European Championships Retrospectives: 1964 Qualifiers

In the second of our historical series looking at previous European Championships ahead of Euro 2008, we now turn to 1964. Last time, we looked at the first tournament held in France, won by the Soviet Union.

Spain 641964 European Nations’ Cup Qualifiers

Like four years earlier, the format was vastly different from the extravaganza put on by UEFA today, and it was also still known as the “European Nations’ Cup”. Only 29 nations entered the qualifying stage — albeit an improvement on the seventeen who had taken part in the first event. And it was only when a knock-out tournament had reduced that number to four teams that a host was selected for the finals, Spain.

On the way to Spain, there would be some fantastic scorelines, a hard lesson for England and a major upset as we’ll look at in the first of a two-part piece.

The Preliminary Round

Unlike in 1960, England and Italy entered the qualifying tournament this time, though West Germany still sat it out. England faced France in the first round, drawing 1-1 at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground, Hillsborough, in the first leg on October 3rd, 1962. The return leg didn’t take place for four more months, but when it did, France’s superiority was evident as they won 5-2 at the Parc des Princes.

In what could have been a headline from 2007, the Times of London headlined their report with the depressing line “England footballers no longer thinkers, no teamwork in attack and lapses in defence.”

Sir Alf Ramsey WayStill, England had kept the game competitive, Bobby Smith of Tottenham and Bobby Tambling of Chelsea pulling England back into the tie with headers that left it poised at 2-3 in the 74th minute. But the French scored in the next minute, with new England coach Alf Ramsey admitting that was the “killer goal”. The Times‘ correspondent praised the flashes of skill from Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Charlton, but found “no teamwork” from England. Looking ahead to England hosting the World Cup three years hence, the correspondent gloomily concluded that “Where England goes henceforth, is anyone’s guess.”

Meanwhile, Denmark destroyed Malta 9-2 on aggregate, Ireland took care of Iceland, Northern Ireland beat Poland 2-0 twice over, Spain ousted Romania, and Yugoslavia saw off Belgium comfortably. Perhaps the most exciting tie was Bulgaria against Portugal — tied after two legs, a one-off replay in Italy saw the former move on to the next round. Hungary, East Germany, Italy and the Netherlands progressed too, and the Soviet Union, Luxembourg and Austria were gifted byes. Greece withdrew after they were drawn to play Albania.

The Second Round

Spain were declared peacemakers by the Times, as they ousted Northern Ireland 2-1 on aggregate, preventing a Republic vs. Northern Ireland matchup in the quarter-finals (the Republic had beaten Austria 3-2 already) that the Times warned was “The match that might have caused civil war.” The Spaniards were praised for their skill and composure, winning 1-0 in the second leg in Belfast.

Sweden saw off Yugoslavia in an exciting second leg 3-2, after a goalless first leg. Denmark easily took care of Malta, and France dispatched Bulgaria 3-2 on aggregate. Indeed, almost all of the matches at this stage were close, goal-filled affairs, as Hungary edged out East Germany 5-4.

Gianni RiveraThe tie of the round saw the Soviet Union, defending champions, against twice world champions Italy, led by the mercurial Gianni Rivera (Alf Ramsey was once asked who he thought the four best Italian players were: ‘Rivera, Rivera, Rivera, Rivera’, he replied). But in front of 102,358 in Moscow for the first leg, Rivera was ineffective. Goals from Viktor Ponedelnik, who had scored the winning goal in the 1960 final, and Igor Chislenko gave the Soviets a 2-0 win. The USSR proved their superiority in the return leg in Rome, with only a last minute strike by Rivera preventing a home defeat. The Soviets looked good as they aimed to defend their title.

The surprise of the round came when Luxembourg beat the Netherlands 3-2 on aggregate, though the Dutch were not yet the Total Football force they would be in the 1970s. Luxembourg had been regularly crushed in recent years, including by the Dutch in a 1957 World Cup qualifier, but had proved themselves capable of springing the odd upset, beating Portugal 4-2 in a 1960 World Cup qualifier.

In front of just 6,921 at the Stade Municipal in Pétange, Luxembourg, a 3-3 thriller was played out, before Luxembourg shocked the Netherlands in Rotterdam with a 2-1 win.

The Quarter Finals

Luxembourg were out to prove their victory over the Dutch had not been a fluke, and they proved this against Denmark. After a 5-5 aggregate tie over two legs (all of Denmark’s goals were scored, amazingly, by Ole Madsen), a one-off replay was organised, ironically in the Netherlands. Denmark edged out Luxembourg 1-0, ending the latter’s best ever major championship performance to date.

Hungary's Golden TeamElsewhere, the Spanish juggernaut moved on as they crushed the Republic of Ireland 7-1 on aggregate. The Soviets disposed of Sweden handily 4-2 overall, Ponedelnik scoring two more. Hungary reminded the football world of their traditional strength, beating the French quite comfortably in front of 70,120 at the Népstadion in Budapest. In the era after the demise of the “Magnificent Magyars”, Hungary remained a serious force in the 1960s (winning Olympic gold in 1964 and 1968) and were led by Lajos Tichy, who scored twice in that tie as part of his remarkable strikerate of 51 goals in 72 internationals, and the brilliant Florian Albert.

So the semi-finals were set. It was quite a line-up: the defending champions the Soviet Union, the powerful Hungarians, the talented hosts Spain, and the unheralded Danes. Spain’s choice as host was surely controversial, as it meant two communist nations had to head to Franco’s turf. Check back soon to see how the games played out, with East-West politics rearing its head.

Sources: The Times digital archive;
Photo credits: Draconiansleet; hamrun43; Gábor Marik

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