#ThrowbackThursday - Euro '76
The 1976 European Football Championship Finals would be the last containing just four sides. In the qualifying phase, again only the group winners would progress. England were drawn into a tough group, which contained Czechoslovakia, Portugal and Cyprus. The three lions were also in dire need of a boost after failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup held in West Germany. 1966 World Cup winning manager Alf Ramsey also found himself relieved of his duties as a result of England’s elimination in the group phase. Taking over had been Leeds United’s Don Revie, fresh from winning the League Championship with the West Yorkshire side who lost just four games all season and set a League record of twenty nine games unbeaten from the start of the season.
Revie’s reign in charge of the national side started with a bang with a 3-0 win over Czechoslovakia at Wembley in late October 1974. On target for England were Mick Channon and two for Colin Bell.
Three weeks later at Wembley again, England played out a 0-0 draw with Portugal.
In his first season in charge of England, Revie remained unbeaten and even picked up a rare victory over West Germany in mid-March 1975, with England winning 2-0 in a friendly at Wembley.
One month later, with the visit of Cyprus came a piece of history as Newcastle United’s Malcolm MacDonald set the record for most goals scored in one game for England in a competitive match. Supermac scored all of England’s goals in a 5-0 demolition of the Cypriots. However despite England’s good form, Czechoslovakia also turned it on by beating Portugal 5-0 in Prague in late April.
Another victory followed for England in May with a 1-0 win over Cyprus away in Limassol, however the following October (exactly one year on from his first game in charge) Don Revie suffered his first defeat as England manager with a 1-2 loss to Czechoslovakia in Bratislava.
In early November, a 1-1 draw for the Czechs in Portugal saw them draw level on points with England. One week on, England visited Lisbon in a must win game for Don Revie’s boys away in Portugal. The Portuguese took the lead after a quarter of an hour with a superb free kick from Rui Rodrigues and though Mick Channon pulled one back for England with a defected free kick ahead of half time, all Don Revie’s side could manage was a 1-1 draw. A straight forward 3-0 win for Czechoslovakia away to Cyprus - the whipping boys of the group - secured the Czechs’ passage to the final and a third straight failure to qualify for a major tournament for the English.
Meanwhile, Eire started their group phase with an impressive 3-0 win over the USSR at Dalymount Park, with a hat-trick for QPR’s Don Givens, followed by two further home wins with a 2-1 victory over Switzerland and Don Givens scoring all four goals in a 4-0 win over Turkey. The Irish however would finish one point short of group winners USSR.
In the North of the Emerald Isle, Northern Ireland would finally play host to international opposition for the first time since the USSR last visited in October 1971. During that time the Ulstermen were forced to play ‘home’ fixtures in England, at places such as Hull, Coventry, Fulham, Liverpool and Sheffield, as international opposition had dare not to set foot in the Province due to the ongoing troubles there.
Yugoslavia bucked the trend and agreed to play away at Belfast’s Windsor Park in April 1975, with 25,847 fans turning out for the occasion to witness Northern Ireland pulling off a 1-0 win over the Yugoslavs with a goal for Bryan Hamilton. The Ulstermen however would finish the group in second place behind Yugoslavia
Also Scotland would finish their group in third place, two points behind group winners Spain. The surprise package from the home nations however would be the Welsh. It’s often repeated that Euro 2016 was the first appearance for the Welsh at the Finals of an international tournament for the first time since the 1958 World Cup.
Many forget however that this record is only down to the fact that the European Championship Finals only contained just four qualifiers in 1976, as Wales did reach the last eight of the tournament that year. Wales’s campaign started with a 1-2 defeat away to Austria in September 1974.
The Welsh however managed a 2-0 win at home to Hungary six weeks on and a 5-0 win at home to Luxembourg at Swansea’s Vetch Field in November 1974
Wales then managed a 2-1 win away in Hungary in April 1975.
Two weeks on there followed a 3-1 win for the Welsh over Luxembourg.
Wales securing their passage to the Quarter Finals with a 1-0 win over Austria at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground in November 1975.
In the Quarter Final, Wales would meet Yugoslavia with the first leg away in Zagreb. The Welsh suffered a 0-2 defeat at the hands of the Yugoslavs. Back at Cardiff’s Ninian Park a month later, the best the Welsh could manage was a 1-1 draw, with crowd disturbances at the end of the game as Wales’s exit was confirmed.
Yugoslavia qualified for a tournament that would be played on their home soil (in the days prior to when hosts automatically qualified). Joining them in the Semis for their first European Championship finals were Holland, who came through a group of death which included Italy and a Poland side which finished in third place in the 1974 World Cup. In November 1974, Holland managed a 3-1 win over Italy in Rotterdam.
The Dutch however suffered a 1-4 defeat at the hands of Poland in September 1975.
The Dutch though avenged that loss the following month in Amsterdam running out 3-0 winners over the Polish on home soil to secure their passage to the Quarter Finals.
In the last eight, Holland would meet fellow Benelux nation, Belgium. The Dutch pulled off an emphatic 5-0 win in the first leg in Rotterdam in April 1976, as well as winning the return leg in Brussells 2-1, with an aggregate score of 7-1 to Holland.
Joining Holland in the last four would be West Germany, who after a 1-1 draw with Spain in Madrid would pull off a 2-0 win in the second leg in May 1976. The final qualification spot was secured by Czechoslovakia who defeated the USSR 4-2 on aggregate.
Czechoslovakia went on to meet Holland in the first semi-final in Zagreb, winning 3-1 after extra time.
In the second Semi Final the following day, West Germany progressed after defeating the hosts Yugoslavia, 4-2 after extra time. More misery followed for the hosts, as Holland would beat Yugoslavia 3-2 after extra time.
Twenty four hours on, Czechoslovakia met West Germany in the final in Belgrade. After twenty five minutes, the Czechs took a two goal lead. The West Germans however pulled it back to two each with a goal in the last minute of normal time, which meant that for the first time all four games in a European Championship finals required extra time. With no further scoring, the tie became the first in a major championship to be decided by a penalty shoot-out.
The Czechs had successfully converted their first four penalties when Uli Hoeness stepped up to take the fifth for West Germany and missed. The deciding penalty for Czechoslovakia would be taken by Antonín Panenka, who put away his spot kick with an audacious soft chip (mimicked by Andrea Pirlo for Italy against England in Euro 2012) to give Czechoslovakia the title of European Champions.
This would also be the last time that the Germans would ever lose a penalty shoot-out, having been successful in every single one they’ve undertook since. The West Germans would get a small revenge of sorts on the Czechs winning an international friendly 2-0, four months on. As will be seen tomorrow however, they would have to wait another four years to fully avenge that loss in another major championships, in the next European Championships Final in Italy in 1980.