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European Championships 1972

Host nation: Belgium
Winners: West Germany

This was perhaps the tournament that saw the still new championship come of age. This was perhaps thanks to the tournament throwing up a truly great side in the early 1970s West Germany vintage in which Gunter Netzer ruled the midfield roost.

This was not quite the side that won the World Cup two years later but a side playing a flair-filled brand of football rarely seen from a German side since. By then Netzer's influence had waned but he burned brightly in 1972.

And with this new dawn came a new name for the championships - the Nations Cup became the European Championship. And all 32 UEFA member nations save for Iceland entered. The first round was then split into eight groups of four with the two-leg quarter-final eliminator to follow.

The Germans got into their stride quickly in the group stage and finished well clear of Poland, a side who would go on to be one of the premier sides of the next decade. England, the Soviets, Belgium, holders Italy, Belgium, Hungary and the Yugoslavs completed the final eight.

This gave the Germans the chance to exert more revenge on England for 1966 though much of that pain had been soothed by victory at Mexico 70. But it did give them a chance to take their first win away from Wembley. This was secured in some style as Netzer, minded by Borussia Monchengladbach colleague Herbert Wimmer, ruled the midfielder while sweeper Franz Beckenbauer was imperious at the back as his Bayern Munich team-mates Uli Hoeness and Paul Breitner also glittered.

The deadly finishing of Gerd Muller was still a threat and his late goal rounded off a devastating last ten minutes for the Germans in their 3-1 away win. A dull 0-0 draw in Berlin saw England go out of the competition as a decade of international disaster beckoned for the Three Lions.

The Soviet Union continued its fine record in the tournament by continuing their hex over the Yugoslavs. Italy crashed out to Belgium to give up their trophy as Belgian legends Paul van Himst and Wilfred van Moer dominated. Hungary continued their recent good record in beating the Romanians after a play-off.

And so the competition moved to Belgium where an Eastern Bloc final competitor was guaranteed by a semi between Hungary and the Soviets. The poorly attended game was won by a single Antoly Konkov goal after Hungary's Zambo missed a late penalty. The other semi saw the hosts, who had lost Van Moer to a broken leg, mount a late fightback but a late Polleunis goal was not enough after twin Gerd Muller strikes. The Belgians would have to settle for third.

The Soviets were worthy finallists but they could not deal with the flow of attacks that Netzer co-ordinated. The midfielder struck the bar before Muller struck twice and Wimmer was rewarded for a tournament of relentless graft after a mistake from Russian keeper Rudakov.

Muller's goal made him leading scorer with 11 by a country mile, a distance by which his team were better than their rivals. Indeed, no team has perhaps dominated a tournament in the same way as the nationalmannschaft of 1972, and though the Germans would go on to be World champs two years later this team is regarded as their best ever by many, including Der Kaiser himself.