Yugoslav goalkeeper Blagoje Vidinic attempts to save the ball during the 1960 European Championship final
Yugoslav goalkeeper Blagoje Vidinic attempts to save the ball during the 1960 European Championship final

Predominantly isolated from the rest of the world due to political circumstances after the Second World War, it was rare for an Eastern-European nation to dominate world football. As such, it formed the controversy that surrounded the football tournament at the Olympic Games.

Whereas the Olympic community called for amateur footballers at the Games, Eastern Europe’s sly definition led to professionals competing at the Games. Thus between 1952 and 1980, only Eastern European nations won Olympic Gold at the football tournament.

While this did not reflect on their position on the international scene, it did contribute to some of their outstanding performances. Hungary for example were the best in the World for four years in the early 50’s while the likes of Czechoslovakia and Poland would reach the final (1962) and the semis (1974) of the World Cup respectively.

It was the advent of Europe’s continental cup tournament in the 1960’s that finally brought about balance.

Besides the World Cup, it became a medium of seriously judging a country’s dominance at international level.  Due to that, the Soviet Union of the 60’s became a highly consistent team in so far as reaching the latter stages of international tournaments was concerned. In a period of eight years between 1960 and 1968, they won one tournament, got to another final, reached two semi-finals and also had a quarter-final to their name. In Lev Yashin, they also possessed a goalkeeper who would go on to become legendary, winning the Ballon d’Or for Europe’s best player in 1963.

In that period also, one other team displayed the sort of consistent characteristic that the Soviets had. That team was Yugoslavia.

Indeed, Yugoslavia would meet the Soviets in the first ever final of the European Championships in 1960.  A tense final in Paris would see the Soviets emerge victorious.  Milan Galic would become the first ever goal-scorer in a European Nation’s Cup Final as he gave Yugoslavia a 43rd minute lead. His goal would however be cancelled out four minutes after the restart before a 113th minute goal would win it for the Soviets in extra time. Yugoslavia had however come very close to winning an international football tournament. It would not be the last.

Two years later in Chile, it would be another Eastern European nation that would deny them a chance of attempting to win the World Cup. Czechoslovakia stood in their way and denied them the chance to face a Garrincha led Brazil in the final by defeating them in the World Cup semi-final. Instead, Yugoslavia would have to be content with finishing fourth as hosts Chile defeated them in the third place playoff game. Drazan Jerkovic would however become one of six players to be tied on four goals for the tournament’s Golden Boot.

The XI that lost to Czechoslovakia in the 1962 World Cup semis
The XI that lost to Czechoslovakia in the 1962 World Cup semis

They would then be knocked out of qualifying for the 1964 European Championships by Sweden in the first round before failing to qualify for the 1966 World Cup. But to bring an end to an era, they would have one final chance of lifting an international tournament.

Rome would be the scene of their final stand. Having defeated all comers in the 1968 European Championships, they came face to face with hosts Italy. The Italians had been lucky somewhat to reach that far. Their semi-final with the Soviet Union had particularly highlighted this. In an era before penalty shootouts, the 0-0 draw between Italy and Soviet Union would be decided by the toss of a coin. Italian captain Giacinto Facchetti got the luck of picking the right side of the coin.

In the final at the Stadio Olimpico, Fachetti would see his side concede first. Just like in the final in 1960, Yugoslavia would take the lead before half time. Yet again however, they would see the opponents equalise in the second half.

None of the sides scored again even after extra time. But unlike the semi-final, the match would not be decided by a coin toss and so a replay was organised for two days later. Italy would win the replay 2-0 in the process lifting their solitary European crowm.

Yugoslavia would once more be subject to the disappointment of failure.  Their record however in the that decade read two finals and a semi-final.

That sort of achievement would never — and will never — be realised again. In 1992, the country would plunge into Civil War that would end in Balkanization. The territory that used to be Yugoslavia is now six separate states including Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia.

Yet, for eight years in the 60’s, these territories produced a wide range of footballers whom together got precariously close to lifting at least one international tournament.

Great International Teams that Never Won : Introduction

[image courtesy of imortaisdofutebol]