Italy exited the tournament in agonising fashion as Gianfranco Zola's early penalty miss denied Arrigo Sacchi's side the victory that would have taken them though to the quarter-finals.
In truth the Azzurri were up against it from the start, their surprise 2-1 defeat by the Czech Republic five days earlier meaning they had to better the result attained by Dušan Uhrin's men against Russia in the other final group match. That the Czechs salvaged a 3-3 draw with two minutes remaining of their match rendered Italy's goalless draw with Germany, and consequential elimination from EURO '96, all the harder to swallow.
Though facing redoubtable opponents in the form of the 1992 runners-up, Italy were up against a Germany side already through to the last eight, and indeed began the match much the better of the two sides. Only nine minutes had passed when Mattias Sammer's attempted clearance was charged down by Pierluigi Casiraghi and the S.S. Lazio striker was felled by Andreas Köpke.
But the Germany goalkeeper made amends for his error, second-guessing Zola's side-footed spot kick with a smart save to his left. The Germans created little thereafter, carving out just three chances of note, while Italy dominated possession and territory, especially after Thomas Strunz had been sent off for a foul with just under an hour gone.
The Azzurri might also have scored through Roberto Donadoni, who was also denied by the imperious Köpke, but even that spurned opportunity did not appear to matter. With five minutes left, news began to filter through from Anfield that Russia had rallied from 2-0 down to take the lead against the Czech Republic. If Russia and Italy clung on, Sacchi's side would be through to the quarter-finals – Vladimír Šmicer's 88th-minute equaliser in Liverpool blocked that route.
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