In gaining a semifinal berth, Spain becomes the first Euro winner since 1988 champ Netherlands to make it back into the tournament semifinals.
Such is the quality of the European Championship field, time and again. It’s not just a tournament that is ridiculously difficult to repeat as winner, it’s nearly impossible to even get into position.
The Netherlands won in 1988 and then returned to the semis in 1992, only to be dispatched by the longshot Danes. But they did reach those semis, at least – just as Spain has done.
What has happened to each tourney champ since then?
Denmark (winners in 1992): The shock champs did qualify for the next tournament, but couldn’t extend the Euro magic and did not escape from group stage during the 1996 tourney in England. The Danes finished third in their group, behind Portugal and Croatia.
Germany (winners in 1996): This is where things started to go wrong for Germany, where leaders began to recognize that change was required. The heavy criticism came in waves after a lousy showing by an aging team in the tournament co-hosted in the lowlands, Belgium and Netherlands. Germany finished dead last in its group, behind Portugal, Romania and third-place England.
France (winners in 2000): Zinedine Zidane carried his team through group stage in Portugal with wins over England and Switzerland and with a draw against Croatia. But in a quarterfinal in Lisbon, France became the first knockout victim of eventual champion Greece.
Greece (winners in 2004): The Greeks were pretty much out of the tournament after 180 minutes, having lost to (and been shut out by) Sweden and Russia right away.