The idea for a European Cup of Nations was first proposed by Henri Delaunay in the 1930s, but only took form after he became Secretary General of UEFA in 1954. The tournament started in 1958 as a knock-out tournament with only limited interest, and only 17 teams signed up, among whom notable absences were England, Italy and West Germany. The tournament was to be played by home and away knock out matches until the semifinals, which were to take place in France, the home of Delaunay, who also gave name to the trophy.
The four teams that made it to the semifinals in France were the French hosts, Yugoslavia, USSR and Czechoslovakia. USSR got there controversially as they were to face Spain in the quarterfinals, but Spain, ruled by Francisco Franco, refused to play the Communist country, who advanced without a match.
But the first semi-final was to see France face Yugoslavia. France had without doubt high hopes after their side had thrilled the world in the 1958 World Cup, making it to third place, only defeated by the mighty Brazilians. However, their two biggest stars, Just Fontaine and Raymond Kopa were not available to play. Instead of Kopa, France was captained by Lens' Maryan Wisnieski who in 1955 had been the youngest man ever to play for France. The veteran Jean Jaqcues Marcel was another important player of a team that in fact had no other returnees from the 1958 World Cup. Still, the French had high expectations to their team. To make it to the semifinals France had first dispatched Greece, and had then destroyed Austria 9-4 on aggregate.
Yugoslavia was nevertheless not to be underestimated. They surely had one of the strongest sides in the world at the time, which was seen only a few months later when they took gold in the Rome Olympics and two years later when they made it to the World Cup semifinals in Chile and had made it to the quarterfinals of the 1958 World Cup. The team that Yugoslavia brought to France had some very experienced players. The FK Partizan legend and Red Belgrade star, Branko Zebec was throughout the 1950s one of the world's best players, and was also captaining the side in Paris. In attack the Yugoslavs were powerful with a striking force of Milan Galic from FK Partizan and Drazen Jerkovic from Dynamo Zagreb. The left winger Borivoje “Bora” Kostic was also a prolific goalscorer, who today remains the most scoring player in the history of Red Star Belgrade.
To make it to the semifinals the Yugoslavians had eliminated Bulgaria and Portugal, and the match in Paris was to be a repeat of a match two years before, when Yugoslavia had defeated France 3-2 in the first round of their 1958 World Cup group.
But now France was at home and expectations were high.
Only 11 minutes into the match it was Milan Galic who brought the visitors ahead, but only one minute later the Stade de Reims striker Jean Vincent equalized for France. Both teams maintained their positions throughout the first half, but in the dying minutes the home player, from RC Paris, Francois Heutte, brought France ahead 2-1. France, wanting to force a result, continued attacking in the second half and things looked good when the captain, Wisnieski, brought France ahead 3-1.
Although the Hajduk Split defender Ante Zanetic soon scored a second for Yugoslavia, France continued attacking, and it all was going their way when Heutte scored his second and France's 4th 17 minutes into the second half.
The match could hardly change now, and France seemed content in front of their delighted spectators. But as often happens in football it all fell apart in five magical minutes for Yugoslavia. With 15 minutes to go. When Borislav Knez scored for Yugoslavia it seemed it gave Yugoslavia renewed belief in a good result, and only three minutes later Drazan Jerkovic scored the equalizer, and before the French could get over the shock, they went 4-5 down on another strike by Jerkovic.
France had ten minutes to recover, but never managed to against a Yugoslav side that fought with claws in the last minutes of the match. A disappointed France even went on to lose the match for third place 0-2 to Czechoslovakia. The next time France would again have a shot at a European final would be in 1984.
In the meantime, Yugoslavia were to face the USSR in the final, who had beaten Czechoslovakia 3-0 in the other semifinal.
To this day the first match of the tournament remains the one with most goals scored in ordinary game time!
Paris, 6th July 1960,
Parc de Princes
Referee: Gaston Grandain, Belgium
France: Georges Lamia, Jean Wendling, Robert Herbin, Bruno Rodzik, Jean-Jaques Marcel, Rene Ferrier, Michel Stievenard, Lucien Muller, Maryan Wisnieski (C), Francois Heutte, Jean Vincent. Coach: Albert Batteux
Yugoslavia: Milutin Soskic, Vladimir Djurkovic, Fahrundin Jusufi, Ante Zanetic, Tomislav Knez, Branko Zebec, Zeljko Perusic, Drazan Jerkovic, Milan Galic, Dragoslav Sekularac, Borivoje Kostic (c). Coaches: Tirnanic, Lovric and Nikolic
0-1 Galic (11)
1-1 Vincent (12)
2-1 Heutte (43)
3-1 Wisnieski (53)
3-2 Zanetic (55)
4-2 Heutte (62)
4-3 Knez (75)
4-4 Jerkovic (78)
4-5 Jerkovic (79)