Euro 1960: Remembering the roots of Euros and the Soviet beginnings

The first ever European Championship, formerly known as the European Nations’ Cup, was hosted by France in 1960. The Soviet Union were the powerhouse team back then, and they proved it with a 2-1 victory against Yugoslavia after extra time. The Nations’ Cup was contested between 1958 and 1960 until the name was changed to “European Championship” in 1968 along with a couple of changes.

Henri Delaunay, the secretary of the French Football Federation, first came up with the idea of a continental competition in 1927. His vision for a European international tournament finally happened with the final of the first tournament in 1960, five years after his passing. However, the trophy being contested – the Henri Delaunay Cup – was named in his honour.

The inaugural tournament, which took place over the course of 22 months between 1958 and 1960, was comprised of 17 participating nations that are affiliated to UEFA. The tournament was formatted as teams played a home and away leg and the resulting top four would then travelled to France to compete in the finals.

Czechoslovakia knocked out the Republic of Ireland 4-2 on aggregate to join Hungary, France, Greece, Romania, Turkey, the USSR, Norway, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, East Germany, Portugal, Poland, Spain and Denmark in the two-legged round of 16. Italy and West Germany declined to take part, while later on, Spain, still under the dictatorship of General Franco refused to travel to the Soviet Union

After withdrawing from the tournament, Spain were disqualified, giving three communist counties – USSR, Czechoslovakia, and SFR Yugoslavia – of the final four teams were to go with hosts France. Set amid political turmoil and mass withdrawals, the first European Championship first semi-final was contested between the hosts and Yugoslavia. The match ended 5-4 in favour of the Yugoslavs.

Meanwhile, the Soviets comfortably beat the Czechoslovaks in Marseille in their semi-final, dominating the game and winning 3–0 as they made their way to the first ever final of the European Championship. The third place playoff saw Czechoslovakia winning 2-0 over the demoralised hosting nation. Then there is the first final match in the history of European Championship – USSR vs. Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavs, boasting most of the flair players on the pitch such as Dragoslav Sekularac and Bora Kostic, opened the scoring on 43 minutes by the Serbian Milan Galic. Yugoslavia continued to dominate the game, but the legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin,  did not let another conceded score from the opponent. Georgian Slava Metreveli equalised the game four minutes into the second half.

Still equal in the second half, an extra time was called. Lev Yashin, known as ‘the Impregnable Spider’ led the Soviet Union to glory along with Viktor Ponedelnik winning header with seven minutes of extra-time remaining, bagging the first ever European title of the inaugural European Championship. Ivanov, Ponedelnik, Galic, Jerkovic, and Heutte finished as the tournament’s top scorers with two goals each.