Matchday 4 – Tuesday, 11th June 1996
GROUP C, Anfield, Liverpool, 35,120
ITALY (1) 2 (Casiraghi 5, 52)
RUSSIA (1) 1 (Tsymbalar 21)
ITALY: Peruzzi; Apollini, Costacurta, Mussi, Maldini; Di Matteo, Di Livio (Fuser), Albertini; Del Piero (Donadoni), Casiraghi (Ravanelli), Zola
RUSSIA: Cherchesov; Tetradze, Kovtun, Bushmanov (Yanovski), Onopko; Kanchelskis, Karpin (Kiryakov), Mostovoi, Tsymbalar (Dobrovolski; Radimov, Kolyvanov
The first game in this group saw Germany win comfortably against the Czech Republic. Italy and Russia were also looking for an early advantage three points would give them. Russia won their qualifying group, which also contained Scotland. Italy finished as the best runner-up in the group Croatia won.
Managed by Arrigo Sacchi, Italy were well fancied for the tournament considering they’d lost the World Cup Final on penalties two years before. But Sacchi had received criticism at home for leaving out stars like Roberto Baggio, Gianluca Vialli and Beppe Signori. Other than Donadoni, who was playing in MLS, all the players were home-based. Not long after, that all changed.
Russia were managed by Oleg Romantsev. As a player he played nine times for the Soviet Union, then as a coach, he took Spartak Moscow to three successive league titles before replacing Pavel Sadyrin stepped down after USA ’94. Romantsev selected two players who plied their trade in England at the time. Goalkeeper, Dmitri Kharine (Chelsea) and Andrei Kanchelskis (Everton).
Five minutes in and Italy drew first blood. A Russian attack broke down with the Italian defence clearing the ball downfield. They played it back to Cherchesov in the Russian goal, but his clearance was poor and Casiraghi found himself in space just outside the ‘D’. The Lazio striker fired a shot right into the corner and Italy led 1-0.
But then in the 20th minute, the Russians levelled things. Onopko found Karpin just outside the area. He turned and shot, but it hit Apolloni and bounced free. Tsymbalar was first to react and fired a low shot past Peruzzi.
Zola and Kanchelskis both had good chances before the break where they should’ve done better, but the two sides went into half-time still level.
Sacchi shuffled his pack and brought on 32-year-old Donadoni for Del Piero. Casiraghi then nearly put Italy back in front when his back-foot flick just dribbled wide.
Then a few minutes later, Italy, and Casiraghi, made amends. A good passing move involving Mussi and Di Livio found Zola in space just outside the area. He played a lovely ball for Casiraghi to run onto and he hit it first time again into the corner for his second of the match. Italy 2-1.
The Russians almost levelled straight away. Good work from Tsymbalar down the left saw the ball half-cleared. It fell to Mostovoi on the edge of the area and his volley went just wide.
By now Zola was running things for Italy, in a way Chelsea fans would become accustomed to soon after. He beat Onopko to find himself clear on goal but Cherchesov saved well. With 10 minutes to go, Sacchi brought on Ravanelli for Casiraghi. Zola then played him in but he shanked his shot horribly.
Russia also took their goalscorer off. His replacement, Dobrovolski, had a good chance at the end but skied his shot. Italy had won their opening match and things looked tough for Russia and Czechs in this group.
GROUP D, City Ground, Nottingham, 22,460
TURKEY (0) 0
CROATIA (0) 1 (Vlaovic 85)
TURKEY: Rustu; Alpay, Ogun, Zafer, Vedat; Tolunay (Sancakli), Ercan, Yalcin, Tugay; Erdem (Mandirali), Sukur
CROATIA: Ladic; Stanic, Bilic, Stimac, Jerkan; Asanovic, Prosinecki, Boban (Soldo), Jarni; Boksic (Vlaovic), Suker
In the Denmark/Portugal group, Croatia and Turkey met in Nottingham. Croatia had won their qualifying group finishing ahead of Italy on goal difference, thanks mainly to Davor Suker was the top scorer with 12 goals. At the back, they had two players who were playing in England at the time, Igor Stimac (Derby) and Slaven Bilic (West Ham).
Turkey were competing in a Euros for the first time in their history. They’d only ever competed in one World Cup up to this point, too, so this was a big moment. They finished second to Switzerland in the Qualifiers, losing just once. Their top scorer was Hakan Sukur with seven goals in eight matches.
The game was a disappointment with few chances to mention. Niggly and stop-start for much of it, but there were chances in the second half. Sukur should’ve opened the scoring when he headed wide from a great Jarni cross. Then Vlaovic was sent on for Boksic and could’ve scored when put through but took too long to line up a shot. Sukur headed wide again, but then with five minutes to go the game was won.
Turkey had a corner on the right, but it was cleared and the counter was on. Asanovic sent Vlaovic away and he ran the whole of Turkey’s half, rounded the keeper and slid the ball in. It was a lovely goal, clinical in its execution and Croatia were off and running.
All the teams had played now with just four emerging with wins. At this stage, it was difficult to pick out a favourite although the Germans had probably played the better football so far.