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Italy have enjoyed their fair share of FIFA World Cup success, but they have often fallen short in the UEFA European Championship – apart from 1968, that is. As Cesare Prandelli's side aim to etch the Azzurri's name onto the Henri Delaunay Cup for a second time, Gianni Rivera reflects on that competition on home soil 44 years ago and admits to mixed emotions.
Having appeared in the goalless semi-final against the USSR – which was subsequently decided in the Azzurri's favour by a coin toss – the AC Milan playmaker was denied a place in the UEFA European Championship showpiece by injury, meaning he had to watch on as his team-mates defeated Yugoslavia in a replay.
"I couldn't play in the final, but I played in all the other matches before," said Rivera, who received the UEFA President's Award for 2011 earlier this year. "You can feel such a match has the same intensity from the stands.
It showed that all the players are important and that also you can occasionally do it without your best players. That's very significant, because that means that the team works as a unit."
Italy did just that to recover from a goal down in the Rome final and force a replay thanks to Angelo Domenghini's free-kick with ten minutes remaining. The hosts' 2-0 victory two days later, which Rivera again missed, gave the midfielder his only silverware of a 12-year international career.
"The national team was something very special for me," Rivera, a World Cup runner-up in Mexico in 1970, added. "For us it was fundamental to make it into the national team. It was the completion of something significant having played at club level – it's nice recognition."
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