The 1996 European Championship was a huge disappointment for Italy as the many stars called up by coach Arrigo Sacchi did not manage to achieve good chemistry and they were ultimately knocked out at the group stage.
The squad included pure talents such as Gianfranco Zola, Pierluigi Casiraghi, Enrico Chiesa and Alessandro Del Piero. In spite of this, coach Sacchi was hugely criticised for leaving behind stars like Roberto Baggio, Gianluca Vialli and Beppe Signori.
The competition is also remembered for the great performances offered by AC Milan’s defender Paolo Maldini, a young and rising star of the time, who was chosen by Sacchi as a late substitution for the injured Ciro Ferrara.
The expectations for the Azzurri team were very high considering they had lost the World Cup final to Brazil just two years earlier, in a dramatic penalty shootout.
Italy debuted at Anfield against Russia, managing to secure a 2-1 win thanks to inspired performances from the duo of Casiraghi and Zola.
In spite of the victorious debut, coach Sacchi revolutionised the line-up for the second match against the Czech Republic as Chiesa and Fabrizio Ravanelli were chosen to form the forward couple. The results were poor, as a 10-man Italy lost 2-1 to the aggressive Czechs.
In the final match of the group stage, the Azzurri had to face eventual champions Germany. The match seemed to be jinxed from the beginning, as Zola missed a penalty during the eighth minute and the German goalkeeper Andreas Koepke pulled off a streak of incredible saves. The game ended up as a 0-0 draw.
In the meantime, the Czech Republic had tied 3-3 their own challenge against Russia. Thanks to their win in the direct clash against the Azzurri, they went on in the competition and Sacchi’s squad left the tournament.
The Germans and the Czechs would later on face each other in the final, with the former lifting the cup after a dramatic golden goal during the extra time.
ANGELO PERUZZI – The starting goalkeeper for Italy during the competition was chosen by Sacchi from Juventus. Peruzzi had just won the Champions League with the Bianconeri and had had a fantastic season keeping a clean sheet on 20 occasions.
FRANCESCO TOLDO – The Fiorentina goalkeeper had not yet become the amazing game-saver admired in Euro 2000. In the 1995-96 season, he had won the Coppa Italia with the Viola and had beaten the competition of high-profile keepers such as Gianluca Pagliuca and Francesco Antonioli.
LUCA BUCCI – Bucci was the keeper of the miraculous Parma side of the era; nonetheless, he did not have an impressive international career, making only three senior appearances for Italy between 1994 and 1996.