Before 1980, only four teams qualified for the final tournament. From 1980 eight teams competed and in 1996 the tournament expanded again to the current number of teams, 16. The competing teams are chosen by a series of qualifying games: in 1960 and 1964 through home and away play-offs; from 1968 through a combination of both qualifying groups and play-off games. The host country was selected from the four finalists after they were determined through qualifying. Since the expansion of the final tournament starting from 1980, the host country, or countries, have been chosen beforehand and qualify automatically. The defending champions have never been granted an automatic place in the finals.
2012 and 2016 bids On the 18th April 2007, Poland/Ukraine were selected to host the 2012 competition. They beat off competition from the highly favoured Italy and a joint bid from Croatia/Hungary. In 2010, UEFA will decide which country will host Euro 2016. Sweden and Norway are currently planning a joint bid, and it has been reported that Wales and Scotland will also bid together. Bids should be submitted in 2008.
There is much discussion about an expansion of the tournament grid to 24 teams, started by Scotland and Ireland, due to the increased number of football associations in Europe after the breakups of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the USSR. The new president of UEFA, Michel Platini, is reported to be in favour of expansion. However, on April 17, 2007, UEFA's Executive Committee formally decided against expansion in 2012
In the current 16-team format, and because of the requirement that both final matches of a qualifying group be played at the same time, the practical minimum number of stadia is eight. At least one stadium must have UEFA 5-star rating to host the final, and all others must have 4-star rating or more. Also, concentrating more than two stadia in a single host city is likely to put severe strain on that city's transportation and lodging infrastructure. This means that host stadia must be located in at least four different cities—generally six to eight in practice, as few cities outside the capitals of most European countries have enough resident sports teams with attendances high enough to justify the existence of two large stadia. As a consequence, transport between venues for the teams and the large numbers of visiting fans is of crucial importance and often requires significant investment to improve road, rail, and air networks.
These demanding requirements make it increasingly difficult for small- and medium-sized countries to host a Euro alone. The population of Portugal, at just over 10 million, may represent the threshold below which a country cannot bid by itself. Though Portugal staged a successful Euro in 2004, it is unclear whether its investment will pay off. Some of the stadia built for the occasion are rarely, if ever, full during domestic league or cup matches.
Joint hosting, as done in 2000 and 2008, can offer a solution to this problem. Since the 1990s, countries have been allowed to act as joint hosts. Belgium and the Netherlands were the first countries to co-host the competition in 2000. In the 2008 tournament Austria and Switzerland will co-host the event, held from June 7 - June 29, 2008. UEFA has unofficially set the maximum number of co-hosts at two by turning down a so-called "Nordic bid" of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden to host Euro 2008 jointly. With two co-hosts, each organizing country needs only provide good transportation between three or four host cities and build or renovate four stadia, with a better chance of a positive return on investment. A large number of nations with populations around five million, such as Scotland or Croatia, now have an opportunity to become hosts. An element of sporting fairness is also present, as co-hosting gives smaller countries with good national teams (such as the Czech Republic) the same opportunity as their football equals with larger populations (such as Spain) to earn a Euro berth without having to qualify.
With the proposed expansion of the Euro to 24 teams, the requirements become even more stringent. The experience of past 24-team World Cups (1982 to 1994) shows that nine to 12 stadia are necessary to host such a competition, 12 being the ideal number. In practice, eight to 12 cities are now involved, which magnifies transportation and lodging issues.
If UEFA maintains its unofficial limit of two co-hosts, the minimum country size to mount a bid will therefore increase and will probably lie between five and 10 million. It is also possible that UEFA would become open to joint bids by three countries, which would keep the requirements unchanged for each co-host and enable the same pool of nations to bid as in the 16-team format. Qualifying would, however, become marginally more difficult for non-hosts: 21 berths would remain open to 48 teams (i.e., a 43.8% selection rate), versus 22 berths for 49 teams (a 44.9% rate) for a two-host Euro.