A coin toss may be used to settle a dispute between friends, to select one of two alternatives or even simply to decide who kicks off – only once, however, has it picked a UEFA European Championship finalist.
For 120 minutes Italy and the Soviet Union could not be separated in their 1968 semi-final in Naples. The Azzurri had produced a herculean effort to stave off their opponents having been reduced to ten men through an early injury to Gianni Rivera. Their fate, though, was suddenly out of their own hands and into the referee's.
Italy's captain, the late Giacinto Facchetti, was the man designated to call for his side and recalled that most nerve-wracking of intervals after the final whistle. "In those days, there was no provision for a penalty shoot-out – the match had to be decided by the toss of a coin. Italy had played almost the entire match with ten men and at that time, the substitution of an injured player wasn't in the regulations.
"Another one of our players was suffering with severe cramps so we finished with nine and a half men. At the end of extra time the German referee called up the two captains. We went down to the dressing rooms together, the referee pulled out an old coin and I called tails. It was the right call and Italy were through to the final.
As soon as the toss had been completed I went racing upstairs to celebrate. The stadium was still full and about 70,000 fans were waiting to hear the result. My celebrations told them they could celebrate an Italian victory."
Though FIFA World Cup winners in 1934 and 1938, Italy had not been to a major final for 30 years; however, one of Facchetti's compatriots knew their wait would be over once his captain took that fateful walk. "I could only hope that luck would be on my side," said full-back Facchetti. "One of my team-mates, [Tarcisio] Burgnich, asked who was going to make the call for Italy. When they told him it was going to be me, he said, 'It's all over, Facchetti is a lucky man!' Fortunately, things turned out as he predicted.
"In the corridor I was already shouting and when they saw the reaction from me and my team-mates, the public had no doubt about the result. The public really celebrated because it meant we were in the final for the first time in 30 years." All because Facchetti chose tails.
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