Light Blue Football with Net Pattern

Which Teams Have Never Made it Through the Group Stage at the Euros?

Although the first UEFA European Championship took place in 1960 (when it was known as the European Nations’ Cup), it was a straight knockout competition and didn’t involve a group stage. In the early editions of this brilliant event just four teams qualified for the finals, making a group phase rather redundant! It was not until the sixth Euros – the 1980 European Football Championship in Italy – that the tournament proper expanded to eight teams and introduced a group stage.

Some form of group format has been used in each Euros tournament since then but are there any sides that have made it to the tournament proper but who have never made it out of their group? Well, yes there are. We’ll go through the details of each of them shortly. But first, let’s give some context about how the group stage worked at the various tournaments.

The Group Stage Format

1980 Flip Board

The group stage was introduced for the tournament in 1980. There were two groups of four teams; each team played the other three in their group once, with the teams who topped their group (West Germany and
Belgium) going on to meet in the final and the sides that finished second (Czechoslovakia and Italy) meeting in the third-place play-off. As such, it was possible to progress from the group stage but still have no chance of actually winning the tournament. The powers that be rightly recognised this was a little strange and so they tweaked things for the tournaments that followed.

The Top Two Progress – 1984-1992

As with the 1980 tournament, eight teams were split into two groups of four and each side played against the other three teams in their group once. The difference in these tournaments was that the top two teams from each group progressed to the knockout stage with the winner of Group 1 playing the runner-up in Group 2 and the winner of Group 2 playing the runner-up in Group 1 in the semi-finals.

More Teams, More Groups – 1996-2012

From 1996 the Euros expanded to include 16 teams which were split into four groups of four, with each side playing the other three in their group once. The top two teams from each group progressed to the quarter-finals with a group winner facing a runner-up from another group in each of the four matches.

Twenty-Four Teams Compete – 2016-present

Despite the 16-team format making complete sense to many football fans, pundits, players and managers, the powers that be – that is, UEFA – decided to shake things up a little by expanding the number of teams to 24. Given the extra teams, the format was changed to include six groups of four teams, and an extra round – the so-called round of 16 – was added.

Given the 24 teams taking part and the fact that there are 16 places up for grabs in the first knockout round, it became far easier to make it through to the group stage. Indeed, two thirds of the field progress past the first round. As well as the winner and runner-up from each group moving on to the round of 16, the four best third-placed teams also progressed. At France 2016 this worked very much in Portugal’s favour as they finished third in their group after drawing all three of their games… and then they went on to win the whole tournament!

Which Sides Have Never Made It Past The Group Stage?

Now let’s turn to the teams that have qualified for the European Championship tournament proper but who have never made it out of their group. Note that we are including tournaments from 1980 up to and including 2016.


Scottish Flag

Prior to Euro 2020, Scotland had only ever qualified for two Euros tournaments: 1992 in Sweden and 1996 in England. On each occasion, they managed just a single victory and on both occasions, they missed out by a narrow margin on making it through to the knockout stage of the tournament.

In 1992, Scotland had a tough group, to say the least, with Germany, Netherlands and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS – the former Soviet Union) being the other teams. Their 3-0 victory over CIS came too late, however, as they had already lost to the other two sides and they finished in third place, a point behind Germany.

At Euro 1996, things were agonising for the Scots. They may well have beaten England but for a missed penalty being rapidly followed up by a Paul Gascoigne stunner at the other end. Not only did they lose 2-0 to the tournament hosts at Wembley, but they only missed out on a quarter-final spot because Netherlands had scored more goals than them. Scotland had mustered a 0-0 draw with Netherlands and beaten Switzerland 1-0, but, alas, it was not enough to make it through to the knockout stages.


Ukraine Flag

Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union side prior to the breakup of the USSR, and then they were briefly included in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) for a time in the early 1990s and competed at Euro 1992 in that guise. But we are focussing on the tournaments from Euro 1996 onwards when Ukraine had its own independent national side. They didn’t actually qualify for the Euros in 1996, 2000, 2004 or 2008, but they made it to Euro 2012 on account of co-hosting the tournament with Poland.

Home advantage didn’t work too well for Ukraine though. Despite having their talismanic striker Andriy Shevchenko at the helm of the side, Ukraine were unable to advance to the knockout stage of the competition. To be fair, they had a tough draw as England, France and Sweden were the other sides in their group. They managed to beat Sweden 2-1 (with two goals from Shevchenko), but they went down 2-0 to France and 1-0 to England which left them in third place, a point behind second-placed France.

Ukraine qualified without the help of being co-hosts for Euro 2016, which took place in France. Despite the expanded format and the greater opportunities to progress to the round of 16, Ukraine had an appalling tournament. Drawn in a group with Germany, Poland and Northern Ireland, Ukraine lost all three games and didn’t even manage to score a goal! As such, they finished as the 24th-ranked side of the 24 teams at the tournament.


Austria Flag

Austria qualified for their first European Championship in 2008 when they were selected as co-hosts with Switzerland. They also qualified for the 2016 tournament in France. They failed to make it through the group stage in both of those tournaments. In fact, they failed to win a single game in either of them.

In 2008 they lost to Croatia and Germany but drew with Poland in their group to finish third, five points behind Germany in second spot. Despite the expanded format in 2016, the Austrians fared no better. They lost 2-0 to neighbours Hungary in their opener before managing a creditable draw with (eventual winners) Portugal, but they completely fluffed their lines in their final group match against minnows Iceland when they lost 2-1, a 94th-minute Arnór Ingvi Traustason strike proving to be the nail in Austria’s already closing coffin.


Bulgaria Flag

Another side that has made it to two Euros tournaments but failed to make it out of the group is Bulgaria. Given they had performed so well at the 1994 World Cup (when they made it to the semi-finals), many people had high hopes for the side coming into Euro 1996. Unfortunately for the Bulgarians, there was to be no repeat of their heroics of two years before. Though to be fair, few teams would have fancied their chances when drawn in a group that contained France and Spain. They gave it a decent go, managing a draw with Spain and a victory over the other side in the four-team group, Romania. But a 3-1 defeat to France meant they finished in third place, a point off the pace.

When Bulgaria made it to the Euros in Portugal in 2004, they didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory. Drawn in a group containing Italy, Denmark and Sweden, they lost to all three of them (including a 5-0 demolition at the hands of Sweden in their opener) to leave them miles away from progressing to the knockout stage. Scored one, conceded nine, nil points, bottom of the pile.


Albania Flag

From a footballing perspective, it’s fair to call Albania minnows. Whilst they are a young nation, they have never qualified for the World Cup and their one and only European Championship came when they made it to Euro 2016 in France. It was quite an achievement to even make it to the tournament proper, given their population of fewer than three million, and few people expected Albania to get anywhere near making the knockout stage.

As it turned out, they gave a very good account of themselves and though they lost to Switzerland (1-0) and France (2-0), they earned a fine 1-0 triumph over Romania to finish in third place in the group and only missed out on one of the four best third-placed finishers on goal difference. Northern Ireland and eventual winners Portugal both earned the same number of points in their groups as Albania mustered but pipped the Balkan nation to the next phase.


Latvia Flag

Latvia was another side that was previously included within the Soviet Union, but here we are looking at when they competed under their own flag. And that means we’re looking at the one and only time they’ve qualified for a major tournament when they made it to Portugal in 2004.

Not exactly packed full of household names, Latvia were not expected to make much of an impact in Portugal especially considering they were placed in a group with Germany, Netherlands and Czech Republic. The Latvians were far from disgraced, however, as they went down narrowly to the Czechs (2-1) before a laudable 0-0 draw with Germany. The 3-0 defeat to Netherlands in their final group clash meant it was game over for the relative minnows, as they finished bottom of the group.


Norway Flag

Despite a decent football history and progressing past the group stage in the World Cup on two occasions, Norway have not repeated that achievement in the Euros. They have only managed to qualify for the finals once, for Euro 2000 which was co-hosted by Belgium and Netherlands.

They were handed a tough group too alongside Spain, Yugoslavia and Slovenia. But they got off to a flyer as they beat Spain 1-0 in Rotterdam. Unfortunately, they went down 1-0 to Yugoslavia in the next game and could only manage a 0-0 draw with Slovenia. Despite finishing level on four points with Yugoslavia, that defeat to them (thanks to a goal from former Aston Villa man Savo Milošević), meant the Yugoslavs progressed on the head-to-head result and Norway were sent packing.


Slovenia Flag

Formerly part of what was Yugoslavia, Slovenia began competing under their own flag in 1991. Slovenia’s one and only European Championship is that which we just mentioned, Euro 2000, where they were drawn against their “parent” nation. As mentioned, it was a tough group. In what was rightly seen by many as a real grudge match, Slovenia battled to a 3-3 draw with Yugoslavia in their opening clash, before going down 2-1 to eventual group winners Spain and then grinding out the aforementioned 0-0 draw with Norway. Slovenia finished at the bottom of the pile on two points.

Better Luck Next Time?

As we have seen, there are plenty of teams who have made it to the European Championship tournament proper on at least one occasion but have never made it past the group stage. But given the expanded tournament these days there is a much better chance for some of the smaller teams to make it to the tournament in the first place and – once there – to progress through to the knockout stage, even if that’s as one of the best third-placed sides.

Given that Portugal took that route when they won the tournament in 2016, it is clear that sometimes scraping through the group phase can be enough. What’s more, given that the tournament has been won by real outsiders in both 1992 (Denmark) and 2004 (Greece), there is still hope for almost all sides that fall under the UEFA umbrella that the next Euros could be theirs for the taking.