Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros-Euro ’68 (Italy)

European Football at an international level gained some serious momentum by the time the 1968 European Championship came around. Gone was the rather archaic ‘Cup of Nations’ moniker for the competition adopting a more slick name of ‘Euro 68’. England had won the World Cup at Wembley (which they have never gone on about) while the European Cup at club level had turned in a massive with Manchester United winning 1968 that was a turning point for the competition now firmly finding its feet.

With all the European countries behind the comp UEFA started to fiddle with the format of the competition a little bit by having qualifying groups with the group winners through to a quarter finals set up over two legs before the usual semi final and final would be held in a neutral country.

West Germany had finally decided to join the competition after losing to England in 1966 and featured a brilliant young team led by the soon to be legendary Franz Beckenbuaer. After being on the outside looking in they were ready for domination and to show they could be a force. They were of course eliminated in the group stage of qualification.

The annual British ‘home nations’ tournament was used as qualifying for those under the Union Jack with England prevailing over a strong Scottish side. World Cup third placed side Portugal didn’t make it in what was a shock considering at the time they had the most dangerous striker in the world (Eusebio).

In the quarter finals Italy were through thanks to crawling past Bulgaria. Italy had been a dominant force at club level thanks to their ultra defensive ‘catenaccio’ tactics they virtually killed off other teams, fans and the sport in general by boredom. Their very successful tactic came unstuck against North Korea at the 66 World Cup in one of the great upsets in World Cup History. The locals took it well when the side returned to Italy. They decided to welcome back the team by throwing rotten fruit at the plane.

England did away with the champions Spain with a rare win on the continent while the usual suspects Yugoslavia and the Soviets were again in to the semis. UEFA decided that Italy would be the best place to host the semi finals and final. England had just hosted the World Cup while they didn’t fancy playing in Moscow or Belgrade in the current political environment.


The first semi final would be played in Naples between Italy and the Soviets. The Soviet Union had decided to start rebuilding their side after making the semi finals at the ’66 World Cup and still had a potent side of attacking potential. The trouble was with this attacking potential was they were up against Italy and the catenaccio. The game predictably finished at 0-0 and after extra time it would move on to the next stage to find a winner. Was it the dreaded penalty shoot out? Golden goal? No, none of that. The first place in the final of the second biggest football competition in the world would be decided by a coin toss. The Italian captain Giancito Faccheti guessed correctly and Italy were through.

In the other semi the World Champs England would face Yugoslavia. England were a wonderful side at the peak of their powers but didn’t like the roughhouse tactics of some sides. Yugoslavia were the masters of roughhouse and niggle seemingly put together with a mix of the DNA of Tony Liberatore and Ryan Crowley. England couldn’t get it together and it seemed as though this game would also be decided by the toss of a coin but with 3 minutes to go Dragan Dzajic (one of the great Serbian players) scored to make it 1-0.

England had to chase the game with minutes left but one player, Alan Mullery, decided to lash out after a Yugoslav player scraped his sharpened studs over his calf. Seeing blood Mullery literally saw red kicking the Yugoslav player in the balls and being sent off. Mullery to this day still laments this is what he is remember for more than anything else despite being a star for Fulham and Spurs over many years winning numerous medals. Mullery was expecting to be blasted by coach Alf Ramsey when he left the pitch but after the game Ramsey praised Mullery saying “at least someone stood up to those dirty bastards!”. UEFA fined Mullery for the act, the English FA paid for the fine.

After all of that Yugoslavia won 1-0 and would face Italy in the final.



The final would be played at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, the venue for the 1960 Olympics. With one team ultra defensive and the other kicking anything that moves it didn’t promise to be a classic but it still had goals. Yugoslavia opened the scoring through Dzajic (again) near half time. Italy had to attack now. The almost 70,000 implored them to get back in to the game, fruit perhaps at the ready like in 1966. In the second half Italy searched for an equaliser and found it 10 minutes from time through the impeccably good looking Inter superstar Angelo Domenghini. 1-1 it finished and with UEFA reluctant to go to another coin toss the game would be replayed 48 hours later. Some Italian players admitted to the press they had been lucky which sent a few in to a spin. Had Yugoslavia missed a golden chance?

The replay was played in Rome again with Italy making two changes after seeing how Yugoslavia ticked first hand. Yugoslavia didn’t have the depth to counteract changes for the replay. On front of a smaller crowd Italy were control of the match going ahead on 12 minutes thanks to Riva’s low shot, his inclusion in the side a key. With an early goal it was expected Italy would go in to ultra defensive mode but kept at their visitors going up 2-0 thanks to the youngster Anastasi scoring a similar goal to the first. Italy then went catenaccio shutting up shop and winning 2-0. Italy had won their first title since taking out the World Cup in 1938. It was another loss for Yugoslavia. This victory was also big for young goalkeeper Dino Zoff who would go on captain Italy to World Cup glory some 14 years later. This same Italian side would lose to one of the great Brazilian sides in the 1970 World Cup Final.

Probably the best tournament so far for the Euros with one of the superpowers getting their hands on the trophy.

CHAMPIONS-Italy (First title)

RUNNER UP-Yugoslavia

GOLDEN BOOT-Dragan Dzajic. The Red Star Belgrade winger either scored or set up a majority of Yugoslavia’s goals including two in Italy. The emergence of a great of the game.

SACRED COW-Angelo Domenghini. His performances in this tournament complemented his dominance for Inter Milan at club level. One of Italy’s greats and scorer of a vital goal in the first final.

DUNCE HATS-Alan Mullery was a star midfielder for club and country winning an FA Cup with Spurs in 1967 but will always be remembered for the first player to be sent off playing for England. A wonderful player relegated to being a quiz night question. After playing this unwelcome record saw him slip in to depression. Converting to Christianity and help from ex players in the turned his life around some 20 years ago.

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About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.


  1. Peter Fuller says

    Superb summaries. Your encyclopedic knowledge of the world game is staggering. I hope that you will forgive a minor partisan quibble. The turning point of the European Cup was surely Celtics’s win in 1967.
    Your reference to England and 1966 and the British successes later reminds me of a political cartoon in the late 60s. Harold Wilson the Labor PM at the time was remarking to a colleague: Under the Tories nothing, with Labor the World Cup and two European Cups.

  2. Dennis Gedling says

    Thanks Peter. I didn’t know that much about the early years of this competition so wanted to learn for myself too considering the political background at the time. Definitely all a bit nationalistic with all the players playing in their own country unlike these days.

    The people that matter know the Hoops were the first to do it from the UK ;) All local boys too.

  3. Peter Fuller says

    It’s my understanding that the Celtic team was made up of players born within something like a radius of 25 miles of Glasgow – inconceivable nowadays, and to think that it’s a mere fifty years ago. Incidentally my mate who came to Melbourne as a twenty year old was/is a Rangers’ fanatic. Bill saw the Real Madrid-Eintracht Frankfurt Euro Cup Final at Hampden Park in 1960 (see links). He and his co-religionists took comfort in the fact that the immortal manager Jock Stein was a Mason.

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