Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro ’76 (Yugoslavia)

By the time Euro 76 rolled around numerous things had happened in Europe as the US went to bits over Watergate. An overwhelming 99.8% voted in Northern Ireland’s ‘Border Poll’ to stay with the United Kingdom (with only 1% who voted being Catholic). The Brits also had a spat with Iceland over fishing zones that ended up involving the British Navy, the Rubik’s cube was invented by a Hungarian, English style punk had teens sneering the world over and Franco passed away ushering in half arsed democracy in Spain.


With West Germany as World Champions and the European Cup now a massive competition domestically fans couldn’t wait for the next edition of the Euros. UEFA still resisted making the competition in to something bigger and kept with the same format of group qualifiers, 2-legged quarter finals and then one country hosting the semi finals and final.

A rebuilding England fell just short of making it through to the final eight after finishing behind the Czechs in their qualifying group. Draws with Portugal cost England as they endured the nuclear winter that was Don Revie’s disastrous run as manager. 1972 Semi Finalists Hungary were also eliminated at this stage along with Scotland who, again, failed to prove their worth despite the abundant talent. Italy crashed and burned in a tough group that featured Holland (who finished top) and Poland, both countries were semi finalists in the 1974 World Cup.  

In the quarter finals the Soviets were there again and would face Czechoslovakia which was another country Moscow had rather strained relations with after rolling tanks down their wide promenades in 1968. The Czechs had a good team though that had matured together with a squad averaging around 25 years of age and were ready to strike. The Czechs beat the Soviets in the first leg 2-0 and then drawing away to make the semi finals making this the first time the Soviet Union would not make the semi final stage of the tournament.

In the other quarter finals the reigning champions of Europe and the World (West Germany) eased past Spain while the Dutch destroyed their neighbours Belgium 7-1 on aggregate. Total football in full effect for the Dutch. In the final quarter final 1972 runner up Yugoslavia took on a surprising Welsh side. The Red Dragons had big John Toshack putting them away up front and were captained by Leeds legend Terry Yorath. Then there was the flying winger Leighton James and others that were part of a closely knit side that could possibly make the semi finals which would be a remarkable feat. It didn’t start well in the first leg though. The Welsh conceded an early goal which meant they would have to abandon their defensive set up and go for a goal. They managed to not only fail to score but also conceded another to make it 2-0.

In the return leg UEFA showed political wisdom by installing an East German ref which had concerns that there may be some favours going Yugoslavia’s way. The ref refused to start the match unless an East German flag was flown at Cardiff Arms Park along with other rather nationalistic demands. A soft penalty was, of course, given to the visitors early which made it 3-0 on aggregate that killed the tie. It would finish 3-1 on aggregate and the brave Welsh were out.


In a first the Euros would go behind the Iron Curtain for the semi finals and final. Yugoslavia were showing some signs of not being a mental police state like most other places in Eastern Europe so UEFA awarded them the tournament in what was at the time as massive risk. UEFA were banking on the games not being gloomy and impossible and would show off some of the best the continent had to offer.

In the first semi final the dark horse Czechs would take on the Dutch super side in Zagreb. Unfortunately for the Dutch and their high impact skillful total football it was pissing down in modern day Croatia meaning they would play the Czechs in a quagmire which evened the teams right up. The Dutch looked more than out of their comfort zone in an unfamiliar part of Europe in trying conditions against a well conditioned if not ‘physical’ side and let the Welsh referee Clive Thomas know this on regular occasions. After only 19 minutes the Czechs were ahead through their captain Anton Ondrus who headed in from a corner. Through the wind and the rain the Dutch couldn’t get going as they chased an equaliser but had something go their way on the hour when the lurch like Jaroslav Pollack received his second yellow for casually trying to break a Dutch winger in half. The Dutch persisted against 10 men and were rewarded with 13 minutes to go when Ondrus (one of the best defenders in Europe at the time) somehow put the ball in the back of his own net when clearing a tame cross. 1-1 and extra time loomed. There was still time for another red before the end of the 90 minutes though with Johan Neeskens sent off for the Dutch for his clumsy challenge in the wet.

In extra time was when it got very interesting (or controversial depending on your point of view). Both teams cancelled each other out but with six minutes to go the Czech defence was unlocked and Johan Cryuff was through on goal. The Czech’s star midfielder Antonin Panenka trailed back and put in a rather robust tackle on Cryuff that would be a red card in the modern game. Thomas waved play on. The Dutch were incensed, briefly lost their concentration and on the break the Czechs pounced with a deep cross from the left finding the head of Zdenek Nehoda who put the Czechs up 2-1. The Dutch were beyond upset by the tackle on Cryuff and the goal just added to it. Johan Van Hanegam continued to abuse Thomas as they walked back to the middle to restart with the Welshmen finally being fed up with “being told the laws of the game with extreme language” and sent off the Dutchman. The game was all but done and the Czechs made sure they would be through to the final with Vesely dancing around the keeper to score.  

The Dutch had blown it..again. Dissertations have been produced by academics and books and documentaries released about their failures in World Cups that book ended this disaster but the Dutch were a strange and tragic beast. They would either not even qualify crashing and burning or when with one hand on the trophy they would fine some way to blow it. The Dutch loved dealing in absolutes. Thomas, of course, has admitted in later years it was a foul on Cryuff and he just made a mistake at the time.  

In the other semi that was another epic the champions West Germany would take on the hosts Yugoslavia in Belgrade. With 50,000 on their side Yugoslavia were up 2-0 within the half an hour through Popivoda and legendary striker Dzaljic. This West German side was full of older players like Beckenbuaer slowing in the autumn years but still were rich with new talent that was coming through like new shoots in spring. It was 2-1 with 30 minutes to go when a cruel deflection gave the veteran Flohe a goal and hope for the Germans. The hosts had to hold on and the crowd got behind them willing every pass and tackle. German coach Helmet Schon decided to throw caution to the wind and brought on Dieter Muller for his first ever game in a German shirt with his country a goal down in a European Championships semi final with 10 minutes to go. No pressure on the 22 year old at all. The world didn’t really know much about this striker with all of his goals in the previous Bundesliga season not being shown on television because German cameramen had been on strike all season over payf or covering games.

Within minutes the Koln striker had repaid Schon for his risk and would be in the hearts and minds of West Germans for ever. From a corner Muller ghosted in unmarked and calmly headed in a goal with ease. 2-2 and another semi final would go to extra time. Both sides were dead on their feet in extra time with the crowd hoarse but with moments before half time in extra time the Germans struck. A tired and desperate run from left back resulted in a cross to the far post that was headed back to an unmarked Muller who nailed the shot and had his second goal and gave the Germans the lead. The Yugoslavs’ spirit seemed broken and West Germany piled on the pressure. With minutes to go in extra time a speculative shot by West Germany hit the upright and the ball bounced straight to feet of Muller who scored his third to have a hattrick in his debut game at international level and send his country through to another final. He was no relation to the legendary Gerd Muller but his knack to be in the right place to score was the same. West Germany won 4-2 and would face Czechoslovakia in the final.


Many West Germans had travelled perilous journeys to make it to Yugoslavia for the final and helped put 30,000 in to the Crvena Zvezda Stadium in Belgrade which could hold up to 100,000. It seemed that the locals were still smarting about their loss in the semi final. The talk was all about Muller and if he would make another cameo or they would kill the golden goose and start him. West Germany chose the latter. After just eight minutes the Czechs were ahead after a monumental cock up at the back by West Germany where a stray pass was pounced on and Jan Svehlik scored one of his four rare goals for his country. The Czechs were flying and up 2-0 when a squaring of the ball from the by-line on the right was scuffed but the loose ball found Karol Dobias at the far post and scored. Again the champions were 2-0 down and would have to find something.

Enter Muller. 

On the half hour a cross from the right found an unmarked Muller (again) and his athletic right footed finish put the ball in the back of the net with momentum spinning his body around 180 degrees and landing him on his arse. Could another comeback happen? It seemed not. The Czechs were an amazingly well drilled side being rooted to their positions rather than playing a free flowing total football like most Western European sides at the time. With seconds to go West Germany had a corner. This was it. The corner came in from the left and in an area for the keeper to collect but he hesitated. The veteran Bernd Holzenbein attacked the ball for it could be cleared and headed it in to make it 2-2 and break Czech hearts. West Germany had again come back from the dead to take a game to extra time. This was what champions teams did. This is especially what Germany sides did on numerous occasions over the years.  

In extra time there would be no Muller heroics despite sustained pressure from West Germany. The Czech keeper Ivo Viktor was playing the game of his life. The ref also wouldn’t’ go a long way to helping the Czechs and it would go to penalties for the first time. History and drama! The Czechs would go first and converted being matched by West Germany on three occasions to make it 3-3. After Jurkemik scored his penalty to make it 4-3 World Cup hero Uli Hoeneb was next and he sent his shot in to the lower stratosphere or Row Z or wherever the ball went. All the Czechs had to do now was score their next penalty and would be champions of Europe; it would be the star man Panenka. With a majority of the world watching Panenka timed his penalty perfectly waiting for the German keeper to commit to one side and chipping the ball calmly straight down the middle like a footballing Cool Hand Luke when keeper dived to his right. Czechoslovakia were the champions beating one of the great sides. West Germany showed respect swapping shirts with the victorious Czechs. Much like St Kilda in 1966 all the post game photos of their greatest moment saw them wearing opposition colours.  

The penalty from Panenka was so popular the cheeky shot was named after him joining a small club of players that had moves named after them (e.g. The Cryuff turn). He has said in the following years that his shot was ‘a simple recipe to score a goal and I baked it’. Fair enough then. Five European Championships. Five different winners. One hell of a competition.

CHAMPIONS – Czechoslovakia (1st Title)

RUNNER UP – West Germany

GOLDEN BOOT – Dieter Muller. Another Muller another Golden Boot. Dieter Muller came from nowhere to score pivotal goals for his country. He unfortunately would not go on with this at international level only scoring 9 goals in 12 games but had a fantastic career with FC Koln.

SACRED COW – Antonin Panenka. The scorer of the winning penalty to win the title for his country. The penalty was even named after him for its brilliance. One of the greats for the Czechs.

DUNCE HATS – After blowing the 1974 World Cup the Dutch were expected to romp in this tournament but again blew it when it mattered. Rain, a suspect referee and other factos may have hobbled them but it was another Dutch disaster. They would also lose to the 1978 World Cup final two years later.

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About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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