The Italian national football team has been a perennial contender in football. Here are the very best of those Azzurri teams
5. 1934 World Champions
Vittorio Pozzo’s Italy won their first world cup victory with some controversy, being the hosts and having Benito Mussolini choose the referee for the semi-final victory over Austria. The squad did boast several terrific players among them the prolific Angelo Schiavio, Raimundo Orsi, the first of many key oriundi and arguably Italy’s greatest all time footballer Giuseppe Meazza. Italy recorded it’s biggest ever win at the World Cup, a 7-1 thrashing of the USA before defeating Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the final after extra time.
Captain: Gianpiero Combi
Coach: Vittorio Pozzo
4. 1968 European Champions & 1970 World Cup finalists
After crashing out of the 1966 World Cup at the hands of minnows North Korea, the Azzurri bounced back with their lone European championship in 1968 on home soil. It took a coin flip against the Soviet Union and a 2-0 replay against Yugoslavia to deliver the Henri Dulanet trophy in the hands of Giacinto Fachetti. The team of this era was characterized by it’s sturdy catenaccio inspired defense, the staffetta (relay) between Sandro Mazzola and Gianni Rivera, and Italy’s all time scorer Gigi Riva. The team’s most memorable moment came in the “Game of the Century”, the 4-3 victory in extra time over Germany. Fatigue got the best of the team in the final when they were defeated by Pele’s Brazil 4-1.
Captain: Giacinto Facchetti
Coach: Ferruccio Valcareggi
3. 1938 World Champions
Italy became the first team to repeat as world champions with a deeper squad than their 1934 team. This squad featured Serie A’s most prolific scorer Silvio Piola who won the Silver boot with 5 goals to his name. Led again by Giuseppe Meazza on the pitch and Vittorio Pozzo on the bench, the Azzurri beat Norway, hosts France and heavily favoured Brazil in the semi-final before thrashing heavyweights Hungary 4-2 in the final. The semi-final against Brazil will be remembered for Giuseppe Meazza’s clutch penalty scored in which he literally held up his shorts after they had broken.
Captain: Giuseppe Meazza
Coach: Vittorio Pozzo
2. 2006 World Champions
At a time when Calciopoli, Italian football’s largest match-fixing scandal was rocking the nation, Marcello Lippi was tasked in uniting Italy’s “Golden Generation”, their last chance at a major trophy. From a heartbreaking loss in Euro 2000, to dismal exits from both the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004, expectations were very low from both national and international pundits. This Azzurri squad were characterized by clinical finishing and staunch defense (only 2 goals allowed in the tournament). A 2-0 extra time thriller against host Germany in the semi-final preceded a tense final against France. The final will be remembered for Zidane’s headbutt and Grosso’s nerves of steel as Italy got their revenge over Les Bleus and claimed their fourth star.
Captain: Fabio Cannavaro
Coach: Marcello Lippi
1. 1982 World Champions
Faced with a domestic football scandal (this is Italy after all) and three poor draws in their group stage coach Enzo Bearzot called a media blackout ahead of their second round group match ups. What followed was magic as Paolo Rossi caught fire and Italy defeated world champions Argentina, tournament favourites Brazil (via a Rossi hattrick), powerhouse Poland and the European champions West Germany in the final. The squad featured defensive stalwarts Claudio Gentile, Gaetano Scirea and Antonio Cabrini, the backbone of the Juventus squad that was a force in Europe, in addition to midfielders Marco Tardelli and Bruno Conti. Tardelli’s scream of “GOL! GOL!” is the most inconic image in Italian football history. Another iconic site? Dino Zoff, one of the greatest keepers of all time, at the ripe old age of 40 receiving the world cup trophy after 44 long years. Performance and squad wise, this is easily Italy’s all time greatest team.
Captain: Dino Zoff
Coach: Enzo Bearzot