Knocked out of the 1966 FIFA World Cup by the Soviet Union, Italy found the same opponents blocking their path to the final of the 1968 UEFA European Football Championship – this time they were granted a fortuitous way through.
Despite his pre-match claim that the USSR were "not unbeatable", coach Ferruccio Valcareggi could not disguise Italy's anxiety about a team who had also knocked them out of the European Nations' Cup four years previously.
Such wariness was not the only explanation for the goalless outcome, however, with both teams showing steely defence despite being hit by injuries. The Soviet Union missed little Igor Chislenko, who had scored the only goal of that 1966 match, and were also without Murtaz Khurtsilava at the back. Italy's fragile but brilliant playmaker Gianni Rivera, meanwhile, was forced off for treatment in the opening period following a collision with Valentin Afonin.
Giancarlo Bercellino also injured a knee in extra time, forcing Angelo Domenghini to move to left-back, so the hosts were never operating at full strength. Small wonder then that the Soviets forced six corners in succession just before the interval.
In a match played in bad weather throughout, chances were predictably few and far between. Piero Prati fired only just wide from 15 metres, the impressively calm Dino Zoff saved from Albert Schesternev and twice from Aleksandr Lenev, freed to go forward by Rivera's injury. Near the end of extra time, Domenghini hit the foot of a post, but although he and Sandro Mazzola worked hard as usual, the Italian attack was not at its most menacing.
With the Soviet forwards unable to keep possession, 0-0 seemed fair. The teams had to be separated, however, and it was Italy who marched on to the showpiece after their captain, Giacinto Facchetti, called correctly in the dreaded coin toss. For the USSR, there was only the consolation of the third-place play-off.
"I went up with the Russian captain," said Facchetti. "We went down to the dressing rooms together, accompanied by two administrators from the two teams. The referee pulled out an old coin and I called tails. It was the right call and Italy were through to the final. I went racing upstairs as the stadium was still full and about 70,000 fans were waiting to hear the result. My celebrations told them that they could celebrate an Italian victory."
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