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May 1, 2008

European Championships 1980

Host nation: Italy
Winners: West Germany

Such had been the success of the previous tournament with its twists and turns that the finals tournament was expanded to be a two groups of four from which the two finallists would be decided. With Italy given host nation automatic qualification, the 32 team qualifiers had to be rejigged into three groups of five countries and four of four.

It was to be a happy group of qualifiers for the English as they ran away with their qualifiers with Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking outstanding under the management of Ron Greenwood. The Germans, smarting from events in Belgrade, made short work of their group too.

The rest were closer with Belgium, who were feeling the benefits of a new generation of players like Jean Marie Pfaff, Eric Gerets and Jan Ceulemans to complement the playmaking skills of Van Moer, pipping the Austrian Hans Krankl generation. Holland once again got the better of the Poles, while France's new generation lost out to the Czech holders. The Greeks were the wild card and would be predictable whipping boys in a group featuring the Germans, Dutch and Czechs.

Sadly the new tournament structure and points system of two for a win and one for a draw brought about a defensive approach. England's promise faded amidst disturbing terrace scenes. In Turin, police fired tear gas into England fans as their team drew with Belgium. And then a goal from Marco Tardelli after a Phil Neal error saw the Italians all but end their chances. A win over Spain was not enough as Belgium held the hosts to go through.

West Germany, in the absence of retired stars like Beckenbauer, Maier and the Mullers now had Bernd Schuster, a playmaker of rare grace, Harald Schumacher, a keeper of class and notoriety and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a deadly striker and new Bayern hero to replace Gerd Muller. The Dutch were on the slide with most of their 1970s hero now retired, in exile or unable to play. Only Johnny Rep and Ruud Krol of the legends remained.

German revenge was gained quickly for Belgrade 1976 as a Rummenigge goal was enough to beat the Czechs. The grudge match with the Dutch was won largely as a result of the skills of Schuster as he laid on a hat-trick for Klaus Allofs. Though the Dutch came back with a penalty from Johnny Rep and a Rene van der Kerkhof thunderbolt the Germans had proved their mettle and were worthy finallists.

The Dutch entered an eight-year international exile and the Czechs received partial consolation for losing their throne with another spot-kick win in beating Italy to third place. The hosts, on their way back after a disappointing 1970s would be world champs within two years.

The cutting edge that the Germans had in the skills of Schuster and Rummenigge told in the final in Roma's Stadio Olimpico though it would be Horst Hrubesch, a battering ram of a striker, who would be the hero.

Schuster set up the Hamburg giant known as 'The Monster' for a 10th minute first and the Germans laid siege to Pfaff's goal until the break. But in the second half, the Belgians, with van Moer, at 35, prompting his younger counterparts, played the better football and though a Rene Vandereycken penalty was harshly awarded for an Uli Stielke foul on Francois van der Elst that was outside the box, justice of a sort was done when the Belgiums equalised.

But the Germans achieved what they felt was their own just desserts two minutes from time when Rummenigge's corner evaded Pfaff's foolish flap and Hrubecsh was only too happy to nod in at the far post. Pfaff, who prided himself on being the best keeper in the world, cried tears of pain.

Hrubesch, much criticised at home, lapped up the plaudits his debut international goals brought. Rummenigge would soon be crowned European Player of the Year as the Germans celebrated getting back what was rapidly becoming 'their' trophy.