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Stylish USSR overcome youthful Italy in EURO 1988 semi-final

Soviet Union 2-0 Italy
Gennadiy Lytovchenko and Oleh Protasov scored two goals in five second-half minutes.

Gennadiy Lytovchenko in action against Italy
Gennadiy Lytovchenko in action against Italy ©UEFA.com

Two goals in five second-half minutes sent the Soviet Union through to their fourth UEFA European Championship final – Italy had no answer to their strength and guile.

A tight, occasionally tetchy contest burst into live around the hour mark. First Oleh Kuznetsov and Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko combined to set up the alert Gennadiy Lytovchenko for the opener, and the Azzurri had scarcely come to terms with falling behind when Oleh Protasov put daylight between the teams. There was no way back for their youthful opponents.

EURO 1988: All you need to know

The USSR had begun nervously and the game was less than two minutes old when Kuznetsov, imperious at the heart of their defence throughout in West Germany, picked up a yellow card that would rule him out of any final. Yet the identity of the Netherlands' opponents three days later remained hard to guess as the sides went in for half-time at 0-0.

USSR players celebrate reaching the final
USSR players celebrate reaching the finalIcon Sport via Getty Images

That was a positive portent for the unbeaten Azzurri, whose three group games had also been goalless at the interval – yet it was the USSR that stepped it up. The breakthrough came on 58 minutes, when Kuznetsov advanced deep into Italy's half before laying off for Mykhaylychenko. The midfielder scrambled the ball into Lytovchenko's feet and although his initial shot was blocked he prodded in the rebound.

Soon it was 2-0, as the diminutive Olexandr Zavarov darted away on the left before squaring the ball to Protasov with the outside of his right boot; the striker needed no invitation. Italy showed resolve, with 23-year-old Gianluca Vialli squandering their best opening, but it was the USSR who booked a final meeting with a Netherlands side they beat 1-0 in their group stage opener.

EURO 1988: Team of the Tournament


Rinat Dasaev and Giuseppe Bergomi exchange pennants
Rinat Dasaev and Giuseppe Bergomi exchange pennantsIcon Sport via Getty Images

USSR: Dasaev (c); Rats, Bessanov (Demyanenko 36), Khidiyatullin, Kuznetsov; Mykhaylychenko, Aleynikov, Gotsmanov, Lytovchenko, Zavarov; Protasov
: Sukristovas, Chanov, Baltacha, Pasulko
Coach: Valeriy Lobanovskiy

Italy: Zenga; Maldini (De Agostini 65), Baresi, Ferri, Bergomi (c); Giannini, De Napoli, Ancelotti, Donadoni; Vialli, Mancini (Altobelli 46)
Substitutes: Ferrara, Tacconi, Fusi
Coach: Azeglio Vicini

Referee: Alexis Ponnet (Belgium)