EURO 1968: Italy’s first and only semi-finals triumph via toss coin

One of the most iconic moments in the history of Euro happened in 1968. Aside from officially calling the tournament “European Championship”, formerly “European Nations’ Cup”, the fairest way to declare a winner through a toss coin happened for the first and only time in history of Euro. It was Italy against theSoviet Union in the semifinals of Euro 1968.

Changes in the original format of the tournament qualifying occurred in the 1968 edition of the competition, as the two-legged home-and-away knock-out stage being replaced by a group phase. It was the first time a group stage was held from 1966 until 1968. Only four countries reached the final tournament, with the tournament consisting of the semi-finals, a third place play-off, and the final.

It was Italy’s debut appearance in the tournament and the first time that they will host a major football tournament since 1934. Knocked out of the 1966 FIFA World Cup by the Soviet Union, Italy got the automatic qualification as host nation. Beside the host and USSR, the other nations to qualify for the Finals were the then World champions England and hugely strong nation Yugoslavia.

The semi-final round happened in Stadio San Paolo in Naples, with an estimated 70,000 many local fans watching in the stadium. The Azzurri faced Soviet Union, while Yugoslavia taking on England at the Stadio Communale in Florence just few hours after the historic match. The Soviet Union was missing little Igor Chislenko, who had scored the only goal of that 1966 match, in that match.

Without the opponent’s key player, Italy has an advantage against the strong team. However, Gianni Rivera, Italy’s key player was sidelined for treatment in the opening period following a collision with Valentin Afonin. It was a bad weather throughout the match that made it hard for players to score.After 90 minutes, the teams were deadlocked and they headed to extra-time.

During the extra-time, Giancarlo Bercellino got injured, forcing Angelo Domenghini to move to left-back. He is the only chance of the home team to seal the win as the tired opponent was already slowed down. However, the extra-time period also ended scoreless. Back in 1968, the extra time penalty shootout was not part of the game yet and to declare a winner, something has to be done – a toss coin.

The bizarre moment of determining the winner happened in a separate where Azzurri skipper Giacinto Facchetti and his opposite number Albert Shesternev, accompanied by the referee and two administrators from the two countries to proceed on the coin toss. The Italian side called tails and as the coin flips in the air and landed on the official’s hand – a tail was shown and a winner has been declared.

After winning the coin toss, Facchetti said “It was the right call and Italy were through to the final. I went racing upstairs as the stadium was still full and about 70000 fans were still waiting to hear the result. My celebrations told them they could celebrate an Italian victory.” History was made afterwards as Italy headed to the finals for the first time, and for the only time, a winner was declared via toss coin.

The final round of that year was set by hosts Italy against Yugoslavia, who won against England, played at the StadioOlympico in Rome. Interestingly, the final also ended in a draw between two teams, but there was no toss coin happened and the host nation prevailed 2-0 in a replay two days later. It was the Azzurri’s first and only European title to date.