By scoring in Wales’ 3-0 win over Slovakia, Gareth Bale became only the seventh player to score in every group stage game at a European Championship finals.
Group stages have not always been a feature of the competition however, with it changing format several times during its 56-year history.
Summary of European Championship Format
Staged every four years since 1960, and formerly called the European Cup of Nations until 1968 when it changed name, the European Championships is one of the most prestigious tournaments in world football.
The first five editions of the tournament, from 1960 to 1976, were contested between four teams and consisted of just four games in the form of semi finals, a third and fourth place play – off and a final.
Thereafter from 1980 to 1992, eight teams competed at the finals. To accommodate that, the organisers UEFA decided to create two groups of four teams, who played each other once. Subsequently the group winners advanced to the final, whist playing a third and fourth place play-off were the runners-up.
Following the increase in teams from four to eight in 1980, for EURO 1996 UEFA elected to once again expand the tournament so that there were 16 finalists competing. They were divided into four groups of four, with the first- and second-placed team in each group progressing to the quarter finals, with the third and fourth place play-off being omitted from the tournament schedule, as it continues to be.
The finals remained a 16 team tournament until this year, when for the first time 24 countries are competing at a European Championship. UEFA’s organising committee have facilitated that expansion by setting up six groups of four teams, with the winners, runners-up and four best third-placed teams advancing to the last 16 of the competition.
Prolific group stage goal-scorers
Helping Wales to achieve that, as they finished top of Group B, was Bale who scored one goal in each of his team’s three group games against Slovakia, England and Russia. In doing so the 26-year-old Real Madrid star became just the seventh player to achieve the feat, with the group stage goal scoring exploits of his six predecessors summarised below.
Michel Platini (France) – 7 goals – France 1-0 Denmark; France 5 – 0 Belgium (3, 1 pen); France 3 – 2 Yugoslavia (3)
Alan Shearer (England) – 4 goals – England 1-1 Switzerland; England 2- 0 Scotland (pen); England 4 – 1 Holland (2)
Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria) – 3 goals – Spain 1 – 1 Bulgaria (pen); Bulgaria 1 – 0 Romania; France 3 – 1 Bulgaria
Savo Milosevic (Yugoslavia) – 4 goals – Yugoslavia 3 – 3 Slovenia (2); Norway 0 – 1 Yugoslavia; Yugoslavia 3 – 4 Spain
Milan Baros (Czech Republic) – 3 goals – Czech Republic 2 – 1 Latvia; Holland 2 – 3 Czech Republic; Germany 1 – 2 Czech Republic
Ruud Van Nistlerooy (Holland) – 4 goals – Germany 1 – 1 Holland; Holland 2 – 3 Czech Rep; Holland 3 – 0 Latvia (2, 1 pen)
Entry to goal-scoring club now closed until Euro 2020
Given that there are no other players at Euro 2016 capable of emerging from the group stages after having scored in each game, until Euro 2020 at the earliest, Gareth Bale is to be the last entrant into the elite goal scoring club and is the only member who is not a striker. As such, that speaks volumes for the brilliance of Wales’ talismanic no. 10.