Regarded as the international tournament, second only to the World Cup. In Brazil and Argentina, they refer to it as ‘the World Cup without us’.
The idea for this type of competition was originally proposed back in 1927 by Henri Delaunay. Delaunay was secretary-general of the French Football Federation, and was involved with Jules Rimet, in developing the idea for the World Cup. Delaunay went on to become General Secretary of UEFA until his death in 1954. Ironically, his dream of a European tournament didn’t become reality until 1958. Just as the original World Cup trophy was named after Rimet, the trophy for the European Championships was named after Delaunay.
The first competition was called the European Nations Cup. Only 17 nations entered, with countries such as West Germany, Italy and England declining to take part. The format was simply a knock-out over 2 legs until the Semi-Finals. When the final four teams were known, one of them was selected as a host and then Semi-Finals and Final matches were played over 5 days in July 1960.
The competition continued in this format right up to 1976. From 1980, UEFA started to expand the tournament to include more teams for the finals.
Republic of Ireland were involved in a Preliminary Round where they lost 2-4 to Czechoslovakia, after winning the 1st leg, 2-0. In the First Round, France, who had finished third in the World Cup in 1958, thumped Greece, 7-1, with Juste Fontaine (top scorer in Sweden in ’58) and Raymond Kopa amongst the goals. Spain beat Poland, 7-2 on aggregate with Di Stefano scoring 3.
After France had beaten Greece, 8-2, they then saw off Austria, 9-4 in the Quarter-Finals. Fontaine grabbed a hat-trick in the 1st leg. Yugoslavia overturned a 1-2 deficit to beat Portugal, 5-1. Czechoslovakia were barely in trouble against Romania, as they won 5-0 over 2 legs. There were only 3 ties in the Quarter-Finals as Spain refused to travel to Soviet Union and so withdrew from the tournament.
The four nations to compete the final stages of the tournament were USSR, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and France. France was selected as hosts.
6th July 1960 in Parc des Princes, Paris saw the first Semi-Final between France and Yugoslavia. The two had met in the Group stages in Sweden ’58, with Yugoslavia winning 3-2. The Yugoslavs took the lead in the 11th minute, but the French hit back a minute later. France lead, 2-1 at the break and within 10 minutes of the re-start, they were 3-1 up. Zanetic then got a goal back, before Heutte scored his 2nd of the game and France lead 4-2. Into the last 15 minutes and the Yugoslavs remarkably hit back with 3 goals in 4 minutes, to progress to the final. Two of the goals were scored by Drazan Jerkovic, who would go on to share the Golden Boot in the World Cup in 1962.
All of a sudden, the hosts were out and fears for the future of this type of tournament seemed valid. USSR easily beat Czechoslovakia, 3-0 in the other Semi, in Marseille. The Czechs won the Third Place Play-off, beating France, 2-0, a day before the first ever European Championship Final.
10th July 1960 was the date for the inaugural European Championship Final. A disappointing crowd of just 17,966 at the Parc des Princes, witnessed a match decided after extra time. Galic had given Yugoslavia the lead 2 minutes before half-time, which was then equalised by Metreveli, 4 minutes into the second period. With 7 minutes of extra time remaining, Viktor Ponedelnik headed the winner for the USSR and they won 2-1. It still remains the only major international championship won by either USSR or Russia.
Trivia fans might be interested to know the referee for the first final was one Arthur Ellis, who would later attract fame as referee on ‘It’s-a-Knockout’.
10th July 1960, Paris
USSR 2-1 YUGOSLAVIA
The second tournament saw an increase in the countries competing as 29 nations took part. Austria, Luxembourg and USSR received a bye to the first round and Greece withdrew after they were drawn against Albania.
West Germany was still missing, but Italy and England decided to enter this time round. England were up against France. A 1-1 draw at Hillsborough, then saw England being given an exhibition in Paris when France romped home, 5-2. An England team which included Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Charlton had been dumped out at the first hurdle. Italy didn’t have any trouble with Turkey. 4 goals from Alberto Orlando helped them win 6-0 in the 1st leg, then a solitary goal was enough in the 2nd leg.
Northern Ireland beat Poland, 2-0 in both legs, but Wales lost, 2-4 to Hungary. There was drama between Bulgaria and Portugal. Portugal lost the 1st leg, 1-3, but were 3-0 up in the return with 6 minutes to go before Iliev grabbed a late goal for Bulgaria and the tie was levelled. The replay was held in Rome, in front or barely 2,000 spectators, with Georgi Asparuhov scoring the only goal of the game to give Bulgaria the win with just 4 minutes to go.
The First Round saw Northern Ireland pull off a great result by holding Spain to a 1-1 draw in Bilbao. Unfortunately, Gento grabbed the only goal of the game at Windsor Park and the Irish were out. The shock of the round was when Luxembourg went to Rotterdam and beat the Dutch, 2-1. This was enough to see them progress with, probably, the best result of their history. Italy were then knocked out by the defending champions, USSR.
In the Quarter-Finals, Spain beat Republic of Ireland, 7-1 on aggregate, and USSR saw off Sweden, 4-2. France were beaten at home by Hungary, 1-3 and then in front of over 70,000 spectators, the Hungarians finished the job off with a 2-1 win. Luxembourg continued their excellent form with a 3-3 draw against Denmark. Ole Madsen scored a hat-trick for the Danes and then grabbed another double in the 2nd leg, but a late goal from Schmit saw Luxembourg force a replay. Madsen then scored again in the replay, which Denmark won 1-0.
The final tournament was held in Spain in June 1964. In Madrid, Spain were taken to extra time by Hungary, before Armancio won it for the hosts. In Barcelona, USSR won through to their 2nd successive final as they beat Denmark, 3-0.
Ironically, the final would be between Spain and USSR. The irony was that four years earlier the Spanish refused to play their opponents on political grounds, but presumably because the final was held in their country, they ignored this minor detail. Until their win in 2008, this remained Spain’s only major tournament success.
The Final was held in Madrid on 21st June 1964, in front of over 79,000 supporters. The USSR contained just two survivors from their 1960 triumph. Both teams scored in the opening 10 minutes, but the game seemed to heading for extra time before Spain won with a late goal from Marcelino Martinez in the last 6 minutes.
21st June 1964, Madrid
SPAIN 2-1 USSR
This was when the competition had a makeover. Renamed the European Championships, it now consisted of a qualifying competition with 31 teams divided into 8 groups. Each group winner then went into a knock-out stage. Holders Spain, won their group, as did Bulgaria, USSR, Hungary and France. Italy won a goal-laden group. Italy, Romania and Switzerland all scored 53 goals between them. Group 4 contained just 3 teams, West Germany, Yugoslavia and Albania. Yugoslavia pulled off the first surprise by beating West Germany, 1-0 in Belgrade twelve months after the Germans were losing finalists in the ’66 World Cup. West Germany then won the return, 3-1, and then travelled to Tirana in December 1967, needing a 1-0 win to progress. They couldn’t do it, and remarkably Albania held their illustrious opponents to a 0-0 draw with Yugoslavia going through. To date, Germany/West Germany has then qualified for the finals of every major tournament since.
Group 8 contained the home nations and the results were taken from the British Home International Championships of 1967 and 1968. 15th April 1967 is a date many Scottish fans remember as Scotland became the first side to beat the World Champions, England. Dennis Law gave the Scots a first-half lead at Wembley. Bobby Lennox then doubled it with 12 minutes to go, before Jackie Charlton got a goal back 6 minutes from time. Jim McCalliog then scored Scotland’s 3rd and Geoff Hurst’s goal 2 minutes from the end was merely a consolation. Scotland had been held in Cardiff and then lost 0-1 in Belfast, which ultimately cost them as England twice beat Wales and Northern Ireland. This set things up for the big game at Hampden in February 1968. Martin Peters 20 minute goal was then cancelled out by John Hughes (his only ever international goal) and the game ended 1-1 and England were through.
The Quarter-Finals were held around April and May and played over 2 legs. Italy overturned a 2-3 deficit to beat Bulgaria, 4-3 on aggregate, and USSR came from 0-2 down in 1st leg to win 3-0 in return against Hungary. France were held at home 1-1 by Yugoslavia, but then in Belgrade they were stuffed, 1-5. England were up against Spain and a Bobby Charlton goal 6 minutes from time won the 1st leg at Wembley. A month later in Madrid, Spain took the lead but then Martin Peters and Norman Hunter won it for England.
The finals were held in Italy and contained two nations (Italy and England) who weren’t interested in the competition when it first started in 1960. The first Semi-Final in Naples was a 0-0 draw between Italy and USSR. Neither side could be separated after 120 minutes of football and so the bright idea UEFA had to settle it all was, the toss a coin! The Soviet captain called incorrectly and Italy were through to the final. In Florence, the game between Yugoslavia and England looked to be heading for extra time before Dragan Dzajic scored a late winner and the World Champions were out.
Goals from Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst gave England a 2-0 win over USSR to claim third place. The Final was played in front of 85,000 in Rome and Dzajic was on the scoresheet again giving Yugoslavia a first half lead. Angelo Domenghini levelled things with just 10 minutes remaining. The game ended 1-1 after extra time, and this time a replay was necessary. Only 55,000 turned up two days later to see Italy carry off the trophy with a 2-0 win.
8th June 1968, Rome
ITALY 1-1 YUGOSLAVIA
10th June 1968, Rome
ITALY 2-0 YUGOSLAVIA
The Qualifying round had settled into the standard group phase, with 8 groups of 4. As in previous qualifying phases, Eastern European teams came to the fore. Hungary won their group containing France, and USSR won theirs containing Spain. Yugoslavia beat Netherlands to Group 7, and holders Italy were unbeaten in theirs. Belgium won Group 5, beating Scotland in the process, and Romania won Group 1, which contained Wales. West Germany won Group 8 with Gerd Muller scoring 6 of their 10 goals.
England were in Group 3 with Switzerland, Greece and Malta. They won the group, unbeaten, conceding just 3 goals. England were quite a changed team from the one which reached the Quarter-Finals in the World Cup in Mexico 1970, illustrated by just 5 of their 15 goals being scored by players who were in the World Cup squad that year.
During the Quarter-Finals, Belgium pulled off a shock when they knocked-out the holders, Italy. A 0-0 draw in Milan saw Belgium win 2-1 in Brussels. USSR continued their tradition of good performances in this competition by beating Yugoslavia, 3-0 over 2 legs. Hungary needed a replay to get past Romania. 1-1 in Budapest and then 2-2 in Bucharest, as the away goals rule didn’t apply. Hungary won the replay, 2-1 in Belgrade. The 4th tie was a repeat of the 1966 World Cup Final as England took on West Germany. The Germans, still buoyant from having put out England in Mexico, scored first at Wembley through Uli Hoeness. Into the final 15 minutes and Francis Lee equalised. Then with 5 minutes left, Gunter Netzer converted a penalty and Gerd Muller finished things off and England had been beaten 1-3 at home. Two weeks later in Berlin the game ended 0-0 and England were out.
From the four qualifiers, Belgium was announced as hosts. The final competition was held between 14th June-18th June 1972. The hosts, Belgium were up first against West Germany and Gerd Muller, in Antwerp. ‘Der Bomber’ scored another 2 goals and the Germans prevailed 2-1.
The other Semi-Final, in Brussels saw Anatoli Konkov score the only goal of the game to see USSR beat Hungary, 1-0, and reach their 3rd final in the last 4 tournaments. Belgium won the Third Place play-off, and then came the main event between West Germany and USSR.
The Germans were in a transition period, but were putting together a squad of players who would dominate European football for much of the decade. 9 of the players were drawn from just 2 clubs, Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach. Gerd Muller scored 2 more goals to take his tally to 11 for the competition, and West Germany won comfortably, 3-0.
18th June 1972, Brussels
WEST GERMANY 3-0 USSR
This would be the last tournament with just 4 teams in the final stages. During the qualifying round, Yugoslavia beat Northern Ireland to win Group 3. Spain beat Scotland to win Group 4, and USSR beat Republic of Ireland to win Group 6. Belgium reached the Quarter-Finals again, by beating France to win Group 7. Netherlands, runners-up in the 1974 World Cup, won their group beating Italy in the process. World Champions, West Germany won Group 8 despite only winning 3 of their 6 matches. In Group 2, Wales were drawn with Hungary, Austria and Luxembourg. They lost their opening match, 1-2 in Vienna and then won the rest of them, conceding just a further 2 goals, and stormed to become group winners. There were plenty of goals in this group, and all against Luxembourg, who conceded 28 goals in their 6 matches. Tibor Nyilasi scored 5 when Hungary beat them 8-1. Wales beat them 5-0 and Austria won 6-2.
England were drawn in Group 1 along with Czechoslovakia, Portugal and Cyprus. Having failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, Don Revie had replaced Alf Ramsey. England began well beating the Czechs, 3-0 at Wembley, but were then held at home to a 0-0 draw by Portugal. In April 1975 they beat Cyprus, 5-0 when Newcastle United’s Malcolm MacDonald scored all 5. Kevin Keegan scored the only goal of the game to win in Cyprus but then just when they were leading in Bratislava to a Mick Channon goal, the Czechs then hit back and won 2-1. England couldn’t win in Lisbon either and they finished 2nd in the group to Czechoslovakia.
The Quarter-Final stage saw Czechoslovakia beat USSR, 4-2 on aggregate. West Germany beat Spain, 3-1, and Wales were beaten by the same score by Yugoslavia. Netherlands were up against neighbours, Belgium. Rob Rensenbrink scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 win for the Dutch in Rotterdam. Johnny Rep and Johann Cruyff then scored in Brussels and Netherlands progressed 7-1.
From the four nations who qualified, Yugoslavia was named as hosts. Czechoslovakia were up against Netherlands, including most of the side who were runners-up in the recent World Cup. 19 minutes in and Czech captain, Anton Ondrus opened the scoring. This remained the only goal of the game until Ondrus scored again with 17 minutes to go. Unfortunately for the Czechs, it was at the wrong end and the game went into extra time. In the second period of extra time, Nehoda and Vesely completed a surprise 3-1 win for Czechoslovakia.
The next day, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia were 2-0 up inside the opening half-hour with goals from Popivoda and Dzajic. Heinz Flohe then got a goal back midway through the 2nd half, before Dieter Muller (no relation to Gerd) forced extra time. Muller then scored twice in extra time to complete his hat-trick and West Germany were through to their 3rd successive major Final.
Netherlands then won the Third Place Play-off, which again went to extra time. The Final looked set for another major trophy for West Germany. Jan Svehlik put the Czechs in front in the opening 10 minutes. Karol Dobias then doubled the lead, before Dieter Muller got a goal back. With a minute to go, Bernd Holzenbein grabbed a dramatic late equaliser for West Germany, to take the game into extra time. The two sides couldn’t be separated and so, for the first time in international football, a major Final went to penalties.
The Czechs lead 4-3 as each kicker had been successful, before Uli Hoeness skied his kick over the bar. Up stepped Antonin Panenka. Score and his nation were European Champions, miss and the Germans were still in the game. Panenka, who played his football for Bohemians Prague, calmly stepped up to the ball and as Sepp Maier dived to his left, he coolly chipped the ball into the middle of the goal.
This was the first time the watching football world had seen this type of penalty and it went down in history, mainly down to, not just the cheek of it, but the fact that Panenka, hitherto unknown, could commit such an act under such pressure.
Czechoslovakia were European Champions. This was the last tournament under this 4-nation final stage, as the tournament was expanded to 8 countries for the next competition.
20th June 1976, Belgrade
CZECHOSLOVAKIA 2-2 WEST GERMANY
Czechoslovakia won 5-3 on penalties.
For the rest of this series we will concentrate on each tournament. Next up is the 1980 Championships in Italy.