Italy have reached the semi-finals of a EURO four times in their history – the same number as last-four opponents Spain – and results have generally been favourable. We pore over those previous encounters.
Piero Prati went closest for the Azzurri in normal time and Angelo Domenghini struck a post in extra time, while Dino Zoff saved from Albert Shesternev and twice from Aleksandr Lenev in Naples. There were no penalty shoot-outs then so a place in the final came down to a coin toss. “The referee pulled out an old coin and I called tails,” said captain Giacinto Facchetti. “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.” They were rejoicing after winning the final too, in a replay against Yugoslavia in Rome.
The Soviet Union stood between the Azzurri and the final again in Stuttgart but this would be their sole semi-final setback. Oleh Kuznetsov and Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko combined to set up Gennadiy Lytovchenko for the 58th-minute opener and Oleh Protasov converted Olexandr Zavarov’s cut-back for the second four minutes later. A 23-year-old Gianluca Vialli went closest to bringing Azeglio Vicini’s men back into contention but this tournament proved a step too far for a youthful Italy side.
The Azzurri had won all four matches at the finals heading to Amsterdam but the Dutch proved a much sterner test. Frank de Boer and Patrick Kluivert missed spot kicks in normal time as the Oranje failed to break down an Italy team reduced to ten men after the 34th-minute dismissal of Gianluca Zambrotta. De Boer was also denied as the game went to penalties, where Francesco Toldo saved for the second time in the shoot-out from Paul Bosvelt to seal a spot in the final. France, however, would burst the Italian bubble.
The only one of the three Azzurri semi-final successes that was settled inside 90 minutes took place in Warsaw and was dominated by Mario Balotelli. The Italy striker guided in a header from Antonio Cassano’s cross as Italy broke their semi-final scoring duck at the fourth time of asking, then rifled a second past Manuel Neuer inside 36 minutes. Germany, who were on a run of 15 consecutive victories in competitive games, replied through Mesut Özil’s late penalty. Unfortunately for Cesare Prandelli’s men, they ran into a Spain steamroller in the final, suffering a 4-0 reverse in Kyiv.