Defending an international trophy has been one of the great achievements for any nation down the years.  One of the major factors of why it is so difficult is the four year gap between each tournament, so it makes it tougher to keep the same players at the same level of performance.  Plus, your opponents are likely to have different line-ups too.

The World Cup has only been successfully defended once, by Brazil in 1962.  Argentina appeared in two Finals in 1986 and 1990, losing the latter to the team they beat in 1986, West Germany (or Germany as they were in 1990).  For West Germany/Germany, they appeared in three successive Finals, 1982, 1986 and 1990.  Netherlands were losing finalists in successive years 1974 and 1978.

The European Championships have proved even harder to defend.  The restricted number of qualifiers and only the hosts qualifying automatically means that just getting to the finals a second time can be tough enough.  When the format of the finals was just 4 nations only USSR and West Germany were in the finals again, four years after winning the trophy.  Once the competition was expanded to 8 teams no team made 2 Finals in succession, although Germany lost the Final of the last 8-team tournament in 1992, and then won the first 16-team tournament in 1996.

1960 – Winners – USSR

1964 – Defending Champions – USSR

USSR played just two knock-out rounds to get to the final stages, beating Italy and Sweden.  They were drawn against Denmark in the Semi-Finals and beat them 3-0, to then meet Spain in the Final.  USSR lost 1-2.

1968 – Defending Champions – Spain

For the first time in the competition there was a group stage for qualifying.  Spain won their group and came up against England in the Quarter-Finals.  England won the 1st leg 1-0 at Wembley and then won the game in Madrid 2-1 and that was the end of Spain’s challenge

1972 – Defending Champions – Italy

Italy won their qualifying group but were shocked by Belgium in the Quarter-Finals.  In the 1st leg at the San Siro, they were held to a 0-0 draw.  Two weeks later they travelled to Anderlecht and were beaten 1-2.  Belgium were then chosen to host the finals and eventually finished 3rd.

1976 – Defending Champions - West Germany

West Germany won their qualifying group, and were then up against Spain in the Quarter-Finals.  They held the Spaniards to a 1-1 draw in Madrid and then won 2-0 back in Munich.  Yugoslavia were then chosen to host the final stages, and the Germans were up against them in the Semi-Finals.  The Yugoslavs were 2-0 up by half-time, but Heinz Flohe and Dieter Muller scored in the second half to force extra time.  Muller then scored twice more in the extra 30 minutes and the Germans won 4-2.

In the Final they were up against Czechoslovakia in Belgrade.  Czechoslovakia took an early lead through Svehlik and then Dobias doubled it, before Muller quickly got a goal back for the Germans.  Holzenbein eventually equalised to take the game into extra time and then penalties.  Czechoslovakia won the shootout, 5-3 with Antonin Panenka scoring the winning penalty in a manner recently copied by Pirlo against England.

1980 – Defending Champions - Czechoslovakia

With the new expanded format the Quarter-Finals were binned and 7 countries would join hosts Italy in a final stage we have now become familiar with.  Czechoslovakia won their qualifying group, which contained France, and then were drawn into the same group as West Germany in the final stage.  They lost to the Germans, beat Greece and were then held by Netherlands to finish 2nd in the group.  This was the last time the Euros included a 3rd Place Match and Czechoslovakia were in against Italy.  The game ended 1-1 and Czechoslovakia won the shootout, 9-8.

1984 – Defending Champions – West Germany

West Germany won their qualifying group, but only on goal difference from Northern Ireland.  In the group stages of the finals they were held to a 0-0 draw by Portugal, beat Romania and then were beaten by Spain who scored the only goal of the game in the 90th minute.  They had failed to get past the group stage.  Spain went on to lose the Final against France

1988 – Defending Champions - France

For the first time ever, the defending champions didn’t get past the group stage of qualifying.  France finished 3rd behind USSR and East Germany and only 1 team went through.  USSR eventually lost the Final to Netherlands

1992 – Defending Champions - Netherlands

Netherlands beat Portugal to win their qualifying group.  They also won their group in the final stages, beating Scotland and Germany, but drawing with CIS (USSR under a different name).  In the Semi-Finals they were up against Denmark, who had qualified for the finals but were instated once Yugoslavia were banned.  Frank Rijkaard scored a late equaliser to take the game to extra time and then penalties.  The Danes won the shootout 5-4 and then beat Germany in the Final.

1996 – Defending Champions - Denmark

Denmark were one of the beneficiaries of the newly expanded tournament as they qualified for the final stages despite finishing 2nd to Spain n their qualifying group.  In the final stages they were held by Portugal, thumped by Croatia and by the time they beat Turkey they were already out.

2000 – Defending Champions - Germany

Germany won their qualifying group easily, but were far from the dominant force of 4 years earlier.  They drew with Romania and were beaten by England and Portugal to finish bottom of their group in the finals stage.

2004 – Defending Champions - France

When France won Euro 2000 they were also reigning World Champions too, and they won every game of this qualifying competition to storm into the finals.  Two late goals from Zidane beat England, then they were held by Croatia and then they beat Switzerland.  They were surprisingly beaten in the Quarter-Finals stage by Greece, who went on to win the tournament.

2008 - Defending Champions - Greece

Greece had shocked Europe by winning in 2004.  They won their qualifying group, dropping just 5pts, as they finished 7pts ahead of Turkey.  Drawn with Spain, Russia and Sweden, they opened up in Salzburg against Sweden.  2 goals in 5 minutes midway through the second half saw Greece lose their opening match.  They then lost by a single goal against Russia, before going in front against Spain.  Again, 2 goals in the second half eventually sunk them and Greece had lost all 3 matches in their defence of the trophy.

2012 – Defending Champions – Spain

Spain won the trophy in 2008 without seeming to break sweat.  They won every qualifying game too and have won 4 out of 5 matches in this tournament as well.  They drew in their opening game against Italy, who they are up against on Sunday to try and become the first team to successfully defend their title.