=============================================================================== I T A L Y Loris Magnani =============================================================================== Italy did not attend the 1930 World Cup along with several other European powers. However, on Oct. 8, 1932 the Italian delegation convinced FIFA to assign the 1934 World Cup to Italy. Italy had just recently won the first edition of the International Cup (a round-robin tournament between Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Italy, and Switzerland) and in 1929 the Italian First Division (Serie A) had begun play in the home-away format (girone unico) which is still in use throughout most of Europe. Italy continued the tradition established by Uruguay by winning the World Cup as hosts. They easily trounced the U.S. 7-1 with a hat-trick by Schiavio and then proceeded to eliminate Spain in 2 epic contests. The first game stood at 1-1 after regulation and the overtime periods did not change the score so that a replay the next day was necessary (no PKs here!). Italy won the replay 1-0 thanks to a goal by the legendary Giuseppe Meazza (the San Siro stadium in Milan was renamed in his honor years ago). In the semis, Italy met its bete noire, Austria, a team that had consistently had the better of the Italians both in Austria and in Italy. Austria had beaten a tough Hungarian team 2-1 to advance to the semis. A controversial goal by Guaita (one of Italy's oriundi - foreign born players who were considered Italians because one of their parents was Italian) gave Italy a narrow 1-0 victory and access to the finals. There they would meet Czechoslovakia who had eliminated Germany 3-1. The final was played in front of Benito Mussolini and a packed house in Rome. Things looked grim for Italy at the 70' when a goal by Puc put Czechoslovakia ahead, but Orsi (another Argentinian of Italian descent) tied the game 10 minutes later. In extra-time, Schiavio gave Italy the victory and the World Cup, 2-1. The 1938 World Cup held in France saw Italy qualifying as defending champions. A grim atmosphere hung over Europe foreshadowing the war which was to come. Italy's first game featured the amateurs from Norway who were lightly regarded by both the italian players and the press. Italy scored in the second minute and a rout seemed to be at hand. However, Norway tied the game in the 83rd and actually scored a goal two minutes later which was called back because of offside! The game went to overtime where Piola gave Italy a very laboured 2-1 victory. The defence of the trophy won in 1934 was off to a very bad start. Things did not look better in the next game with the home side, France. Again, Italy took a quick lead but France equalized a minute later. With the score 1-1 at halftime and Italy playing lacklustre football there was the hint of elimination in the air. However, Italy came out strongly in the second half and two goals by Piola at the 52' and 72' rounded out a deserved 3-1 victory over the hosts. Italy moved on to the semifinals against mighty Brasil who had eliminated Czechoslovakia by the score of 2-1 in a replay game after the first game had ended 1-1. After a scoreless first half, goals by Colaussi (55') and Meazza (60') gave Italy a 2-0 lead which held until a penalty kick by Romeu at the 87' closed out the score at 2-1. Italy would face Hungary in the final, since the latter had easily disposed of Sweden by a 5-1 score. The game began with a bang as Colaussi scored for Italy on the 5' mark only to see Titkos equalize two minutes later. A goal by Piola on the 16' mark put Italy ahead by 2-1 and the Italians kept pressing and scored a third goal in the 35th minute again by Colaussi. Midway through the second half the Hungarians were brought back into the game by Sarosi only to have Piola close out the scoring in the 82' with his second goal of the final and 5th overall. Despite the impressive total, Piola would finish second to the great Brasilian Leonidas who finished with 8. The 4-2 victory over Hungary gave Italy its second title. The war would prevent all of the Italian players from the 1938 squad from defending the title and a brand new Italian team would go to Brasil in 1950 for the 4th World Cup. Although the postwar recovery was slow in Italy, a sporting disaster pretty much sealed the fate of the 1950 Italian expedition and overshadowed any social and economic difficulties as far as the Azzurri were concerned. The entire Torino team, which had won 5 scudetti in a row and who formed the backbone of the Italian National Team was wiped out in a horrible plane crash in the spring of 1949. The great Torino team from that period (il Grande Torino) often formed 9/11 of the Azzurri and included the legendary Valentino Mazzola (his son, Sandro Mazzola, was also one of the greats of Italian soccer, though probably not at the level of Valentino). The repercussions of that crash lasted many years. One of the immediate consequences was that the team travelled to Brasil by ship in 1950 rather than by plane; the two weeks at sea did nothing to help the physical condition of the Azzurri. The format of the Cup had been changed from head-to-head elimination to a first round involving a group of teams which would play a round-robin with the group leader advancing. Italy's group consisted of Sweden and Paraguay and Italy seemed the clear favorite. However, an initial loss to Sweden by 3-2 made a 2-0 victory over Paraguay meaningless. Sweden advanced to the next round and Italy's participation in the World Cup was over almost before it began. The dark days for the Azzurri had begun and would last two decades as far as the World Cup was concerned. The 1954 World Cup involved a qualification match for Italy. The only other team in Italy's group was Egypt who were eliminated easily by scores of 1-2 in Cairo and 5-1 in Milan. The final round was in neighboring Switzerland and Italy's group consisted of England, Switzerland, and Belgium. However the formula for advancement to the second round did not provide (strangely) for a game with each opponent, but rather, with a game against only two opponents. Italy's opponents would be Switzerland and Belgium, and a straightforward qualification to the second round was expected. It was not to be. Switzerland actually beat Italy in the first game by a 2-1 score and lost to England by 2-0. By beating Belgium 4-1, Italy would meet Switzerland in a playoff to see who would join England in the second round. The Italians must have been fairly confident of getting through so the Swiss victory by a heavy 4-1 margin was surely a shock. The 1950s were proving to be the Azzurri's lost decade as the 1958 World Cup would dramatically indicate. In fact, Italy did not even qualify for the 1958 final round in Sweden. In a relatively "easy" group with Northern Ireland and Portugal, Italy managed to lose heavily to Portugal in Lisbon by 3-0 and to Northern Ireland in Belfast by 2-1. The victories in Rome and Milan against these two opponents were to no avail as Northern Ireland's 1-1 tie in the first game of the group with Portugal in Lisbon was the difference. The only comfort for Italy was that the Swedish team which finished second fielded several players who would play in the Serie A, and even the victors, Brasil, played with Dino Sani and Jose Altafini who would spend many seasons in Serie A. Italy's qualification for the 1962 World Cup was straightforward. Romania were in the group but withdrew, leaving Italy to easily eliminate Israel by 2-4 and 6-0 scores. The Italian team was, on paper, the strongest since the days of the Grande Torino team from more than a decade before. With players like Bulgarelli, Cesare Maldini (the father of Paolo Maldini), Rivera and the two oriundi, Jose Altafini (who was born in Brasil and actually played for the 1958 World Champions!), and Omar Sivori (who was born in Argentina and played many games for the albicelestes), Italy looked like one of the favorites. The team performed only on paper, however. A group composed of West Germany, Chile (the hosts), and Switzerland looked fairly difficult but not impossible. Impossible it was to be. A lacklustre 0-0 draw with the Germans led to the infamous Chile- Italy game. A hostile crowd and an incompetent refereeing job by the Englishman, Aston, led Italy to defeat. Italy finished with 9 men due to the gutlessness of Aston, who dared not send off the Chileans despite their endless provocations and intimidation. However, he did not hesitate to send off the Italian, Maschio, whose "foul" was that his nose connected with Leonel Sanchez' fist (Maschio's nose was broken by the blow but he could nurse his injury in the locker room thanks to the red card he received...). The subsequent 3-0 Italian victory over the Swiss was no consolation. Italy went home, feeling frustrated and cheated. But the most infamous Italian World Cup performance was to come... Italy's qualification for the 1966 World Cup was not as straightforward as usual. In a group with Scotland, Poland, and Finland, a loss to Scotland in Glasgow by 1-0 forced Italy to win or tie the last game against the Scots in Naples. They won handily in Naples by 3-0 and went into the finals in England with one of their most talented post-war teams. Their roster reads like a Who's Who of Italian soccer: Albertosi, Fachetti, Bulgarelli, Rivera, Mazzola, Lodetti, Burgnich. An All-Star team which would win the European Championship two years later in 1968. The group Italy was in seemed easy, consisting of the USSR, Chile, and the "weak-sister" North Korea. With two teams qualifying for the second round, the USSR and Italy appeared certain to advance. The first game against Chile was an easy 2-0 victory giving Italy some revenge for what transpired four years earlier. A difficult game against the Soviets in which Italy squandered many chances (or were stopped by the great Yashin) resulted in a 1-0 loss to a goal on the 58' mark by Cislenko. However, the qualification seemed to be at hand since Italy only required a draw with North Korea. What should have been an easy game started poorly as Bulgarelli had to leave almost immediately due to the aggravation of a previous injury. In those days there were no substitutions so Italy had to play the remainder of the game with 10 men. Italy dominated play throughout the game squandering a plethora of opportunities, but things took a distinct ominous turn when Pak Doo Ik scored a goal on a quick counterattack in the 41'. As Paul Gardner writes in his book, The Simplest Game, Italy had many chances to equalize in the second half, "...but were destined to miss them all"...And so the Darkest Day in Italian soccer ended with a 1-0 loss and elimination at the hands of North Korea. The return trip to Italy was quite interesting. The plane on which the Azzurri were returning home had to be diverted from Milan to Genova because an angry mob had gathered at the Milan airport. Enough fans found out about the change of itinerary to greet the Azzurri at Genova with a dense hail of rotten fruit and vegetables...In Italy, when you want to talk about a disastrous defeat, you do not invoke Waterloo, but rather, Korea. The 1970 World Cup in Mexico brought an even stronger Italian team which had qualified easily in a group with Wales and East Germany. The Italian hopes rested on their great defense, anchored by Alberosi, Fachetti and Burgnich, a "stafetta" between Mazzola and Rivera for the #10 shirt (i.e., one player would play each half and substitute the other), and the great Italian bomber, Gigi Riva (still the alltime leader in goals scored for the national team). Italy's group was a bit difficult with Sweden and Uruguay as the main adversaries and lowly Israel bringing up the rear. This group produced some of the worst football seen at that glorious, offensive-minded World Cup. In 6 games there were only 6 goals scored...and Italy's brand of defensive "catenaccio" yielded a 1-0 win against Sweden and two 0-0 draws with Uruguay and Israel. Italy won it's group by scoring only one goal and went into the second round to meet the hosts, Mexico, at the Azteca Stadium in front of 100,000 plus Mexicans. Those who feared another Italian quick-exit from the WC could be forgiven, but this Azzurri team had a bit more mettle than their predecessors. With a fabulous performance by Riva and Rivera, Italy trounced Mexico 4-1 to arrive at the semi-finals against the fearsome Germans who had eliminated England after being down 2-0. What would follow would be one of the greatest games in World Cup history. The German team featured many players who would win the WC four years later, Maier, Vogts, Beckenbauer, Muller, Overath...Truly a magnificent squad. The Italian team took an early lead with a goal by Boninsegna in the seventh minute and grimly held on behind their catenaccio defense. The game seemed to be heading towards an ugly 1-0 Italian victory when in injury time, the great German fullback Karlheinz Schnellinger (who played for AC Milan) scored the equalizer in the 92nd minute. The game would go into extra time. The Germans wasted no time and Muller scored in the 94'. Burgnich and Riva scored two goals for Italy for a temporary 3-2 lead, but Muller once again equalized in the 109'. All seemed lost for Italy, when Rivera (who had been somewhat responsible for the Muller equalizer) scored the match-winner one minute later. Five goals had been scored in extra time and Italy would go through to the final game after a monumental 4-3 victory over the 1966 runners-up and the eventual 1974 winners. Italy's opponents in the Final, unfortunately for them, were the great Brasilian team of 1970 led by Pele, Tostao, Jairzinho, and too many others to mention. Certainly one of the greatest football teams of all time. There really wasn't much to the final. Brasil won, going away, by a 4-1 score after the match stood at 1-1 at halftime. The only recriminations the Italians had was that at the beginning of the second half (when the score was 1-1) Rivera was not brought on to substitute Mazzola. He was finally let onto the pitch with only six minutes to go and the score a disheartening 3-1. Could Rivera have prevented the Brasilian victory ? Probably not, but his "non-use" in the final caused fury among his supporters. Despite Italy's second place finish, the Italian fans were incensed with the Azzurri and only Rivera managed to "save" himself from the wrath of the fans and the press. Italy entered the final stages of the 1974 World Cup rather easily, eliminating Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Turkey. Italy, along with Germany and Brasil were considered one of the favourites given their streak of 12 games without conceding a goal. Included in that streak were 2 victories over England, including one at Wembley, and 1 over Brasil. With stars such as Zoff, Facchetti, Benetti, Burgnich, Mazzola, Capello, Chinaglia, Rivera, and Riva, surely Italy would reach the final four. The dream ended immediately. First, Zoff's unbeaten streak was ended by Haiti, who took a 1-0 lead before losing 3-1. Then a rather fortunate tie with Argentina (1-1), led to the game with the surprising Polish team who had won their first two games. All that both teams needed to advance was a draw, but the Poles would have none of that and by halftime they were winning 2-0. A late goal by Capello made the score respectable, but after the success of 1970, Italy was once again faced with early elimination, and the by now traditional welcome home of rotten fruits and vegetables, and insults. With a forty year streak of unsuccessful performances (with the possible exception of the 1970 tournament), Italy faced a brutal qualification group with England as the rival to be beaten for the only spot in the final 16 of the 1978 Cup to be held in Argentina. The other members of the group were Luxembourg and Finland and it turned out to be the English and Italian performance against these "minnows" which decided who would advance since Italy and England had won 2-0 at home against the other. On the strength of a 6-1 thrashing of the Finns in Turin, Italy squeaked through on goal difference, 18-4 against 15-4 for England. Their misfortune seemed to continue when they were paired up with Argentina, France, and Hungary in Group 1 of the Final Tournament. A string of poor performances before the World Cup had turned the press against Bearzot who was bringing two new faces to the Azzurri, a handsome left fullback by the name of Cabrini and a small striker by the name of Paolo Rossi. The Azzurri seemed to be heading for another early exit when France took a 1-0 lead in the first few seconds of play of the first game, but a gutsy Italian performance produced the 2-1 victory with the tying goal scored by Paolo Rossi. Rossi continued his magic against Hungary as Italy won 3-1. Since both Italy and Argentina had qualified, their last game in the group was considered academic except that the loser would end up in the second round in the same group as Brazil.. a fate to be avoided at all costs. Despite this incentive, and playing in front of a fanatical crowd in Buenos Aires, Argentina went down to defeat 1-0 by a brilliant goal from Bettega off a pass from Rossi. Italy would go into the second round in a "European" group with Germany, Holland, and Austria while Argentina would have to confront its destiny with Brasil, Poland, and Peru. Italy opened with a tactical 0-0 draw with Germany with each side preferring to avoid exposing themselves. A 1-0 victory over Austria with a goal by Rossi (his third of the campaign) placed Italy in the uncomfortable position of having to beat Holland to reach the finals. A tie would put the Dutch through. The game began with a score for Italy as a desperate Brandts slid a ball away from Bettega, but unfortunately for the former, into his own net. This was the halftime score. The Italian coach, Enzo Bearzot, then committed a colossal blunder. The Italian playmaker, Franco Causio, was replaced by Claudio Sala (ostensibly to rest Causio for the final...). Such arrogance is often punished and the wrath of the gods was made clear: First by Brandts in the 50' with a shot from outside the box and then by an impossible shot by Haan from almost 40 metres...The brilliant italian team found itself playing only for third place against Brasil. This game would also be lost by a 2-1 score with both goals again coming from outside the Italian goal area. The unexpected performance and brilliant play shown by Italy for once caught the fancy of their fans who welcomed the fourth-place Italians home (something which had been denied to the finalists of 1970). The 1982 World Cup in Spain started a bit inauspiciously for the Italian squad which was a virtual carbon copy of the 1978 team except that Bettega was injured and replaced by Graziani, and the great Italian midfielder, Antognoni could play (he had been injured in 1978). The qualification had been rather difficult since Italy were in a group with Yugoslavia, Denmark, Greece, and Luxembourg with the top two qualifying. Italy started strongly with 4 straight 2-0 victories and then limped to a second place finish behind Yugoslavia. The pre-World Cup exhibitions were much worse. Italy lost to France, East Germany, and drew with Switzerland. Some members of the Italian press even suggested that Italy should stay at home and save themselves from embarrassment. These naysayers seemed to be right as Italy qualified for the second round on goal difference over Cameroon (the other two teams in the group were Peru and Poland, with the latter qualifying in first place). When Italy found themselves in the second round in a group with Argentina and the favourites, Brasil, a quick exit seemed certain. In the first game against Argentina, a continuous barrage of fouls by the not-so-gentle Gentile stopped Maradona and Italy scraped by in a nasty game by a 2-1 margin. Since Brasil had beaten Argentina 3-1, the last game between Italy and Brasil would decide a place in the semifinals with the Brasilians needing only a tie. This game would mark the awakening of "Pablito", Paolo Rossi, who with a memorable hat trick sunk the mighty Brasilians 3-2. Italy would play Poland for a place in the final. Once again, a surging Rossi scored two goals for a 2-0 victory and a showdown in the final against West Germany who had eliminated France on penalties in their semi final. The game began poorly with the Italians playing very defensively and actually missing an early penalty kick. With the score 0-0 at halftime, the outcome seemed wide-open. Early in the second half with Italy gaining confidence, Paolo Rossi struck again with his sixth consecutive Italian goal, and the final turned Italy's way. A score by Tardelli in the 68' and a late goal by Altobelli at the 81' sealed Germany's fate with a late goal by Breitner only a consolation for the Germans. Italy had won its third World Cup, equalling Brasil's total, with a 3-1 victory over the Germans. The heroes for Italy, in addition to the leading goal scorer of the finals, Rossi, were Antognioni (who did not play in the final because of injury), Cabrini, Zoff, Tardelli, and Paolo Conti who many considered the best player of the tournament. Italy's glory was to be shortlived. In the very first game after they had won the World Cup, a friendly against Switzerland in Rome, Italy lost 1-0. They failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championship and coach Bearzot's insistence on relying on his trusty veterans would prove to be his undoing at the 1986 World Cup. As titleholders, Italy qualified automatically along with the hosts Mexico. Their first group consisting of Argentina, Bulgaria, and South Korea was not difficult since two teams would qualify and, as expected, both Italy and Argentina went to the second round. While Maradona would lead Argentina to the final, Italy's dreams of repeating were dashed in the first game of the second round as France soundly beat them 2-0. The Mexican adventure was over and Bearzot would be replaced by Vicini and a new Italian team would attempt to win the 1990 World Cup which was to be held in their own homeland. Qualifying automatically as hosts, the Italian team featured star players like Zenga in goal, Franco Baresi as sweeper, and other stars such as Maldini, Giannini, Roberto Baggio, and the great hope, striker Luca Vialli. It was not to be Vialli's World Cup, however, as a relatively unknown forward by the name of Toto Schillaci would steal the limelight from the Sampdoria forward. Since Italy had a strong team and were playing at home, a victory in the World Cup final was the only result which would be acceptable. Italy's group was very easy, consisting of Austria, the United States and Czechoslovakia. Despite a few problems against both Austria and the U.S., Italy went into the second round with 3 victories, 4 goals for and 0 against. The first opponent in the second round was Uruguay, but goals by Schillaci and Serena eliminated the South Americans and brought Italy to the quarterfinals against Eire. A difficult game was resolved again by a goal from Schillaci and Italy would meet a lacklustre Argentina in Naples in one of the two semifinals. Italy started out well with another goal by Schillaci, but in the second half the team started to disintegrate. Maradona was looking ever more dangerous and finally in the 67' Caniggia would end Zenga's unbeaten streak and tie the game at 1-1. A tired Italy lost the iniative to a growing Argentina in extra time and when the game went to penalty kicks, the dream ended. Missed kicks by Donadoni and Serena (both experts in the practice) doomed Italy to elimination and relegated them to the third place game with England who had also been eliminated by the Germans on penalty kicks. The meaningless 2-1 victory over the English was no consolation to the Italians. Although there was no rotten fruit this time (perhaps the fans were finally maturing) the third place finish was not enough. The 1990 World Cup was yet another Italian failure. And so, to 1994, Italy qualified in first place (they were the seeded team) from a Group which included Scotland (second seeds), Portugal (third seeds), Switzerland (fourth seeds), and Malta and Estonia. Although they finished first, the qualification was bitterly difficult for Sacchi and the Azzurri with the issue in doubt even on the final day. On Nov. 17th,1993 Portugal met Italy in a packed San Siro stadium. Italy played well and managed a 1-0 victory and qualification with a late goal by Dino Baggio. Up until that goal (in the 83') the spectre of a late Portuguese goal kept Italian fans sweating. However, finally, the qualification had been confimred and despite the difficulty, Italy had finished first as predicted. The real problem, however, was that the various unconvincing Italian performances against the Swiss and Malta had turned the difficult Italian press against Sacchi. The exhibition games in the spring of 1994 only exacerbated this trend: a home loss to France 0-1, a defeat by Germany in Stuttgart (2-1), and an amazing loss to Pontedera, a semipro team in the Italian fourth division have convinced most of Italy that Sacchi is leading the Azzurri to yet another World Cup humiliation. Whether this is so, or not, will be seen in the next month. The Italian team contains some outstanding individuals, but the key players are the following: GIANLUCA PAGLIUCA (Goalkeeper, Sampdoria): Italy's starting goalkeeper. An excellent goalie who is very good in playing with a zone defense in front of him. Has some trouble with high balls and with set pieces but can be spectacular at times. A bit more inconsistent than Zenga and Zoff, he is nevertheless the best goalie in Italy at the moment. FRANCO BARESI (Sweeper, AC Milan): The backbone of the Italian defense and one of the greatest sweepers ever. Not quite at the level of a Beckenbauer or a Scirea even at his prime, he was certainly on the next level with people like Krol, Passarella, etc. Unfortunately, age has taken its toll on Baresi (he's 34!) and he has lost a few steps. He makes up for his diminished speed by his tremendous experience which manifests itself as an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. He is prone to fouling since he is a rather rough player and may have to sit out a game for accumulation of yellows or even a red card. He will command the Italian offside trap which will be sprung often. He has won practically every trophy imaginable and was part of the 1982 Italian World Cup squad though he did not play. He will be the Captain of the Azzurri. PAOLO MALDINI (Defender, AC Milan): The starting left fullback and one of the true talents of Italian soccer. Certainly one of the top three left fullbacks in the world. Can do it all, dribble, defend, score, set up goals. When the occasion presents itself he will push down the left side and create opportunities for the attack. Has tremendous international experience (50+ caps and still only 26) and should be one of the stars of the 1994 World Cup. DEMETRIO ALBERTINI (Midfield, AC Milan): Counted on to play in front of the back four and act as a first line of defense and start up the distribution of ball to the midfield and forwards. Although he has a lot of experience despite his young age, he is prone to inconsistency and will sometimes have truly bad games (such as the recent friendly against Germany). He is one of the keys to the Azzurri's success and he will have to be at the top of his form if they are to advance. Has a potent long-range shot. NICOLA BERTI (Midfield, Inter): A wonderful addition to the Italian midfield. Has recovered recently from a nasty injury and seems to be in fine form. An attacking midfielder who is known for his courage and intensity. Could provide the emotional and physical spark that Italy needs in the midfield (sort of like Tardelli used to). If he has a good World Cup, Italy should go far. ROBERTO BAGGIO (Forward, Juventus): Not much to say. The FIFA and the European Player of the Year. Has enough talent to make the 1994 World Cup "His", just like Maradona in 1986 and Pele in 1970...Although his talent is unquestionable, his drive and intensity have been often questioned and are the only Achilles' heel for Baggio. He can be marked out of a game either physically or psychologically. He is not a leader the way Maradona or Pele were and it may cost him (and Italy) dearly. Everything else he has. If he catches fire, there is no-one like him in the World today... Sacchi will manage to blend the talent into a real team and Italy will be in the final four. Once you reach the semis you need a bit of luck to win it all and so I won't guess any further, but I do expect to see Italy anywhere in the first four slots.