The inaugural European Nations' Cup final, between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, kicked off at 22.00 on a Sunday; by the time Victor Ponedelnik – whose surname translates as Monday – struck the extra-time winner it was gone midnight in the USSR.
That was the coup de grace that ended a long and occasionally convoluted journey. As with the FIFA World Cup, the European Champion Clubs' Cup and the modern Olympics, the first major European national competition was the brainchild of a Frenchman: Henri Delaunay, the secretary of the French Football Federation (FFF). Though the trophy was named in his honour, Delaunay had passed away five years before his vision – first mooted in 1927 – was realised. It did not come easy.
Indeed not until the advent of UEFA in 1954 did Delaunay's idea begin to get off the ground. The green light was given at the UEFA Congress three years later, but concerns ensued that the qualifying campaign would not attract the 16 countries required. However, even in the absence of Italy, England and West Germany among others – Spain also withdrew from the quarter-finals – the European Nations' Cup was finally born. France – chosen as hosts – Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and the Soviets reached the four-team final tournament.
Set against a backdrop of political turmoil and mass withdrawals, Delaunay and those who followed him could scarcely have wished for better on the field: there were 17 goals scored in just four matches, an average of 4.25 per game. The first of those came from Yugoslavia's Milan Galić, the opening strike of a remarkable semi-final against France which ended 5-4 to Ljubomir Lovrić's team. Yugoslavia had been 4-2 down but France goalkeeper Georges Lamia conceded three goals in five second-half minutes as the hosts tumbled out.
In the last eight, the USSR had been refused entry to Spain by the government of the time, effectively handing them a bye to the last four. However, any notion they did not deserve their place was quickly dispelled in Marseille, where Czechoslovakia succumbed 3-0 with Valentin Ivanov scoring twice. Czechoslovakia did at least bounce back to beat France 2-0 in the third-place play-off.
If Ivanov was the star in the last four, goalkeeper Lev Yashin was the undoubted hero of the showpiece. A quirk of fate determined that England's Arthur Ellis refereed the final at the Parc des Princes in Paris – as he had the first European Champion Clubs' Cup decider at the same venue four years earlier.
Yashin – known as 'the Impregnable Spider' – was in superb form and ensured that Milan Galic's deflected effort was all the Yugoslavs had to show for 90 minutes of domination. Slava Metreveli's equaliser took the game into extra time and, as Yugoslavia began to tire, Ponedelnik headed in to claim the Soviet Union's first and only trophy. "
There are matches and goals which are really special, sort of a climax of a player's sporting life," Ponedelnik said. "That was the star moment of my life."
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