By 1968 the tournament had become more established and been renamed the European Championship. Instead of playing knock-out matches for qualification a group qualification was introduced with four teams in each group. The winners of each group would go on to knock-out quarterfinals (home and away) after which the four teams of the final tournament would be found.
Still, some changes were not made. By 1968 it was no longer deemed possible to play an extra match in case of a tie, except for the final. Without penalty kicks or extra time, knock-out outcomes were decided on coin toss.
And this was the only time this happened when the home team of Italy won its semi-final. To get to the semifinals Italy had won a group ahead of Romania, Switzerland and Cyprus, and then defeated Bulgaria in the quarterfinals. The semi-final against the USSR ended 0-0, and the Italian captain's call for tails gave the home side the place in the final.
Despite the random nature of their victory Italy had a strong side that surely belonged to the best in the world. On goal was Dino Zoff, from Napoli, who would go on to become the most legendary goalkeeper in Italian football. The Inter fullback Giacinto Facchetti captained the side, complemented by some outstanding defenders: Inter's Tarciso Burgnich, AC Milan's Roberto Rosato and the Juventus veteran Sandro Salvatore. Although largely focused on the defensive the team possessed a powerful counter-attacking force with Inter's Alessandro Mazzola, Inter's Angelo Domenghini and Cagliari's Luigi Riva. Italy was nevertheless weakened before the final as AC Milan's strong striker Gianni Rivera and Juventus star defender, Giancarlo Bercellino were both injured. Also, the coach Feruzzio Valcareggi had chosen to play without either Mazzola or Riva for the final against Yugoslavia.
To get to the final the Yugoslav side had defeated West German and Albania in the group stages and then trashed France in the quarterfinals. In the semi-finals Yugoslavia had played the defending world champions of England, who had been full of expectations about European success (defeating the defending European champions of Spain in the quarterfinals), but Yugoslavia had won 1-0 on a late goal by the Red Star Belgrade legend Dragan Dzajic.
Dzajic was not the only star of the team. Hajduk Split's Dragan Holcer and FK Partizan's Blagoje Paunovic. OFK Belgrade's Ilja Petkovic and FK Sarajevo's Vahidin Musemic were the creative forces behind the attack where Dzajic was the undisputed star.
Yugoslavia had shown they could take on everyone, and had nothing to fear when facing the Italian hosts at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. Without Bercellino and Rivera Italy looked to be struggling and Yugoslavia went ahead only ten minutes into the first half when Djazic got his toe on the ball surrounded by three Italian defenders. In the second half Italy pressed forward, and finally got the equalizer in the 80th minute when Domenghini scored on a free kick that seemed to go through the Yugoslav defensive wall. The intensely fought match ended 1-1 after an extra time where Yugoslavia fought bordering violent, for the victory.
At the end, it seemed Italians were the most relieved to get 1-1.
As penalty kicks had not been introduced yet, a re-match was scheduled for two days later. While Yugoslavia played with almost the same team (only Idriz Hosic replaced an injured Ilija Petkovic), Valcareggi made some important changes to his side: Mazzola replaced a poor Giovanni Lodetti while Riva replaced Pierino Pratti in attack. Also in defense Valcareggi introduced two new players. These changes made all the difference giving the Italian side more depth in defense and creative power up front. Also, as the match started Italy seemed less affected by the fight of two days before. It was exactly Riva who bought Italy ahead after 12 minutes when he picked up a poor shot by Domenghini and placed the ball around the goalkeeper. Yugoslavia seemed unable to pick up from two days before and twenty minutes later the young Juventus striker Pietro Anastasi made it 2-0 on an elegant volley from the edge of the area.
This in reality sealed Italy's victory as the home team retreated to an intelligent defense. In fact, Riva should have scored a couple of more goals, missing some great chances on counter-attacks. Still, this did not take away that Italy had won a well-deserved victory after the coin's luck got them to the final. Two years later almost the same Italian side would make it to the World Cup final, only to be defeated by the mighty Brazilians.
Rome, 10th June 1968,
Referee: Jose Maria Ortiz de Mendibil (Spain)
Italy: Dino Zoff; Tarcisio Burgnich, Giacinto Facchetti (c), Aristide Guarneri, Roberto Rosato, Sandro Salvadore, Giancarlo De Sisti, Sandro Mazzola, Pietro Anastasi, Angelo Domenghini, Luigi Riva. Coach: Feruccio Valcareggi
Yugoslavia: Ilija Pantelić; Mirsad Fazlagić (c), Blagoje Paunović, Dragan Holcer, Milan Damjanović, Dobrivoje Trivić, Miroslav Pavlović, Jovan Aćimović, Idriz Hošić, Vahidin Musemić, Dragan Džajić. Coach: Rajko Mitic
1-0 Riva (12)
2-0 Anastasi (31)