It took more than 30 years for Henri Delaunay's idea to become reality and when the inaugural Nations Cup was launched in 1958 it received a cautious welcome, with only 17 countries entering - West Germany, Italy and England were among the absentees.
It was a straightforward knockout tournament with home and away legs with only the last four advancing to the four-team playoff finals in France.
The Soviet Union, who were awarded a bye into the last four after Spain refused to play them on political grounds, beat Czechoslovakia 3-0 while in the other semifinal Yugoslavia came from 4-2 down in the second half to beat France 5-4.
The final, watched by only 26,370 in the Parc des Princes, saw the Soviets beat Yugoslavia 2-1 after extra time with Viktor Ponedelnik scoring the winner in the 113th minute.
1964 in Spain
The second tournament attracted all the big names bar the Germans but one of them, the Netherlands, were the first giant-killing victims of the tournament when they were beaten 3-2 on aggregate by Luxembourg despite playing both legs at home.
The final-four team tournament was held in Spain with defending champions the Soviet Union beating Denmark 3-0 and the hosts squeezing past Hungary 2-1 in extra time in the semifinals.
Spain won the Madrid final, also 2-1, with a late header by Marcelino -- their last international success for 44 years.
1968 in Italy
Another four team finals tournament took place in Italy in 1968, but this was the first officially re-named the European Championship and featuring qualifying groups for the first time.
The final event in Italy saw the host nation advance to the final after winning on the determining method used at the time - the toss of a coin after a goalless draw with the Soviet Union in Naples.
Yugoslavia beat world champions England 1-0 with a late goal in the other semifinal in which Alan Mullery had the misfortune of becoming the first England player ever to be sent off in 96 years of England internationals.
The final in Rome's Olympic stadium ended in a 1-1 draw after a late equaliser for the hosts so a replay was held two days later when Italy, fielding five fresh players, won 2-0.
1972 in Belgium
Most of the drama in the 1972 edition took place in the quarterfinals with the final-four tournament in Belgium something of an anti-climax.
Italy, the defending champions and only two years on from reaching the World Cup final, were knocked out by Belgium in the quarterfinals while England went out to West Germany two years after losing to them at the same stage in the World Cup.
In the semifinals Belgium lost 2-1 to West Germany while the Soviet Union maintained their impressive championship pedigree with a 1-0 win over Hungary - watched by a crowd of less than 2,000 - to reach their third final in four attempts.
The Germans, however, with Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Mueller, Uli Hoeness, Guenter Netzer and goalkeeper Sepp Maier, were far too strong and won comfortably 3-0 with two goals for Mueller and one for Herbert Wimmer.
1976 in Yugoslavia
After the previous tournament had been a disappointment, 1976 produced some classic matches in Yugoslavia, the first time the finals were held in Eastern Europe.
The Netherlands, containing the nucleus of the team who had lost the World Cup final to West Germany two years earlier, were frustrated again in the first semifinal against Czechoslovakia.
Both teams were down to 10 men after 90 minutes with the scores at 1-1 - captain Anton Ondrus put the Czechs ahead then scored an own goal - but the game turned when Zdenek Nehoda headed the Czechs into the lead and the Dutch had Wim van Hanegem sent off for arguing about the goal. The Czechs eventually ran out 3-1 winners.
World and European champions West Germany had lost deadly striker Gerd Mueller but replaced him with namesake Dieter, who duly delivered a hat-trick in the 4-2 semifinal win over Yugoslavia, who had led 2-0 until the 65th minute.
The Germans again showed their determination when they fell 2-0 behind in the final, Mueller pulling one back and Bernd Holzenbein equalising in the last minute.
After no further goals in extra time the final became the first at a major tournament to be settled on a penalty shoot-out, Antonin Panenka netting the decider with one of the most famous penalties of all time, a brilliantly-executed chip.
1980 in Italy
The increasing popularity of the competition persuaded UEFA to expand the finals to an eight-team competition, with two groups of four producing two finalists.
Host nation Italy failed to progress as outsiders Belgium topped a tight Group Two with one win and two draws.
West Germany made it three finals in a row after gaining revenge over the Czechs and beating the Netherlands.
Big striker Horst Hrubesch was the German hero in the final, putting them ahead after 10 minutes and, after Belgium had equalised with a 71st-minute penalty, heading the second in a 2-1 win two minutes from time.
A disappointing third-place playoff, where Czechoslovakia beat Italy 9-8 on penalties after a dull 1-1 draw persuaded UEFA to drop the unpopular match for future tournaments.
1984 in France
Michel Platini of France dominated the tournament scoring nine goals in all as the hosts were the deserved winners of a superb tournament that began with two groups of four providing four semifinalists.
France, still stinging from their 1982 World Cup semifinal defeat by West Germany won all three of their group games under the inspiration of their midfield maestro Platini and their semifinal meeting with Portugal is still considered to be one of the finest matches of all time.
France deservedly led through Jean-Francois Domergue but after superb goalkeeping by Portugal's Manuel Bento, Jordao took the game into extra time.
The striker then put Portugal ahead before Domergue equalised and Platini got the winner a minute from the end. Time seemed to stand still as he collected the ball, controlled it and scored with the Portuguese defenders seemingly mesmerised by his brilliance.
Awaiting France in the final were Spain, who had made it to the tournament controversially with a 12-1 win over Malta in their final qualifying match. Once there, they performed well, a group win over West Germany and a penalty shoot-out success after a 1-1 semifinal draw with Denmark sending them through.
The final turned in the 56th minute when Spain goalkeeper Luis Arconada allowed a tame Platini shot to squeeze under his body for the French skipper's ninth goal of the tournament. Bruno Bellone added a second in the final minute to give a superb French team some long-awaited silverware.
1988 in West Germany
West Germany, hosting the tournament, were favourites and topped their qualifying group ahead of Italy.
But in the semifinals they lost to the Netherlands for the first time in 32 years, Marco van Basten securing a 2-1 win two minutes from time in Hamburg.
The Soviet Union topped their group and eased past Italy 2-0 in the semifinals but were outclassed in the final.
Ruud Gullit headed the Dutch into the lead after half an hour and Van Basten doubled the score with one of the most spectacular goals ever to grace any final, an acrobatic volley from a seemingly impossible angle wide on the right.
Goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen then saved an Igor Belanov penalty midway through the second half to kill off any hopes of a comeback.
1992 in Sweden
The tournament in Sweden was heavily influenced by politics, with Yugoslavia suspended shortly before the finals due to the problems in that country, the crumbling Soviet Union entering under the banner of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and a combined Germany team taking part for the first time.
Yugoslavia's replacements, Denmark, took full advantage of their late call-up, hurriedly putting together a team who clinched second place in their group behind Sweden.
In the semifinals the Danes edged past the Netherlands on penalties after a 2-2 draw, setting up a final against Germany, who beat the host nation in their semifinal 3-2.
The final turned out to be a fairy-tale success for the Danes, who overcame some notable absentees to clinch a 2-0 upset win.
Midfielder John Jensen chose the perfect moment to score his second goal in his 48th international, a superb 25-metre shot after 18 minutes, and Kim Vilfort got the second 12 minutes from time.
1996 in England
The tournament was the first to feature 16 teams, with four groups sending eight teams into the quarterfinals, but the main talking point was penalty shoot-outs, which were used to decide two of the quarterfinals and both semifinals.
Host nation England produced one of their best-ever performances to beat the Netherlands 4-1 in the group stage but needed penalties to get past Spain in the quarterfinals.
France also went through on spot kicks against the Dutch while Germany beat Croatia 2-1 and the Czech Republic doused a lively Portugal 1-0.
England took the lead in their semifinal against old rivals Germany but the game ended 1-1 after extra time and, just as they had in the World Cup six years earlier, the Germans proved the better men on penalties.
The other semifinal was a dull goalless draw in which the Czechs defeated France on penalties.
The Wembley final was notable as the first to be decided by a sudden-death "Golden Goal".
The Czechs led through Patrik Berger's 58th-minute penalty, substitute Oliver Bierhoff headed an equaliser in the 73rd minute and the big striker settled it four minutes into extra time when his less-than-venomous shot squeezed past Czech keeper Petr Kouba.
2000 in Netherlands and Belgium
For the first time a major soccer championship was staged in two countries as Belgium and the Netherlands shared the hosting honours, both qualifying automatically.
Belgium's performances on the pitch matched those of their fans - apathetic - but the Dutch people took the tournament to their hearts and were rewarded for draping their nation in orange by their team reaching the last four.
The Dutch beat France in the group stages and expectations were high after they thrashed Yugoslavia 6-1 in the quarterfinals.
England beat Germany in a competitive match for the first time since 1966 but both teams looked off the pace and failed to progress from the group stages as Portugal emerged as real title challengers.
Their hopes disappeared with a 2-1 defeat by France, secured by a controversial Zinedine Zidane penalty three minutes from the end of extra time amid chaotic scenes that led to subsequent bans for three Portuguese players who took their protests too far.
Italy had quietly made their way through, relying on solid defence, and spoiled the Dutch party with a semifinal victory on penalties after a 0-0 draw.
All the expectation in the final was of another cagey Italian performance but they came out all guns blazing and looked set for victory courtesy of Marco Delvecchio's 55th-minute goal.
However, Sylvain Wiltord equalised in injury time and fellow substitute David Trezeguet won it for the world champions with a golden-goal winner 13 minutes into extra time.
2004 in Portugal
Greece opened the tournament by stunning hosts Portugal in the first match and finished it by doing the same thing in the final to complete one of the most unlikely tournament victories.
Greece had never won a match in a finals tournament and had no star names in their squad but under the careful guidance of experienced German coach Otto Rehhagel they developed into a formidable unit whose defensive discipline and willingness to work for each proved too much for favoured opponents time and time again.
In the quarterfinals they beat France 1-0 while the Czech Republic beat Denmark 3-0 in the only other game not to go to penalties.
Hosts Portugal had recovered from their opening upset by beating Russia and Spain and after drawing a pulsating last-eight clash with England, advanced on penalties where David Beckham's skied effort became England's abiding memory of the tournament.
Netherlands overcame their dire shoot-out record to beat Sweden the same way after their goalless quarterfinal.
Portugal produced an excellent display to beat the Dutch 2-1 in the semis and after Greece upset the Czechs with a "silver goal" by Trainas Dellas which meant the game ended at halftime in extra time.
Everything seemed set fair for Portgual to gain revenge and triumph in front of their own fans in the final but again Greece refused to accept their appointed role.
Angelos Haristeas, who scored the quarter-final goal to beat France, carved his name into Greek sporting folklore when he headed home a corner after 57 minutes and complete an upset to match and probably surpass that of Denmark 12 years earlier.
2008 in Austria and Switzerland
Another jointly-hosted tournament in Austria and Switzerland ended with Spain finally delivering the major trophy that had eluded generations of their talented players since their first win in 1964.
It was a disappointing event for the hosts as neither managed to advance from the group stage while Spain, Netherlands and Croatia, who beat Germany 2-1, won all three of their qualifiers.
Italy frustrated Spain in the quarterfinals but lost on penalties as Spain reached the semis of a major tournament for the first time in 24 years, while Turkey also went through on a shootout after snatching an equaliser against Croatia in the last minute of extra time - seconds after the Croats thought they had won it by scoring themselves.
Germany beat Portugal while Russia delivered a stunning performance to beat the Dutch 3-1 in extra time.
Fullback Phil Lahm scored in the last minute to give Germany a 3-2 win that broke Turkish hearts in the semis, while Spain swamped Russia 3-0.
Spain stuck to their passing principles in the final and Germany eventually ran out of steam as they battled to fight fires all over the pitch. Spain eventually found a way through after 33 minutes as Fernando Torres delivered a typically precise finish.
There was no way back for the Germans and Spain celebrated their first major trophy since becoming European champions 44 years earlier.
They went on to win the World Cup in South Africa two years later and now stand on the threshold of becoming the first country ever to win three successive major tournaments.
2012 in Poland and Ukraine
Sixteen teams are making their final preparations for the tournament which begins on Friday, the last 16-team finals before the format is expanded to 24 teams when it is staged in France in four years time.