|HOST COUNTRY - YUGOSLAVIA
The fifth European Football Championship finals were staged in Yugoslavia, and as in previous tournaments, only four countries could contest them. So there were only the two semi-finals, the final and the third-place match, played between June 16 and 20, 1976 – but they produced some memorable football.
In fact the 1976 tournament was the last one to be played in this format; four years later the finals were expanded to embrace eight teams.
It was also the last tournament in which the hosts were obliged to qualify for the final stage, only being selected once the last four were known.
Yugoslavia - a federation made up of the six socialist republics of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia, plus two autonomous provinces - was the chosen host country in 1976, with the Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) Stadium in Belgrade (Serbia) and the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb (Croatia) the two venues used.
|IN THE NEWS IN 1976...
|* The first commercial Concorde flight takes off
* The United States celebrates its Bicentennial, and Jimmy Carter becomes its first Southern president since the Civil War, defeating incumbent Gerald Ford
* 'Rocky' wins the Oscar for best picture, ahead of 'Network', 'All the President's Men' & 'Taxi Driver'
* A mid-air collision over Yugoslavia between a British Airways Trident and a Yugoslav DC-9 kills all 176 on board
* Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, 14, scores seven perfect 10s and wins three gold medals at the Montreal Olympics
Meanwhile Wales - who beat Hungary home and away in Group 2 - carried British hopes into the quarter-finals. Yugoslavia comfortably won Group 3, while in Group 4 - whose 12 games produced eight draws - Spain didn't lose and finished top above Romania, also unbeaten, who drew five.
The Netherlands topped Group 5 ahead of Poland and Italy. Although Don Givens hit a hat-trick in a 3-0 defeat against the Republic of Ireland, the USSR won Group 6. Belgium qualified from Group 7 and holders West Germany completed an unbeaten campaign to take Group 8.
The quarter-finals saw Czechoslovakia defeat the USSR 4-2 on aggregate, Jozef Moder netting three, while Wales succumbed 3-1 to Yugoslavia after a stormy second leg in Cardiff.
In Madrid, Spain and West Germany drew 1-1, but goals from Uli Hoeness and Klaus Topmoller eased the Germans through 2-0 in the Munich return. Rob Rensenbrink grabbed a first-leg hat-trick as the Netherlands beat Belgium 7-1 on aggregate.
In rainswept Zagreb, Czechoslovakia showed impressive tactical nous in beating the much-fancied Netherlands 3-1, blunting the effectiveness of Johan Cruyff and Wim van Hanegem. The Czechs deservedly went ahead midway through the first half when sweeper Anton Ondrus headed home Antonin Panenka’s teasing free-kick.
On the hour Jaroslav Pollak’s dismissal reduced them to 10 men, and 13 minutes later Ondrus completed a rare double by volleying into his own net. Johan Neeskens was sent off, restoring numerical parity, and the game entered extra-time.
With six minutes remaining, unmarked Zdenek Nehoda headed Frantisek Vesely’s cross in at the far post, then Van Hanegem was red-carded before Vesely added Czechoslovakia’s third.
In Belgrade, holders West Germany faced elimination after Danilo Popivoda and Dragan Dzajic gave Yugoslavia a 2-0 lead. But two inspired substitutions by coach Helmut Schoen rescued them. Heinz Flohe, on for the second half, halved the deficit; then after 79 minutes Dieter Muller was introduced for his international debut and proceeded to hit a hat-trick – two of them in extra-time.
It was Yugoslavia’s turn to claw back two goals in a pulsating third-place match, but again they lost. Ruud Geels and Willy van der Kerkhof put the Netherlands ahead, only for Josip Katalinski and Dzajic to level matters. Geels restored Oranje’s lead in extra-time, and Wim Suurbier had to clear off the line before George Knobel’s side collected another consolation prize.
Czechoslovakia 2-2 West Germany (aet)
(Czechoslovakia won 5-3 on penalties)
Defending champions West Germany had underlined their desire to retain the title with their remarkable semi-final comeback, but another stirring fight-back in the final was ultimately undone by the lottery of the first penalty shoot-out.
Yet Czechoslovakia were worthy winners in Belgrade. Inspired by midfielder Marian Masny they matched the Germans all over the pitch with their movement and attacking panache, drawing first blood when Jan Svehlik beat stranded goalkeeper Sepp Maier after just eight minutes. Then a blocked Masny free-kick fell to Karol Dobias, who netted the Czechs’ second in the 26th minute.
In a high-calibre final, West Germany responded immediately, with semi-final hero Dieter Muller volleying home acrobatically. They snatched a dramatic 89th minute equaliser when Bernd Holzenbein headed Rainer Bonhof’s corner into the net to force extra-time.
With no more goals, penalties ensued. After seven attempts succeeded, the hapless Uli Hoeness shot high and wide, but Antonin Panenka coolly converted his kick to win the game and the Championship for Czechoslovakia.
|PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT
He started as a reserve and finished as a runner-up, but Dieter Muller set the tournament alight with four remarkable goals. Indeed, his international career as a whole burned briefly but brightly, encompassing nine goals in 12 appearances.
The FC Koln striker was the ultimate impact substitute, coming on late in a game his team were losing and producing a stunning hat-trick to secure what had seemed an unlikely victory.
Muller – who was born Dieter Kaster, the son of an ex-professional footballer, but later took his adoptive father’s surname – set a club record at Koln by scoring six in a Bundesliga match against Werder Bremen in 1977. His playing career began and ended at Kickers Offenbach, where he is currently chairman.
|MOMENT OF THE TOURNAMENT
Antonin Panenka took Czechoslovakia’s fifth penalty in the Championship’s first ever shoot-out knowing they would win the tournament with a successful kick.
The pressure was palpable, yet the midfielder was the epitome of nerveless cool. Seeing Sepp Maier in the German goal commit himself to the left, Panenka audaciously chipped the ball straight down the middle, where Maier had been. Instantly his penalty acquired legendary status.
Panenka had devised the routine as a ploy to beat goalkeeper Zdenek Hruska, with whom he practiced penalties after training at Bohemians Prague. “I decided that it was probably easier to score by feinting to shoot and then just gently tapping the ball into the middle of the goal,” he said. “I tried it out on the training ground and it worked like a charm.”
|MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT
Rarely does the showpiece final of a major tournament justify its billing, but the climax of the 1976 European Championship not only matched the hype, it exceeded it. Regarded by many as the best final in the history of the competition, it showcased bold attacking football and high drama, including a spirited comeback and the theatre of a penalty shoot-out.
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