Vintage Vignettes: Unluckiest Man in Euro History

Vintage Vignettes is about tracing the antecedents of an event from the past. This special Euro season, we look back to find the unluckiest man in the history of Euros and the referee who decided his fate

Albert Shesternyov
Who is the unluckiest man in the history of Euro? There can be a few contenders like Michael Ballack who has been the runner-up in all major competitions in the world and European football and can aptly be termed as the Nearly Man. However, one man who stands out is Albert Alekseyevich Shesternyov. This Russian footballer was one of the all-time greats of the famous Soviet Union team of the 60s. Played his entire career for CSKA Moscow, he was one of the early exponents of the libero position. He was courted by many European clubs but chose to remain with the club he started playing for. Shesternyov captained the Soviet national team 62 times in his 90 career appearances. Then why was he unlucky? We have to turn back the clock to the 1968 UEFA European Championships to know the reason.

The format of the tournament was that the host nation would only host four matches – the semi-finals, final and the third place match. The quarter-final knock-out matches were played on a home and away basis with the aggregate score determining the winner. The hosts Italy were rebuilding after the disaster of their 1966 World Cup defeat to North Korea and their subsequent elimination in the group stage. They had overcome the Bulgarians 4-3 in aggregate by winning 2-0 at home after losing 3-2 away. The Soviets entered the tournament as one of the favourites having reached the finals in the previous two editions. They also had lost the first match 2-0 away but then qualified after an impressive 3-0 win at Moscow to clinch the tie 3-2. The stage was set for the semi-final at the San Paolo stadium at Naples between the two sides on June 5.

The stadium was packed with nearly 70,000 people creating an amazing atmosphere. Italians were on the back-foot early with Gianni Rivera getting injured. This tournament had no substitutes so they were effectively playing with 10 men for the rest of the game. The Azzurri immediately went to their defensive shell and the rest of the match was a boring grind of robust midfields of both sides cancelling out each other. The Soviets had slightly better possession which was understandable with their numerical advantage but created very little. After 120 minutes of such bland football the referee Kurt Tschenscher blew the final whistle. As per rules, the match would be decided on a toss of the coin.

Tschenscher led the captains GiancintoFacchetti and Shesternyov to the dressing rooms for the toss. The other players and the crowd remained with bated breath for the result of the toss. Shesternyov called and did so wrongly and Facchetti ran out to the delight of the crowd and the Italian team. Shesternyov was disappointed and with his team had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat. It was after this match FIFA started thinking about the idea of a tie-breaker with penalty kicks. The Soviet team would have been the first team to play four consecutive Euro finals had Shesternyov won that toss as the team reached the final in 1972 as well. But sheer bad luck robbed them of that glory. Shesternyov was made to ponder the rest of his life – what if he had called it correctly!


Shesternyov and the referee Tschenscher created history again in the 1970 World Cup opening match featuring Soviet Union and the hosts Mexico. The former became the first player to be substituted and the latter was the referee in that match as well.