In 1968, the European Nations’ Cup became the European Championship. The tournament did away with home and away qualifying structure that it followed in the last two editions and had a group stage instead. And similar to the past editions, the last four games: the two semi-finals, the third place playoff and the final were held in the host country.
The qualification phase was organised in two phases with the first one taking place from 1966 to 1968, before the winners went on to play in the quarter-finals held in 1968. In the first qualifying round, teams were divided into eight groups of four teams each (except for Group D, which had three teams). The teams played each other home and away after which the top team from each group made the last eight.
The quarter-finals were then contested on a home and away basis and the four winners were then to play in the tournament proper in Italy.
England, who waited until 1950 to play their first ever World Cup, were finally contesting for the European Championship for the first time in their history. Italy also made their first appearance in the finals, while Yugoslavia and the 1960 European champions Soviet Union were the other two teams comprising the last four.
Italy and the Soviet Union contested the first semi-final. The two teams were locked at 0-0 after extra time and, interestingly, with no concept of penalties at the tournament, the winner was decided after a coin toss! The Azzurri captain Giacinto Facchetti called it correctly and took his team to the final.
A goal from the legendary Dragan Drazic gave Yugoslavia a 1-0 win over England in the other semi-final. The Three Lions took the third spot as they defeated the Soviet Union 2-0 courtesy of a goal each from 1966 World Cup heroes Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst.
In the final, Italy and Yugoslavia were tied 1-1 even after extra time and the match had to be replayed to decide a winner. Two days later, the Italians prevailed 2-0 over the Yugoslavs to be crowned the European champions for the first time in their history.
Red Star Belgrade legend Drazic scored two goals at the tournament which were enough to be the top scorer.
Wasi is a keen fan with loads of knowledge about the game. He has written for some of the world’s leading soccer websites and is a major Barcelona and Pune City FC fan. He loves the Champions League and watches 200+ EPL games & La Liga games per season.