Like Euro 2016 the inaugural European Championships were held in France. In the next installment of The Panenka’s ‘Greatest Games of The European Championships’ we go all the way back to the first ever tournament in 1960.
There were goals galore in this nine goal thriller as it served up a sign of things to come for the tournament which would be held every four years thereafter. In the city of love Paris hosted one of the best matches in the history of European football.
A Frenchman first dreamed up the concept of the European Cup of Nations so it was perhaps only right that the first edition of the tournament should be held there. The European Cup was created in 1955 to crown the best club team on the continent and it was decided that a similar competition was created for international teams.
Henri Daulaney was the first to propose the idea of the European Championship in the 1920s but due to the Second World War it was impossible to create UEFA until the fighting had stopped. By the time Europe’s governing body had been formed in 1954 Daulaney had sadly passed away. Prior to the tournament in 1960 the European Championship trophy was named after the Frenchman in his memory.
Qualification for the first European championship consisted of teams battling it out in two legged ties like the format for the knockout stages of European Cup. Once the teams had been whittled down to four games became single legged knockout and held in the host country.
Initially UEFA struggled to float the idea of the competition to the European football associations. Former World Cup winners England, West Germany and Italy all declined to enter the competition which served as a huge blow to organizers.
1960 winners The Soviet Union were among the teams who signed up. Recognizing that sport could be used as a propaganda tool they took the competition seriously and were keen to show that communist ideals were superior to the West.
The nations that took part in Euro 1960 included: Republic of Ireland, Czechoslavakia, USSR, Hungary, France, Greece, Romania, Turkey, Norway, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, East Germany, Portugal, Poland, Spain and Denmark.
Rather than getting involved in another political furor by holding the tournament behind the Iron Curtain, UEFA decided the semi finals and final would be played in France. One of the reasons behind the decision was that UEFA was predominantly French. Also France was expected to fly the democratic flag in the face of a communist and socialist tsunami in the first European Championships.
As with any host nation the pressure was all on France who was expected to beat Yugoslavia and progress to the final. 26,370 spectators visited the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris for the first ever semi final of the European Football Championship. A relatively low attendance but games like this did a huge deal to improve the worthiness of attending such games.
France thrilled the world at the 1958 World Cup. They finished third after being comprehensively beaten 5-2 by Brazil in the semi final.
Much of that success was due to the exploits of Just Fontaine who scored 13 goals at the tournament in Sweden. Fontaine still holds the record for most goals scored at a World Cup but would be missing from the tournament on home soil.
France had seen off Austria with a staggering 9-4 aggregate scoreline in the quarters whereas Yugoslavia had done the same to Portugal with a 6-3 aggregate victory. In the context of Cold War politics the European Cup of Nations landed in Paris. In one semi final France faced Yugoslavia while the USSR played Czechoslovakia in the other.
The semi final was only 11 minutes old when France went behind on to a Milan Galic goal. But just one minute later Jean Vincent hit a sweet equalizer. Just before half time, France took the lead for the first through Francois Huette to take a 2-1 lead at the break.
The second half was just seven minutes old when France took the opportunity to extend their lead. Another French attack produced another goal. This time from Maryan Wisieski. As the game ebbed and flowed Yugoslavia brought themselves back into contention immediately when Ante Zanetic scored for the visitors to put them in touching distance on 55 minutes.
Again, the home crowd lifted the host when Francois Huette completed a brace just over the hour mark to put the French 4-2 up. The home crowd in Paris waved tricolors in expectancy of a famous win.
Yugoslavia was rewarded for never giving up hope with 15 minutes to go. Firstly Tomislav Knez made it 4-3 to set up a tense finale. In the minutes that followed French hearts were broken in Paris.
A fine double-salvo from Yugoslavian hero Drazan Jerkovic in the 78th and 79th minute turned the game on its head. In spite of the French bombarding Yugoslavia’s box for the last ten minutes they held on to record a famous 5-4 victory.
The successes of Eastern European teams at the tournament was record as a political milestone for the East. The West would need to take the tournament a lot more seriously in future. At least France won Eurovision that year.
Watch the goals here.