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Tournament History: Euro 1968 (Italy)

The Blue Road To Glory

The 1960’s were a mixed period for the Azzurri. Although Inter and Milan were conquering the club scene, La Nazionale never got into their stride and they were disappointing during the World Cup in 1966. However, the Italians saw a great opportunity to rise back to the pinnacle of European football when they were awarded the tournament and they never looked back.

Ferruccio Valcareggi was to prove himself as one of La Nazionale’s greatest ever coaches. He took over from the legendary Helenio Herrera for the pan-European tournament and right from the start, the former Fiorentina player breathed new life into an under-performing national side.

The new man had no problem in getting Italy through the first group stage. 31 teams entered the tournament and they were split into eight groups, seven groups of four with the other remaining group containing only three teams. The quarter finalists would be those teams who finished as group winners and there were to be a few shock exits just like in every tournament.

East and West Germany, who were amongst the favourites, were both eliminated at the group stage as was a potent Czechoslovakia side. The eight quarter finalists contained all the usual suspects including Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, USSR, Yugoslavia, Hungary, France and England.

La Nazionale was paired with Bulgaria, England played Spain, Hungary took on the USSR, with France entertaining Yugoslavia. England went through comfortably but Italy did it the hard way losing the first leg 3-2 but winning the second on home soil 2-0.

Yugoslavia thrashed France 5-0 in Paris and so Italy, England, the USSR and Yugoslavia all went through to the semi finals.

At 18:00 hours on June 5 the two semi–finals got underway. Italy played the Soviet Union in Naples with England squaring up to Yugoslavia at the Artemio Franchi in Florence.

Dragan Dzajic was the hero against Bobby Charlton’s England side as he sent the Three Lions packing when he lobbed Gordon Banks just four minutes from time.

Italy, however, had a more difficult task as an injury to Gianni Rivera meant the Azzurri had to play 85 minutes with 10 men as back then substitutes were not part of the game. After two rounds of extra-time, the game ended goalless. Penalties? So common these days, back in 1968 there wasn’t any and thus the game against Russia was decided by the toss of a coin. Italy won the lottery which left the Soviet’s red-faced with anger.

England finished the tournament third after beating the USSR in the third-place playoff.

La Finale

Italy got off to a shaky start with Dzajic giving his side the lead five minutes from half-time. The Azzurri re-organised and they kept huffing and puffing but to no-avail. The trophy seemed destined to go to the solid, elegant and determined Yugoslavian side. However, with the clock ticking, Internazionale’s Angelo Domenghini struck minutes before full time to force the game into extra-time.

Neither side was able to go and find a winner, perhaps afraid of risking defeat, and so they cancelled each other out. Once again there was to be no penalty shoot out but this time the game was not decided by a coin toss. Instead, officials took the decision for the match to be re-played.

Two days later, thousands turned out in the Olimpico to witness Italy’s triumph. Valcareggi changed things up and he replaced Ferrini, Castano, Juliano and Lodetti with Rosato, Salvadore, Mazzola and De Sisti to give the side more attacking prowess. The rotation worked and the Azzurri wasted no-time as in-form Cagliari striker Gigi Riva struck on 12 minutes to send the Stadio Olimpico berserk.

Twenty minutes later Varese striker Pietro Anastasi struck to seal the win for Valcareggi’s talented side. Italy were crowned Champions of Europe for the very first time to add to their previous two World Cup victories.    

June 8 1968 Rome. Italy 1-1 Yugoslavia AET

Scorers:
Dzajic/Yugoslavia 39’ First Half. Domenghini/Italy 36' Second Half.

ITALY:
Zoff, Burgnich, Facchetti, Ferrini, Guarneri, Castano, Domenghini, Juliano, Anastasi, Lodetti, Prati

Coach: Valcareggi

YUGOSLAVIA:
Pantelic, Fazlagic, Damjanovic, Pavlocic, Paunovic, Holcer, Petkovic, Trivic, Musemic, Acimovic, Dzajic.

Coach: Mitic

Referee:
Dienst

Venue:
Stadio Olimpico

Attendance: 85.000

June 10 1968. ITALY 2 - 0 Yugoslavia

Scorers: Riva 12’, Anastasi 31'

ITALY:
Zoff, Burgnich, Facchetti, Rosato, Guarneri, Salvadore, Domenghini, Mazzola, Anastasi, De Sisti, Riva.

Coach: Valcareggi

YUGOSLAVIA:
Pantelic, Fazlagic, Damjanovic, Pavlovic, Paunovic, Holcer, Acimovic, Trivic, Musemic, Hosic, Dzajic.

Coach:
Mitic

Referee: Ortiz de Mendibil

Venue: Stadio Olimpico

Attendance: 55,000

Top Scorer: Dragan Dzajic / Yugoslavia

The Red Star Belgrade winger made a name for himself during the tournament. He only scored twice, but that was enough for him to win praise from the legendary Pele. Dzajic’s goal against England in the semi will live long in the memory of those who were lucky enough to see it. He lobbed the great Gordon Banks with the most audacious attempt to fire his side to the final.

Salvatore Landolina