subsequent maps will show the Spanish have not proved to be as successful as other countries in converting quarter final appearances into semi final and final appearances. The signficiant number of countries failing to make the Last 8 of the contest (a list which does not include Luxembourg!) deserves comment, with especial note to be taken of Poland, especially as the Poles have proven to be more successful in World Cup competitions than a lot of other European countries, achieving semi final appearances in 1974 and 1982.

Figure 5: Number of times each country has reached the European Championships semi finals/Last 4

Figure 5 shows the number of European Championships semi finals achieved by the different UEFA countries, with England’s low level of success here contrasting with that country’s relative degree of success in terms of making it to the Final 8 of the contest. England’s low levels of success in converting quarter finals appearances into appearances at the latter stages of the contest is perhaps rivalled only by Spain’s disappointing results at the same stage of the contest.

Figure 6: Number of times each country has reached the European Championships Final

Figure 6 shows the number of times each country has made it to the Final of the European Championships. Despite winning the World Cup in 1966 and reaching the semi final of that contest also in 1990, England are shown to be still waiting to make their first appearance in a European Championships Final. While Spain were shown to be relatively unsuccessful in converting quarter final appearances into semi final apppearances, the Spanish do not seem to have a similarly poor level of success when it comes to European semi finals and have managed to progress from these to make the Final on three occasions, a level of success that is only outstripped by Germany/West Germany and the Soviet Union/USSR.

Figure 7: Number of European Championships won by different countries between 1960 and 2008

The final chart (Figure 7), in addition to Figure A above, shows the number of contests won by different countries across the history of the European Championships. This seems to be a more “democratic” contest than the World Cup with victories shared out across a wider pool of countries and with no real dominance of contest victories by a small pool of countries to the extent that one observes with the World Cup (with Brazil, Italy, Germany, Uruguay and Argentina accounting for a significant chunk of all World Cup wins). Nine different countries have won the European Championships and only three have won it on more than one occasion, with the list of winners including a number of countries that have had little in the way of success in World Cup competitions, most notably Greece but also Denmark, the Soviet Union/Russia and Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic to a lesser degree. England is the only European country to have won a World Cup that has yet to win a European Championships. It is also worth noting that only a handful of countries that have reached a European final on at least one occasion are still waiting for their first win in the competition, including Belgium and Portugal (with Yugoslavia also falling into the category).

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