The 16th edition of the European Championship is just hours away. In the opening match of the tournament, dark horses Turkey will be up against in-form Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The championship has come a long way since it began in 1960. Over 70 years, many iconic moments graced the tournament while a few players and countries went on to create history.
From the story of the first European Championship to Cristiano Ronaldo's epic numbers, take a look at the facts, figures and iconic moments from the tournament.
In 1927, the French Football Federation secretary Henri Delaunay came up with the idea but it took 33 years for the European Championship to become a reality. Only four teams " hosts France, Yugoslavia, USSR, and Czechoslovakia made it from qualifications to the tournament proper. The Soviet Union won the trophy after beating fellow communist country Yugoslavia 2-1 thanks to a 113th-minute winner from Viktor Ponedelnik. The legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin also played a big role in Soviet Union's victory, pulling off a string of saves in the final.
A total of 17 nations participated in the qualifying tournament but countries like England, Scotland, Italy, the Netherlands, and the 1954 World Cup winners West Germany were simply not interested in the event. So, was it really a pan-European Championship? The Soviets didn't care and they were happy that they created history by winning the first-ever championship. "The Soviet national team became the first-ever European champions. No one can forget such moments of glory. As for myself, that 113th-minute winner was the most important of my whole career. That was the star moment of my life," Ponedelnik told UEFA.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Euro legend
Ronaldo and records are best friends. After almost two decades of playing the beautiful game, Ronaldo is still going strong. He made his mark in European Championship with a string of records to his name and helped Portugal achieve title glory in 2016. Here are some of his remarkable stats in the tournament over the years:
Platini's golden tournament Cristiano Ronaldo has nine goals in Euros, tied with Michel Platini as the leading scorer in the event but Platini scored all nine in one tournament. He played five matches in the 1984 tournament which was taking place in his home country of France and scored nine, including two hat-tricks and one goal in the final. Platini was in form of his life, he won three Ballon d'Or awards in this period (1983, 1984, and 1985). France being the hosts were under pressure and they had not won any major trophies up until that year despite playing a pivotal role in the sport's development. Platini's prowess helped France reach the final and then they overcame the challenge from Spain to lift their first major trophy in international football.
Denmark and Greece's sensational runs
Euro championships have seen two special underdog stories " Denmark lifting the trophy in 1992 and Greece becoming champions in 2004. Their victories proved that you don't need the best players or best coaches to win football trophies. You just need to play as a team and fight till the last second. Denmark did not even qualify for the 1992 edition in Sweden, but Yugoslavia was in a state of civil war so the Danes got the last-minute invitation. Denmark defeated France in the group stage and then went on to knock out defending champions Netherlands on penalties in the semi-final. In the final, they overcame Germany and completed a stunning run.
The 2004 Euro saw formidable countries like Germany, Spain, and Italy getting eliminated in the group stage. Hosts Portugal reached the final but Greece spoiled their party with a 1-0 victory. Not many were impressed with their defensive style of football but in the end, Greece's philosophy worked and Theodoros Zagorakis, the tournament's best player, lifted the trophy at the EstÃ¡dio da Luz in Lisbon.
Marco van Basten's stunner
It's a dream come true when you score an outrageous goal in the final of a major tournament to help your country win their first title. The extremely talented Marco van Basten came up with a special volley against the Soviet Union in the final and sealed a memorable victory for his side. Van Basten received a high ball on the other end of the box, but instead of controlling it he took a first-time shot from an almost improbable angle and beat the goalkeeper. The goalscorer, his teammates, the opponents, fans inside the stadium, millions watching on television and even the legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michels present on the sidelines couldn't believe what they saw. It was one of the greatest goals scored in footballing history.
Oliver Bierhoff's golden goal
Germany won their third and last Euro championship back in 1996 and Bierhoff played a significant role in their triumph. He was a surprise pick in the squad but what he did in the final was even more surprising. Back then, he lacked experience on the big stage but what he didn't lack was confidence. Trailing 0-1 against the Czech Republic in the final at Wembley with 20 odd minutes remaining, Bierhoff came off the bench to score the equaliser. The game went into the extra time and then Bierhoff scored his second, this time it was a golden goal as the strike in the extra-time ended the match and Germany became champions. This was the first major competition to be decided using the Golden Goal method and Germany won their first major trophy as a unified nation.
Sometimes, just thinking differently is enough to get the results. Ask Antonin Panenka of Czechoslovakia. In 1976, Czechoslovakia made it to the final, defying expectations. They had to battle it out against mighty West Germany to get hold of the trophy they were chasing. They took a two-goal lead but the Germans bounced back to make it 2-2 and the match went to the penalties. The first time a European Championship or a World Cup final was to be decided on penalties. After seven successful hits, Germany's Uli Hoeness missed his kick. Antonin Panenka had his shot at glory now. Instead of blasting his kick, he just chipped it in the middle with the goalkeeper rushing and diving to his left. Czechoslovakia were the champions and the word Panenka entered football's lexicon.
When Italy called it right
It was the semi-final of the 1968 European Championship. Italy were up against the Soviet Union. The weather was bad and chances were far and few in between. The 0-0 scoreline was apt at the end of normal time. But the match needed a winner so both captains and officials went inside to toss a coin. Italy captain Giacinto Facchetti called it right and Italy advanced to the final and they ended up winning the tournament.
Here's what Facchetti said after the semi-final: "I went up with the Russian captain. We went down to the dressing rooms together, accompanied by two administrators from the two teams. The referee pulled out an old coin and I called tails. It was the right call and Italy were through to the final. I went racing upstairs as the stadium was still full and about 70,000 fans were waiting to hear the result. My celebrations told them that they could celebrate an Italian victory."
The rise of Spain
For decades, Spain didn't really click in major international tournaments. It all changed with the arrival of their golden generation of players " Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Villa, Fernando Torres, David Silva, Carles Puyol, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Iker Casillas etc to name a few. A team bursting with talent and deserving of trophies. They clinched their first major trophy after 44 years at the 2008 Euro and then went to become world champions in 2010, and defended their Euro title in 2012. They are the only national team to win three consecutive major titles.