Classic Azzurri Matches – Italy vs Yugoslavia 1968
It took two games for Italy and Yugoslavia to be separated in the 1968 European Championship, but the Azzurri triumphed, winning their first and only continental crown to date.
The 1968 European Championship in Italy was a history-making tournament.
This was the first time it was called the European Championship and not the European Nations’ Cup and the first time the qualifying phase had a group stage format and not two-legged knock-out games. It also holds a place in the hearts of Italian footballing fans – the first, and to this date, only time Italy were crowned champions.
Coached by Ferruccio Valcareggi, their route to the final only consisted of one match as the main body of the tournament was only contested by four teams, but Italy still relied heavily on luck to get to the final.
Facing the Soviet Union in the semi-final, who knocked Italy out two years earlier in the 1966 World Cup, the Azzurri faithful could not help feeling nervous about their side’s chances and these feelings got worse as the match dragged on with no goals for either side.
At the conclusion of a relatively dull encounter that finished 0-0, both captains were called into the dressing rooms with referee Kurt Tschenscher to face a dreaded coin toss; penalty shootouts were not introduced to decide major fixtures until the 1970s. Such match-ending procedures had caused heartbreak for fans worldwide in the past, but this was the most high-profile occasion ever to include such a method of victory.
Giacinto Facchetti of Italy called tails and Albert Shesternyov of the USSR called heads. The coin was tossed, and landed tails-up.
Facchetti ran back out onto the pitch and celebrated with his teammates, fuelling similar actions in the crowd for every Italian crammed into the Stadio San Paolo in Naples.
Italy had advanced to the European Championship final to face Yugoslavia in the most fortuitous of manners.
The final is also a historic landmark within the sport; it is the only European Championship final ever to go to a replay.
Italy were 10 minutes away from defeat in the first leg on June 8 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, but Angelo Domenghini became a hero thanks to his powerful free-kick which gave both sides a second chance at getting their hands on the Henri Delaunay Trophy.
In front of less than half the capacity seen in the first leg, this replay occurred just 48 hours later.
Injuries would, therefore, be expected to play a large part in the game, but Italy’s luck continued as a key player returned from the sidelines to lead them to victory.
Five changes were made by coach Valcareggi, namely the inclusions of Picchio, Sandro Mazzola, Roberto Rosato, Alessandro Salvadore and the return of the ‘Roar of Thunder’ up front: Luigi Riva.
Yugoslavia coach Rajko Mitic only made one change to the squad from the game a couple of days earlier, which could be seen as the reason for such Italian dominance during the match.
The Italian squad looked stronger than before. The five changes meant extra energy was instilled into the starting line-up, the rock of Facchetti remained in defence and in the unlikely event that he should fail to do his job properly, goalkeeping legend Dino Zoff was in-between the sticks to stop any attacks.
The Plavi, on the other hand, were drained. A semi-final against England and extra-time versus Italy before the game, with only one change made, proved to be an unfavourable mix, and it was only a matter of time before Italy came out on top.
The third European Championship final began, as expected, with the Azzurri setting the tempo from the off, nearly scoring within the first minute only for keeper Ilija Pantelic to steal the ball off Italian striker Rosato while through on goal.
Valcareggi’s men then thought they got ahead after a fumble in the penalty area eventually led to the ball rolling a whisker wide of the goal, with protests for a penalty being waved away by Spanish referee Jose Maria Ortiz de Mendibil.
Yugoslavia kept trying to get past Dino Zoff but a goal just wouldn’t come for them and the Italian defence got stronger and stronger with every chance gone.
Pantelic was tested for the first time in the Yugoslav goal when Riva drilled a low shot towards the left corner, but the keeper was there to deflect it away for an Italian corner, which led to the deadlock being broken.
A sloppy clearance by the Yugoslav defence found its way to Luigi Riva via a scuffed Angelo Domenghini shot, and Riva found himself in the easy position to slot the ball home from about 10 yards with his left foot.
Protests began from the Yugoslav section of the crowd who believed the 23–year-old was offside, but the recovered Riva’s goal stood and the score was now 1-0 after 12 minutes.
The hosts continued piling on the pressure and a second goal came just over 15 minutes later, courtesy of defender Pietro Anastasi.
He had previously had a chance to open the scoring when he volleyed the ball wide, but this was made up for when a volley was this time successfully and excellently converted from the edge of the box with his back to goal.
Italy’s lead was now doubled and there was no coming back for Yugoslavia.
Key striker Dragan Dzajic put in a below-par performance which wasn’t helped by the splendid defending of Tarcisio Burgnich.
Italy had one sole fright in the second half when Zoff struggled to make a clean and comfortable save, but it was all too easy for them.
Spectators in the crowd thought it was 3-0 when the ball was put in the back of the net by Salvadore, but a previous foul on a Yugoslav defender meant the goal didn’t stand.
The losing side tried and tried again to get past the Italian back line, but Facchetti, Burgnich and Anastasi amongst others could not be moved and it was a simple game of winding down the clock once they were on the ball.
Torches were lit and the pitch was invaded as the final whistle blew meaning Italy claimed their first European Championship in their home of football, the Stadio Olimpico.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwx7J4JX82k