Czechoslovakia's inspirational midfielder Josef Masopust recalls the first UEFA European Championships in 1960, where his side fell to eventual winners USSR at the semi-final stage.
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Josef Masopust was the star of the Czechoslovakia side which made it to the semi-finals of the first UEFA European Championship in France in 1960. Despite losing out to eventual winners USSR, the midfielder later went on to inspire his country to the 1962 FIFA World Cup final and was awarded the Ballon d'Or in the same year. Named the Czech Republic's Golden Player in 2004, the country's outstanding performer of the past 50 years, the former Dukla Praha man recollects his experiences of 1960.
What did it mean to make the semi-final in France in 1960?
Josef Masopust: I have to mention the fact that in 1960 a new Czechoslovakia team was being formed following the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. In 1960 we did not have a particularly powerful team and to fight our way into the final rounds signified considerable success.
And how do you see that semi-final game against the USSR?
Masopust: Until that time our results with the USSR were rather unfavourable. We were unable to defeat the Soviet team because it included several strong individuals, above all the goalkeeper Lev Yashin and midfielder Igor Netto. It was a heavy 3-0 defeat, it must be said. We unfortunately lost, or rather the USSR won deservedly.
What was it like facing up to the famous goalkeeper Lev Yashsin?
Masopust: During my entire career I have seen plenty of excellent players and lots of excellent goalkeepers, but in my view there were two in a class of their own. These were Lev Yashin and [Czecholsovakia's 1976 UEFA European Championship-winning goalkeeper] Ivo Viktor.
Can you tell us anything about Igor Netto, the captain of the victorious USSR side?
Masopust: I always looked at the captain of a team as a person who must be an example for all of the other players, on and off the pitch. Igor Netto clearly met this criteria and I held him in immense esteem.
What did your selection as the European Footballer of the Year in 1962 mean to you?
Masopust: I think, first of all, that it was chiefly down to the success of my colleagues both at Dukla Praha and in the national team. Dukla Praha won the league championship several times in a row, while in Chile at the World Cup, the national team battled through all the way to the final. All of this had an impact so that I won the award.
Is it possible to compare your team of 1960 with the team that won the UEFA European Championship in 1976 and that which finished runners-up in 1996?
Masopust: I think that insofar as the basic elements are concerned, all of these teams were similar. Much depended on the individual ability of each player and the fact the team was familiar with each other. In 1960 the foundation of the team was formed by Dukla Praha. In Belgrade in 1976 our foundation was the defence from ŠK Slovan Bratislava and the last team was composed of the best players of our entire league.