The Azzurri came within nine minutes of defeat in the first attempt to decide the 1968 UEFA European Football Championship winners but they returned to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico 48 hours later as a different proposition, dominating Yugoslavia from the off.

Coach Ferruccio Valcareggi made five changes to his side, reflecting a desire to match Yugoslavia for power and pace – just when the Yugoslavians had none left. Two hard games, including a semi-final against England and then extra time versus Italy, had sapped them – and they did not have Italy’s strength in depth. Any country that could call up Sandro Mazzola and Luigi Riva as replacements deserved to be regarded as the best in Europe.

Riva’s recall made the difference. Returning from a broken leg (not for the first time), he exemplified the whole team: sometimes raw, sometimes clever, always in your face. He should have had a hat-trick, putting one header just wide, forcing a save with another when he ought to have scored, and volleying over an open goal after goalkeeper Ilija Pantelić let a high ball slip through his fingers.

When Riva did score, it was with his famous left foot, after Angelo Domenghini’s poorly hit shot turned into a through ball. Marginally but definitely onside, Riva turned and hit it low across Pantelić.

Meanwhile, Pietro Anastasi was having a better game this time, all speed and sharpness: taking the ball down on his chest after Riva won it in the air, he volleyed just wide as he fell. Riva gave him some grief for the miss – it was 0-0 at the time – but joined the celebrations when Anastasi flipped up Giancarlo De Sisti’s angled pass and volleyed in splendidly from the edge of the box after the half-hour.

That was game, set and match, because there was nothing coming through from the opposition. Dragan Džajić was a major disappointment; Tarcisio Burgnich, one of the great right-backs, had no problems here. Mirsad Fazlagić overlapped well as usual, yet Jovan Aćimović did little and the balding Idriz Hošić, Yugoslavia’s one replacement, was never capped again.

In the second half, Riva wasted his opportunities and Dino Zoff had to make one scrambling save, but it was all academic. Having booked their place in the final with a coin toss against the Soviet Union, and come through a taxing first encounter in the 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia two days before, the hosts were possibly due an easier ride.

(Taken from