The opening matches of major tournaments are often cagey affairs. With neither side willing to risk too much so early on, entertainment is sacrificed for the sake of a solid if unspectacular start. The last four opening games at European Championships have only produced nine goals between them. In contrast, there were nine goals scored in the very first finals match, between Yugoslavia and France, at Euro 1960.
The European Championship, 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 Uefa. Along 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’Équipe 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 (which remained the case until Euro 1980), each of whom had qualified from an initial group of 17 countries through 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.
After seeing off the Republic of Ireland, Czechoslovakia went on to qualify for the finals alongside France, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, who were given a walkover in their quarter-final after General Franco prevented the Spain team from competing. Despite losing key players Raymond Kopa, Roger Piantoni and Just Fontaine – who had scored a record-breaking 13 goals at the 1958 World Cup finals – to injury, France were favourites to win the tournament. They were clearly not lacking firepower, having despatched Austria 9-4 in their two-legged quarter-final. Their opponents in the semi-final, Yugoslavia, were also in good goalscoring form, having overcome Portugal 6-3 on aggregate.
The two semi-finals kicked off on the same day, 6 July 1960, with France playing Yugoslavia in Paris and Czechoslovakia meeting the Soviet Union later in the evening in Marseille. The Partizan Belgrade striker Milan Galic 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, Galic launched a rasping drive from outside the penalty area that gave the France goalkeeper Georges Lamia no chance as it flew into the far corner. Their lead lasted barely a minute, as Jean Vincent equalised for France with a cross-cum-shot that curled in at the far post.
The goals kept flowing as France 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. Despite the vehement protests of the Yugoslavs that Heutte was offside, the goal stood. France were 4-2 up seemed to be well on the way to the final.
Yugoslavia were made of stern stuff though, 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 two minutes. 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 a 5-4 lead. They held on for the remaining 11 minutes to dump the hosts out of the tournament. France would have to wait until 1984 to win the European Championship on home soil.
In the final against the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia again took the lead through Galić, his 10th goal in consecutive internationals, equalling the world record. Even more impressively, he scored past Lev Yashin, but the legendary goalkeeper repelled everything that was thrown at him and, despite dominating the game, Yugoslavia lost 2-1 after extra-time. The Soviet Union had won the inaugural European Championship.
Yugoslavia were also beaten finalists in 1968, after they overcame Alf Ramsey’s world 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 at Euro 68, the Soviet Union lost out to Italy on the toss of a coin following a stalemate after extra-time. In the final the hosts overcame Yugoslavia in a replay after the first match was drawn.
As we approach the 16th staging of the Euros and after 286 games in previous tournaments, it is remarkable that the very first match of the very first European Championship finals in July 1960 is still the highest scoring in the history of the competition. In the last 61 years the closest games to matching the nine-goal haul have been three with seven goals, all of which involved one of the protagonists of that original 1960 match. In 2000, Yugoslavia lost 4-3 to Spain and 6-1 to the Netherlands, and in 2016 France beat Iceland 5-2. It remains to be seen if those nine goals will ever be emulated.