||ESPNsoccernet: Euro 2008
Thursday, May 1, 2008
ESPNsoccernet: May 6, 4:08 PM UK
European Nations Cup 1968
Host nation: Italy
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 them 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 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. 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.