** Henri Delaunay, French secretary of newly-created UEFA in the mid-1950s, was the driving force behind the creation of the European Championship — but the inaugural tournament drew a cautious response from the various member associations of UEFA.
Only 17 entered and Italy, West Germany – both future champions – and England were among the absentees. It was no great money-maker for UEFA, either. Federations paid the equivalent of £60 to enter, paid one per cent of their home match income to FIFA and two per cent to UEFA.
The historic first match took place at Moscow on September 28, 1958, and saw the Soviet Union defeat Hungary 3–1. The first goal was scored by Anatoly Ilyin, an outside-left with Spartak Moscow, after four minutes. Soviets and Hungarians had been drawn against each in the first round proper. But the presence in the draw of 17 teams had meant a qualifying round was necessary to reduce the field to a practical 16 for the simple direct elimination system.
The qualifying tie was played AFTER that initial first round meeting between the Soviet Union and Hungary. The Republic of Ireland met Czechoslovakia, winning 2–0 at home, but losing 4–0 away to go out 4-2 on aggregate. The Czechoslovaks went forward to beat Denmark 2-2, 5-1.
No problems, either, for a French side still glowing from their third place finish at the 1958 World Cup finals. France had been drawn against Greece and soon had the tie sewn up after winning 7-1 at home. World Cup marksman Just Fontaine scored twice, as did Reims team-mate Jean Vincent. The French could thus afford to send virtually a B side to Athens for the second leg which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Romania defeated Turkey 3-0, 0-2 while Austria steamrollered Norway by 1-0, 5-2 with future national coach Erich Hof scoring the away winner and two more goals back at home in Vienna. Yugoslavia beat Bulgaria 2-0, 1-1 and Portugal defeated East Germany – competing for the first time at senior international level – by 2-0, 3-2. Early tournament favourites Spain crushed Poland 7-2 on aggregate. Two goals apiece from Luis Suarez and Alfredo Di Stefano brought Spain a 4-2 win in Chorzow. Di Stefano scored again in the 3-0 return success.
The quarter-finals matched France against Austria, Portugal against Yugoslavia, Romania against Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union against Spain.
The Austrians had no answer to Fontaine in the first leg as he scored a hat-trick which included a sensational goal when Fontaine met a cross from Francois Heutte full on the volley from 20 yards out. France won 5-2. Heutte scored himself when France won the return 4-2 in Vienna for a 9-4 aggregate. Thunderbolt specialist Bora Kostic was the hero of Yugoslavia’s win over Portugal. Kostic scored the Slavs’ late consolation in a 2-1 first leg defeat Lisbon. He then scored twice to lead the Slavs to a 6-3 aggregate success. Czechoslovakia joined them in the finals after a comfortable 2-0, 3-0 win over Romania.
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The remaining quarter-final was never played. Some 20 years after the Spanish civil war, the Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco, had no love for anything Soviet, not even a football team. The Soviets were thus barred from entering Spain to play football … and the tie was awarded to them by default.
The finals were awarded to France and comprised two knock-out semi-finals, one third place play-off plus the final itself.
France should have reached that final. They led Yugoslavia 4-2 in their semi-final opener with 15 minutes to play. The Slavs, however, were spurred by a sense of injustice over the second of Heutte’s two goals which should have been disallowed for offside. They thus battled back to put three goals past Georges Lamia in the France goal within three minutes.
French fans excused the result on the grounds that playmaker Raymond Kopa and star striker Fontaine were out injured. Lamia, his confidence shattered by the Slavs’ great revival, never played for France again.
The Soviet Union, including legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin, thrashed Czechoslovakia 3–0 in Marseille in the other semi-final. Valentin Ivanov scored twice.
The Final was played in the old Parc des Princes – just like the first Champion Clubs Cup Final four years earlier. Also just like the club showdown, the referee was England’s Arthur Ellis. The first goal was almost an own goal, Soviet skipper Igor Netto deflecting a strike from Milan Galic though the latter was credited with the goal just two minutes before the interval. Soviet right-wing Slava Metrevelli equalised four minutes after half-time to send the final into extra time.
Yugoslavia had been the better team. Only the brilliance of Lev Yashin in the Soviet goal had denied them victory. But in extra time they lost heart and defensive discipline. Soviet centre-forward Viktor Ponedelnik snatched his one chance of the game … and the Soviet Union were first European champions.