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Italy brought home their third world cup despite given no chance against tremendously difficult opponents

Let’s hop into our time machine and roll back the clock, 34 years. It’s late June 1982, the setting is Spain, the host nation of the 12th installment of the FIFA world cup. Italy had just drawn their three group matches and if it were not for goals scored would have been pipped by Cameroon in advancing to the next stage.

At this point Italy was under a media blackout and were all but written off globally. In the old World Cup format the second round of matches consisted of four 3-way round-robin groups. The winners of each one of these groups would progress to the semi-finals. Italy was placed in group C with defending world champions Argentina and Brazil.

What transpired after that was one of the greatest runs in professional sports history. After a gutsy 2-1 win over Argentina where Claudio Gentile almost literally put a young Diego Maradona in his pocket, Italy defeated arguably Brazil’s strongest team of all time in a 3-2 thriller. The game, one of the greatest in World Cup history, will be remembered for Paolo Rossi’s hat-trick after going scoreless in his previous four games.

Next up for Italy in the semi-finals was pre-tournament favourite Poland, a side that featured  Zbigniew Boniek, who were easily swept aside by a Paolo Rossi Brace. Italy then met European champions West Germany which they dominated 3-1 to lift the trophy. Marco Tardelli’s scream “GOL! “GOL” with tears in his eyes is Italian football’s most iconic. Indeed, against all odds when the going got tough, the tough got going during that magical summer in Spain.

Fast forward to 2016 and this edition of the Azzurri face another daunting task. Prior to the tournament, pundits and Italian media alike proclaimed this as the weakest Italian team of all time giving them the faintest of hopes to even advance past the group stage.

Antonio Conte’s passion and tactics have led Italy to a surprising top finish in Group E. Despite this great achievement defending champion Spain’s shocking loss to Croatia has turned the Euro 2016 bracket on its head. Italy will now be pitted in a rematch of Euro 2012 in the round of 16. This team has shown that they can compete but even a win against Spain would pit them against world champions Germany. A potential semi-final date against host France looms should Italy beat Die Mannschaft.

In football, everything is possible. Heart and compete level have been able to compensate for offensive and midfield talent in this year’s Azzurri. The tournament’s best defense doesn’t hurt either. Italy do have some significant differences with their 1982 squad. For one this year’s roster is one of the oldest in the tournament (28 years 11 months) and run the most out of any squad (116.65 km). Will they be fit in the later stages of the competition when they face some of the best sides in the world? Will fatigue take its toll? Does Italy have enough offensive punch? With all due respect to Eder and Graziano Pellè  neither are Golden Boot winners like Rossi. It all remains to be seen, but if history is any indication Italy has their opponents right where they want them.

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