After the tense political intrigue of the opening European Championships, the 1964 tournament had its own sub-plots.
After withdrawing from the previous tournament in protest at being drawn with the Soviet Union, Franco’s Spain played host to the second European Championships.
In the early days of the European Championships, the hosts were only decided once the final four teams had been determined. Perhaps seeing the opportunity to showcase what the country did best, or perhaps looking to football to score himself political points, Franco wholeheartedly embraced the games as soon as Spain cemented their position.
This was perhaps of no real surprise. Real Madrid had been the dominant force in European Football for much of the previous decade, while Barcelona and Atletico Madrid had also made the latter stages of the European Cup. This is all the more remarkable because it was a time when only winners were given immediate entry, and Spain were only allowed two representatives by virtue of Real Madrid being defending champions. Spain boasted the best teams on the planet.
The qualification process was a little more all-inclusive second time around. England, Wales and Northern Ireland had elected to take part, as had Italy, but Scotland and West Germany still refused the opportunity.
Wales and England were eliminated at the first round of qualifiers; the Welsh going down 4-2 on aggregate to a talented Hungary side. An England team which would be world champions within two years were beaten 6-3 by France. Northern Ireland progressed at the expense of Poland, while Republic of Ireland beat Iceland to join them. Spain, who had to qualify, beat Romania 7-3.
There were big shocks in the round of 16, not least when Sweden eliminated the mighty Yugoslavia. Luxembourg triumphed over the Netherlands and Republic of Ireland beat Austria. Albania, who had only qualified because Greece had refused to play them because of the slight technicality that they were at war, were knocked out by Denmark. Spain beat Northern Ireland 2-1.
The final matches of qualification took place between December 1963 and May 1964. Sweden were beaten by the Soviet Union, Hungary disposed of France, Spain thrashed Ireland 7-1 on aggregate and Luxembourg were only eliminated by Denmark after a replay. The original set of fixtures had produced a 5-5 aggregate scoreline, and Luxembourg had taken the lead in both legs.
Running contrary to popular opinion, the Spanish side which made the finals was largely made up of players from Barcelona and Real Zaragoza, the latter of which were about to embark on the Los Magnificos period of their history. Zaragoza also won the Fairs Cup in the year of the Finals.
In the first match of the tournament proper, Spain narrowly defeated a hugely experienced Hungary side 2-1, after extra time. Barcelona’s Jesus Maria Pereda gave Spain the lead with a thumping header. Five minutes before time Ferenc Bene capitalised when Jose Angel Irbar dropped a cross at his feet. With five minutes remaining, Real Madrid’s Amancio Amaro poached a winner to take Spain to the final.
There they would face their old political rivals, the Soviet Union. Konstantin Beskov’s team had easily dispatched Denmark in the semi-final, 3-0. The match coincided with Nikita Khrushchev’s state visit to Denmark, where he found a political ally amongst the various difficulties the Soviet Union was facing.
In the third and fourth place playoff, Hungary beat the Danes 3-1 thanks to goals from Bene and a double from Dezso Novak. However, the real intrigue was in the final.
The USSR’s relations with the west had warmed slightly in the four years since the previous match. The end of the era of Stalin had meant that some old quarrels had been forgotten, and the Cold War was past it’s Defcon 1 peak of the early 60s. Khrushchev had shown a more open attitude towards many areas of Europe, and there were signs that the Iron Curtain may be parted.
In a match that had been unthinkable and, quite literally, unplayable four years earlier, Spain beat the USSR 2-1 to record their first European Championship win. Pereda opened the scoring for Spain after just 6 minutes, lashing the ball beyond Yashin (say that quickly five times) after some uncharacteristic Soviet hesitancy.
Two minutes later the scores were equal when Galimzyan Khusainov poked home from the edge of the box. However, Spain were not to be denied and in similar circumstances to the first goal, Marcelino Martinez scored after receiving the ball from the right wing.
Spain were crowned champions, and for many of their players and supporters they were faced with the uncomfortable prospect of bowing in front of Franco during the celebrations. With Catalans and Basques in the squad, it would have been an impossible situation for many. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Spain’s first European Championship triumph is not as readily celebrated as it might have been.
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