Euro Moments: Tails the call as Italy reach ’68 final via bizarre coin toss

Before the invention of a penalty shootout Uefa had to come up with some way of separating Italy and the Soviet Union

Euro 1968: Italy 0 Soviet Union 0

June 5th, 1968

Say what you want about penalty shoot-outs but at least they involve a) skill and b) a spectacle. Back in 1968 nobody seems to have had the wit yet to imagine either was especially important when deciding games and so it was that Italy managed to win a European Championship semi-final thanks to a coin toss.

It happened in Naples, in front of an estimated 70,000 many local fans and the Soviet Union were on the wrong end of the call. They had been slight favourites to beat Italy in the game having put them out of both the ’64 Euros and ’66 World Cup but both sides were hampered by injuries as they prepared for what would prove a tight game and neither was ultimately capable of scoring through 120 minutes of football.


Accounts differ as to whether Soviet skipper Albert Shesternyov then called it wrong or his Italian counterpart, Giaccinto Facchetti, got it right while it also appears to be contested as to whether the episode was overseen by the referee or a Uefa official, but the Italian puts himself and the West German match official at the centre of the action in his version of events.

“I went up with the Russian captain,” he says, “and we went down to the dressing rooms together, accompanied by two administrators from the two teams. The referee pulled out an old coin and I called tails. It was the right call and Italy were through to the final. I went racing upstairs as the stadium was still full and about 70,000 fans were waiting to hear the result. My celebrations told them that they could celebrate an Italian victory.”

It’s unclear whether Shesternyov made any last ditch attempt to make it the best of three or his Soviet overlords threatened, in a fit of pique, to annex the other half of Europe but the result stood and Italy went on (eventually) to become European Champions.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times