The opening matches of major tournaments are traditionally cagey affairs with neither side willing to risk too much so early on and consequently entertainment is often sacrificed for the sake of a solid, if unspectacular start. For example, in the last four European Championships there have been nine goals scored in total in those quartet of opening matches. It is therefore highly unusual and somewhat of a surprise that nine goals were scored in the very first European Championship Finals match held in 1960.
The European Championships, or the European Nations’ Cup as it was known then, was the brainchild of Frenchman Henri Delaunay, who had been general secretary of the French Football Federation and also of Uefa. Together with Jules Rimet he was one of the progenitors behind the World Cup, which was first staged in 1930. Delaunay’s idea for a European tournament took another three decades to come to fruition. Following his death in 1955, his son Pierre and L’Equipe newspaper continued Delaunay’s pioneering work and five years after Henri’s death, the tournament materialised.
Like the World Cup, the original trophy was named after the man mainly responsible for it and appositely France were chosen as the hosts. In 1960 the Finals were contested by only four countries (and remained so until 1980) who had qualified from an initial group of 17 countries via a series of home and away legs. The Republic of Ireland lost out 6-0 on aggregate to Czechoslovakia in a preliminary round, which determined that the Czechs would be in the group of 16 attempting to qualify as semi-finalists.
The Czechs went on to qualify for the Finals alongside France and Yugoslavia and eventually, following a political standoff, the Soviet Union, who were given a walkover in their quarter-final meeting with Spain after the Spanish refused to travel to Moscow for the away leg. The remaining six quarter-finals produced a bountiful 27 goals, providing a glimpse of what was to come in the opening match at the Parc des Prince in Paris on 6th July.
Despite the loss of key players to injury Raymond Kopa, Roger Piantoni and Just Fontaine – who had scored a record-breaking 13 goals at the 1958 World Cup Finals – France were clearly not lacking firepower as they despatched Austria 9-4 over their two-legged quarter-final. Meanwhile their semi-final opponents Yugoslavia were also in good goal-scoring form, having overcome Portugal 6-3 on aggregate.
Partizan Belgrade striker Milan Galić had the honour of scoring the first European Championship Finals goal and it was a suitably excellent one to mark the occasion. After just 11 minutes Galić launched a rasping drive from outside the penalty area that gave the French goalkeeper Georges Lamia no chance as it flew into the far corner. Their lead lasted barely a minute as Les Bleus’ Jean Vincent equalised with a cross-cum-shot which curled in at the far post.
The goals kept flowing as the French raced into a 3-1 lead with goals either side of half-time through François Heutte’s thunderous strike and captain Maryan Wisniewski. Yugoslavia responded immediately via Ante Zanetić’s goal that somehow squirmed past Lamia at his near post but Heutte restored the hosts’ two goal lead shortly afterwards and despite the vehement protests of the Yugoslavs that Heutte was offside, the goal stood. France seemed to be well on the way to the final.
Yugoslavia were made of stern stuff, turning the game on its head within the space of four minutes. Tomislav Knez brought the game back to 4-3 in the 75th minute before Dinamo Zagreb striker Drazan Jerkovic struck twice in quick succession. Jerkovic took full advantage of a couple of Lamia errors as the Nice keeper spilled fairly innocuous shots straight to him to give the Yugoslavs the lead. It was a lead which they did not relinquish over the remaining 11 minutes and the pre-tournament favourites and hosts were out. They would have to wait until 1984 to win the European Championships on home soil.
In the final against the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia again took the lead through Galić, his tenth goal in consecutive internationals, equalling the world record. Even more impressively he scored past the legendary Lev Yashin, but Yashin then repelled everything that was thrown at him and despite dominating the game the Yugoslavs lost 2-1 after extra time. The Yugoslavs did reach another final in 1968 by beating Alf Ramsey’s World Cup champions in the semi-finals, a game in which Alan Mullery became the first England player to be sent off. In the other semi-final the Soviet Union lost out to Italy on the toss of a coin following a stalemate after extra time and in the final the hosts overcame Yugoslavia in a replay after the first match was drawn.
As we approach the sixteenth staging of the tournament and after a total of 286 games since 1960, it is remarkable to note that the very first match of the inaugural European Championships Finals in July 1960 is still the highest scoring match in the history of the competition. In the last sixty years the closest to matching the nine-goal haul have been three games with seven goals, all of which involved the protagonists of that original 1960 match. In 2000, FR Yugoslavia lost 4-3 to Spain in the group and 6-1 to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, and in the most recent tournament in 2016 France beat Iceland 5-2. It remains to be seen if those nine goals will ever be emulated.