On this Euro day, July 10: How the first Euro final was won by a spider

July 10, Euro 1960 final: Soviet Union 2-1 Yugoslavia

Have you heard of the trophy won by an Impregnable Spider? You’re about to do it, because that was the key man’s nickname when the Russians won the first European Championships in 1960.

Well, in fact, some nomenclatures should be clarified. It was actually the European Nations Cup (just like the 1964 edition; the name we know today started in 1968). And “the Russians” were playing for the USSR, the Soviet Union, which also included Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz.

Indeed, the USSR’s starting XI in this final included three Georgians – defender Givi Chokheli, right inside Slava Metreveli and left winger Mikheil Meskhi. The two forwards would each play an important role in the story.

Speaking of history, there were parallels between that first Euros final and the first European Cup final four years earlier: both took place at the Parc des Princes in Paris, and both were refereed by Englishman Arthur Ellis – later member of the Chicken Panel. and a referee in a TV show It’s a coup de grace.

From the start, the Soviets took Euro 60 seriously. They were coached by Gavriil Kachalin, who led the USSR to gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and coached them to the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cups. Its field leader was Igor Netto of Spartak Moscow , another Melbourne veteran and USSR captain from 1952 to 1965.

A high-class midfielder, Netto is nevertheless best known for an extraordinary act of sportsmanship during the 1962 World Cup, in the last group match his country needed to win; when the Soviets got a “goal” that went through the side net, Netto convinced the referee to cancel it.

While the USSR was a well-trained team, their opponents had more flair. Yugoslavia could count on astute showman Dragoslav Sekularac on the inside right and cannon-footed captain Bora Kostic on the left wing. Showing the tactical and positional sense that was starting to change football – both teams were playing the old 3-2-5 here, but Brazil had recently won the 1958 World Cup with the 4-2-4 starting to knock down decades of positional orthodoxy – the Yugoslavs had the best of the first half as the Soviets grimly sank.

That said, when Yugoslavia took the lead shortly before half-time it wasn’t a classic, Partizan Belgrade striker Milan Galic managed a cross shot from Drazan Jerkovic. Galic was on his way to score in 10 consecutive internationals.

Four minutes into halftime, the Soviets received an equalizer when Blagoje Vidinic missed Valentin Bubukin’s long shot and Metreveli leapt up. Even so, Yugoslavia still dominated the proceedings, but that’s where the Impregnable Spider stepped in. A deflection would be the only way for Yugoslavia to overtake the mighty Lev Yashin, widely considered at the time to be the greatest goalkeeper in the world, and one of the most attached to lyrical descriptions of his Commerce.

“What kind of goalkeeper is the one who is not tormented by the goal he allowed? Yashin asked once, rhetorically. “He must be tormented! And if he’s calm, it’s the end. No matter what he’s had in the past, he has no future.

Another Olympic gold medalist, Yashin was close to winning 75 caps – he would appear in Mexico City 1970 at the age of 40. A tall figure dressed entirely in black, he seemed to surprise attackers with his mere presence and reputation, as well as his ability: “His positional game was excellent,” said Gordon Banks. “He had exceptional agility for such a big guy. He was the role model for goalies for the next 10 to 15 years. “

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Referring to the first human to orbit the earth, Yashin later said, “The joy of seeing Yuri Gagarin flying through space is only replaced by the joy of a good save on the penalty spot.” He didn’t have the chance to experience that pleasure in the 1960 final, but he stopped several thunderous free kicks from Kostic amid a series of demoralizing saves for Yugoslavia.

The Soviets may have pulled it off late, but Valentin Ivanov missed a decent opportunity and the first Euro final was extended into overtime. Again, Yugoslavia pressed, with Jerkovic unable to bring the ball home to the goal line, but the Soviets’ superior physical form began to show.

With seven minutes to go into the end of the round – shootouts hadn’t yet happened, the final was the only game in the tournament that wouldn’t have been settled on a draw if it was tied – the ” Georgian Garrincha ‘Meskhi found the energy to cram down left and lift a cross which striker Viktor Ponedelnik happily greeted. So at only 23, Ponedelnik called it “the star moment of my life”.

Ponedelnik later became a football journalist, and on that glorious night his last name was a gift for home football scribes: late Sunday night in Paris had already passed in Moscow to Monday, which happens to be what Ponedelnik means in Russian. “My last name was a headline dream,” the hero smirked.

Each player in the USSR received $ 200 in cash prizes, and the capital rewards could have been much larger. Schmoozing through a post-match reception at the Eiffel Tower was Real Madrid president Santiago Bernabeu. “He was ready to buy half of our team without hesitation,” said Ponedelnik, but such a decision could never be sanctioned by the Soviet authorities: “We avoided the conversation,” opposed the winner of the match.

Indeed, the trophy was an important communication stunt for Communism, but it turned out to be a false dawn for the USSR. They would reach (and lose) three more Euro finals – 1964 to Spain, 1972 to West Germany and 1988 to the Netherlands – before the Soviet Union collapsed. Yugoslavia would taste the triumph in 1976, but that’s another story …

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