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On This Day at the Euros, July 9: France pioneer not caring about third place

France, 1959
(Image credit: Getty Images)

July 9, Euro 1960 third-place play-off: Czechoslovakia 2-0 France

The French have always been close to le coeur of football organisation; there’s a reason FIFA isn’t called IFAF. Making this year’s Euros a travelling circus rotating between cities was the cause celebre of Michel Platini, gallic journo Gabriel Hanot was the force motrice behind the establishment of the European Cup (or rather the Coupe des Clubs Champions Européens) in 1955, and within five years of that breakthrough the club competition had a country cousin, again as the brainchild of a Frenchman.

As secretary-general of the French Football Federation, Henri Delaunay has suggested a continental competition between countries as far back as 1927. FIFA concentrated instead on the World Cup, largely designed by Delaunay and his compatriot Jules Rimet, but when UEFA was established in 1954 – founded in Switzerland but headquartered in Paris for its first five years – its first secretary-general was l’homme himself, Henri Delaunay.

Delaunay died in 1955 but his son Pierre was made secretary of the European Nations' Cup organising committee the same year, and the trophy is still named after papa. Countries paid 200 Swiss Francs to enter the first edition, whose first two-legged qualifiers started in 1958 – albeit only among 17 nations, with notable absentees including the Dutch, Italians, West Germans and the four UK Home Nations – and the last four proceeded to the finals in, yep, France. 

In the first semi-final, the hosts – who had reached the 1958 World Cup semis before succumbing 5-2 to a Pele-inspired Brazil – continued the fine goalscoring form that had seen them sweep aside Greece 8-2 and Austria 9-4 in qualifying, banging another four past Yugoslavia. Sadly for most of the 26,000 watching at Paris’s Parc des Princes, they forgot to stop their opponents scoring more than them, surrendering 3-1 and 4-2 leads to lose by the odd goal in nine. 

So instead of a triumphant coronation in the capital, France were packed off to Marseille for a third-place play-off. As in the semi, their opponents were also from behind the political Iron Curtain which divided the continent between the communist east and the capitalist west; this time, it would be Czechoslovakia, hammered (if not sickled) 3-0 by the Soviet Union in the other semi.

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Czechoslovakia had been unluckily eliminated from the 1958 World Cup via a play-off, and had battered Denmark 7-3 and Romania 5-0 in qualifying. For the French, the unseemly scrabble for the bronze medal held little interest: coach Albert Batteux made five changes to his XI, enraging some of the scant 9,000 crowd into vocally demanding a refund. 

Making just two changes, Rudolf Vytlacil’s Czechoslovakia found themselves facing what newspapers called an equipe fantomatique – a team of ghosts. Arriving just before the hour, the first goal was a combination of errors: veteran captain Robert Jonquet, who had missed the semi through injury, slipped under a cross from Ladislav Novak, allowing Vlastimil Bubnik to beat the flat cap-wearing debutant goalkeeper Jean Taillandier. 

With France offering little threat, Czechoslovakia wrapped it up in the dying minutes when Ladislav Pavlovic – one of Vytlacil’s two fresh faces – was delighted to see his tame effort beat Taillandier at his near post. 

“My men were not good,” said a puzzled Vytlacil to the post-match press corps, “but I’m especially disappointed to have seen France play so badly.” While Novak and Masopust made the team of the tournament, no Frenchmen did, and seven starters on each side never gained another cap. 

One protagonist who did go on to further success was first goalscorer Bubnik, who won Olympic bronze for his country playing ice hockey at the 1964 Winter Olympics, but the template had been set for third-place games: nobody really cared. 

The 1964 game between Hungary and Denmark drew fewer than 4,000 to Barcelona’s vast Camp Nou, and though the 1968 version benefited from being played as an afternoon warm-up to the evening’s final at the same stadium (Rome’s Stadio Olimpico), 1972’s and 1976’s drew just 6,000 each despite featuring the hosts on both occasions. 

Decided by a penalty shootout, 1980’s third-placer was its last stand: there has been no such game at the Euros from the 1984 edition onwards. And the winners and hosts that year? Our old friends France, led by Michel Platini. Plus ça change

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Gary Parkinson is a freelance writer, editor, trainer, muso, singer, actor and coach. He spent 14 years at FourFourTwo as the Global Digital Editor and continues to regularly contribute to the magazine and website, including major features on Euro 96, Subbuteo, Robert Maxwell and the inside story of Liverpool's 1990 title win. He is also a Bolton Wanderers fan.