In 1976 the two dominant sides in Europe were West Germany and the Netherlands. These two countries had met in the World Cup final of 1974, where the Germans had gone out victorious, becoming both European Champions and World Champions. In 1976 they were set on defending their title. They started by winning their qualifying group ahead of Greece, Bulgaria and Malta, and then defeated Spain in the quarterfinals. In the semi-final against the home side Yugoslavia the never-beaten Germans came back from being 0-2 down, to win the match 4-2 after extra time with three goals by the FC Cologne striker Dieter Muller (no relation to his legendary teammate Gerd Muller), who had come on with only ten minutes to go of the match.
The German team that played the final was largely the same team as had played the World Cup final, with a few new players, notably in attack, where Dieter Muller was the striker on top and Erich Beer from Hertha Berlin was the number 10. In defense MSV Duisburg's Bernard Dietz replaced Paul Breitner. Otherwise, the team was still captained by Bayern Munich's legendary Franz Beckenbauer, supported by his Bayern Munich teammates Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck and Sepp Maier (on goal), as well as Borussia Monchengladbach's fighter, Berti Vogts. In midfield Herbert Wimmer and Rainer Bohnhof also from Borussia Monchengladbach were together with Bayern Munich's Uli Hoeness to support Beer and the great Eintracht Frankfurt player, Bernd Holzenbein.
Czechoslovakia had a strong team with what was perhaps one of the brightest generations of Slovak players ever, with seven players from the strongest Czechoslovak club, Slovan Bratislava, which in 1969 had won the European Cup Winners Cup against FC Barcelona. The captain was Anton Odrus, from Slovan Bratislava, as the centerpoint in a compact and crowded defense supported by the best goalkeeper in the world at the time, Dukla Prag's Ivo Viktor. In midfield Antonin Panenka from Bohemians Praha, Josef Moder from Lokomotiva Kosice and Jan Svehlik from Slovan Bratislava gave the balls to the two strikers, Marian Masny from Slovan Bratislava and the dangerous Zdenek Nehoda from Dukla Prague.
Czechoslovakia had reached a hard-fought final: they had won their qualifying group ahead of England, Portugal and Cyprus and then defeated the USSR over two legs in two highly charged quarterfinals. In the semi-final they faced the orange total-football machine of the Netherlands, and in a hugely dramatic match (with three red cards, two to the Netherlands and one for Czechoslovakia) won 3-1 after extra time.
After defeating all these great sides, Czechoslovakia had no reason to fear the Germans, although they were arguably facing the best team in the world at the time.
But as the match started, the Germans were not looking as awesome against a highly motivated and well organized Czech team, who from the start put a high pressure on the Germans. And it was in such a situation that they went ahead after only eight minutes. Under pressure Berti Vogts lost the ball inside the German area and the ball got to Koloman Gogh, whose shot was excellently blocked by Sepp Maier, but the riposte ended with Zdenek Nehoda, crossing the ball into Jan Svehlik, who had no problem pushing the ball into goal. After 25 minutes it looked as if the match would continue going Czechoslovakia's way. A clearing in the German defense was caught by Spartak Trnava's Karol Dobias at the edge of the German area, and his precise shot went outside the range of Sepp Maier for 2-0 for Czechoslovakia.
In their semifinal against Yugoslavia West Germany had fought themselves back from being 2-0 down to win the match, and their response came only three minutes later when Dieter Muller scored on an excellent volley after a cross from Rainer Bohnhof.
The Germans now started to work themselves into the match and putting pressure on the Czechoslovaks, who were pressed back. In the second half Ivo Viktor in particular rose to the match, making spectacular saves throughout the second half, which moved forward slowly for the Czechoslovaks. But the Germans were patient, and in the 89th minutes they were rewarded after a corner kick. Bernd Holzenbein rose ahead of Viktor to head the ball into goal and force extra time. It thus became noteworthy that every single match in the tournament had gone into extra time.
Perhaps the Germans had the psychological upper hand as they went into extra time, but the defense of both sides held on as both teams were getting tired.
For the first time a European Championship final would be decided on penalty kicks.
Both sides scored on their first three kicks. After Ladislav Jurkemic brought Czecholsovakia ahead 4-3, Bayern Munich's Uli Hoeness shot went far over the goal, and in the next kick Antonin Panenka could give the title to Czechoslovakia.
Panenka's kick is one of the most famous kicks in football history. Casually, and perhaps a bit arrogantly in the face of the enormous pressure of the moment, Panenka chipped the ball softly at the center of goal as Sepp Maier dove to his left. He had had won the psychological game against Maier and had given Czechoslovakia a surprising and deserved title as they had defeated some of the best teams in the world at the time.
Belgrade, 20th June 1976,
Crvena Zvezda Stadium
Referee: Sergio Gonella (Italy)
Czechoslovakia-West Germany 2-2 (AET)
Penalty kicks: Czechoslovakia-West Germany 5-3
Czechoslovakia: Ivo Viktor; Karol Dobiaš ( František Veselý, 109), Jozef Čapkovič, Anton Ondruš (c), Ján Pivarník, Koloman Gögh, Antonín Panenka, Jozef Móder, Ján Švehlík (Ladislav Jurkemik, 79), Marián Masný, Zdeněk Nehoda. Coahc: Václav Ježek
West Germany: Sepp Maier; Franz Beckenbauer (c) , Berti Vogts, Bernard Dietz, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Herbert Wimmer (Heinz Flohe, 46), Rainer Bonhof , Uli Hoeneß, Erich Beer (Hans Bongartz, 80), Dieter Müller, Bernd Hölzenbein. Coach: Helmut Schön
1-0 Svehlik (8)
2-0 Dobias (25)
2-1 Dieter Muller (28)
2-2 Holzenbein (89)
Hoeness missed for West Germany