History of the Euros

European Nations Cup 1968

We look back at the history of European Championships as Italy won in 1968

John Brewin and Martin Williamson

Innovations

• The two-legged home-and-away knock-out stage was replaced by a group phase


Controversies


• The semi-final between Italy and the USSR was goalless after extra time and so was decided on the toss of a coin. This rule was abandoned for the final


• In the semi-final defeat to Yugoslavia, Alan Mullery became the first England player to be sent off


Trivia


• The tournament changed its name from European Nations' Cup to the European Championship.


• The hosts were only announced after the completion of the qualifying stage


• The British Home Championships of 1966 and 1967 were used as the home-and-away qualifying for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


• West Germany, entering for the first time, were knocked out in the group stages following a 1-1 draw with Albania. It remains the last time they failed to qualify for the finals



The story


An expanded tournament with just two members of the UEFA confederation not entering in Iceland and Malta, meaning a new system was required.


Mini-leagues were set up with the four home nations in world champions England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales being placed together as UEFA seeded eight teams, of which one was the West Germans in their first appearance in the competition.


Just like England's debut four years earlier, their campaign didn't last long as Yugoslavia beat the World Cup finalists to the last eight.


England, as expected, qualified from their Home Championship group but not without the ignominy of losing their first game since the World Cup to Scotland in April 1967. Goals from Denis Law, Bobby Lennox and Jim McCalliog saw them beat England 3-2. England's only consolation was that it hadn't been the same line-up as in the 1966 World Cup Final so any claims the Scots had on being the true world champs were dashed by the presence of Jimmy Greaves. Their hopes were also denied by a 1-1 draw with Wales effectively costing them a trip to the quarter-finals.


There, England were joined by holders Spain but not the Portugese, who had been so impressive in reaching the World Cup semis in 1966. Their place went to the Bulgarians along with the USSR and Italy. Hungary, with Florian Albert their continuing inspiration, saw off the burgeoning Dutch, for whom Johan Cruyff was making his early bows. The French, in a rebuilding process, saw off fancied Belgium.


The quarter-finals were again on a two-legged basis and the plum tie was World Cup winners England against holders Spain. A late winner from Bobby Charlton gave England a narrow advantage at Wembley and a comeback was required in Madrid after an Amancio goal. Martin '10 years ahead of his time' Peter and Norman 'Bites yer legs' Hunter were the goalscorers.


The French revival didn't last long as the Yugoslavs hammered them 5-1 in Belgrade. The Soviets continued their great record in the competition and Indian sign over Hungary while Italy, approaching their peak but still bowed by the shame of a World Cup exit to North Korea, came back against Bulgaria to qualify.


The two met in the semi where the pressure of being the home team led to a stolid display ending up 0-0 after extra-time. The archaic practice of tossing a coin to decide progress saw the Italians take their place in Rome's Stadio Olimpico.


There the Yugoslavs were waiting for them in their second final appearance. A 1-0 win over England had been achieved after Alan Mullery had become the first England player to be sent off in an international match. England had to be satisfied with third place. Dragan Dzajic had torn apart Ramsey's England and was pinpointed by the Italians as the danger man.


But still he was able to score for the Slavs and home tension was rife before Angelo Domenghini scored a controversially awarded free-kick. Extra-time yielded no goals and a replay was in order.


There, again in Rome, fatigue showed for Yugoslavia and some more questionable refereeing from a Spanish referee already notorious for his favouring of Italian clubs in European competition allowed a Gigi Riva goal to stand despite it being clearly offside. The Yugoslavs were done and a goal from Pietro Anastasi secured Italy's first major title since 1938.

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