The Italy National Football Team (Italian: Nazionale di calcio dell'Italia), represents Italy in association football and is controlled by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), the governing body for football in Italy. Italy is the second most successful national team in the history of the World Cup behind Brazil, having won four titles (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006). They have also won one European championship (1968), one Olympic football tournament (1936) and two Central European International Cups.
The traditional colour of the national team (as well as all Italian national teams and athletes officially representing Italy) is azure blue (azzurro, in Italian), due to the "Azzurro Savoia" (Savoy Blue), the colour traditionally linked to the royal dynasty which unified Italy in 1861, and maintained in the official standard of the Italian President.
Origins and first two World Cups (1910–1938)
The team's first match was held in Milan on 15 May 1910, Italy defeated France by a score of 6–2. Some turmoil kept the players of Pro Vercelli, the best team of the league, out of the game. At the end of the match, the players received as a prize some cigarette packets thrown by the 4,000 spectators. The Italian team (2–3–5): De Simoni; Varisco, Calì; Trerè, Fossati, Capello; Debernardi, Rizzi, Cevenini I, Lana, Boiocchi. First captain of the team was Francesco Calì.
The first success in an official tournament came with the bronze medal in 1928 Summer Olympics, held in Amsterdam. After losing the semi-final against Uruguay, an 11–3 victory against Egypt secured third place in the competition.
After declining to participate in the first World Cup (1930, in Uruguay) the Italian national team won two consecutive editions of the tournament in 1934 and 1938, under the lead of coach Vittorio Pozzo and thanks to the genius of Giuseppe Meazza, who is considered one of the best Italian football players of all time. Other stars of that era included Luis Monti, Giovanni Ferrari, Silvio Piola and Virginio Rosetta In the 1934 World Cup, the host Azzurri defeated Czechoslovakia 2–1 in Rome, with goals by Raimundo Orsi and Angelo Schiavio.
Post-World War II (1946–1966)
The tragic loss in 1949 of the players of Torino (the winners of the previous four Serie A titles) in the Superga air disaster saw the loss of ten out of the eleven constituting the initial line-up for the national team. The following year, Italy did not advance further than the first round of the 1950 World Cup, partly due to the long and physically devastating boat trip to Brazil (air travel was discarded due to fear of another accident).
In the World Cup finals of 1954 and the 1962 that followed, Italy again failed to progress past the first round, and did not even qualify for the 1958 World Cup. During the early 1960s, the Italian football clubs AC Milan and Internazionale dominated the international scene, the National team was not able to match these results. Italy did not take part in the first edition of the European Championship in 1960 (then known as the European Nations Cup), and was knocked out by the USSR in the round of 16 (second round) of the 1964 European Championship.
Their participation in the 1966 World Cup is always remembered for their 0–1 defeat at the hands of North Korea. Despite being the tournament favourites, the Azzurri, whose 1966 squad included Rivera and Bulgarelli, were eliminated in the first round by the semi-professional North Koreans and bitterly condemned upon their return home, while North Korean scorer Pak Doo-Ik was celebrated as the David who killed Goliath.
European champions and World Cup runners-up (1968–1976)
In 1968, the Azzurri won their first major competition since the 1938 World Cup, beating Yugoslavia in Rome for the European Championship title. The match holds the distinction of being the only major football tournament final to go to a replay. After extra time it ended in a 1–1 draw, and in the days before penalty shootouts, the rules required the match to be replayed a few days later. Italy won the replay 2–0 (with goals from Riva and Anastasi) to take the trophy.
In 1970, Italian team was one of the favourite teams for the title. Exploiting the performances of European champions player like Giacinto Facchetti, Rivera and Riva and with a new center-forward Roberto Boninsegna, the Azzurri were able to came back to a world cup final match after 32 years of desolation. They reached this result after one of the most famous match in football history: Italy vs. West Germany 4–3, which is known as the "Game of the Century". Although they were defeated by the amazing Brazilians, the 1970s team is still recognized as one of the best Italian national teams. The "Mexican generation" ended its cycle of international successes in the 1974 World cup, being eliminated by Lato's Polish team.
World Cup winners for the third time (1978–1982)
The 1978 FIFA World Cup, held in Argentina, saw a new generation of Italian players, the most famous being Paolo Rossi, coming to the international stage. Italy played very well in the first round, being the only team in the tournament to beat the eventual champions and host team Argentina. Second round games against West Germany, Austria and Netherlands led Italy to the third place final, where it was defeated by Brazil 2–1. As in the match against the Netherlands, Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff was beaten by a long-distance shot and thus blamed as the main culprit for the defeat. Italy then hosted the 1980 UEFA European Football Championship, the first edition to be held between eight teams instead of four, and with the host team automatically qualified for the finals. Italy was beaten by Czechoslovakia in the third place match on penalties.
After a scandal in Serie A where some National Team players such as Paolo Rossi were prosecuted and suspended for match fixing and illegal betting, the Azzurri arrived at the 1982 FIFA World Cup amidst general scepticism and discomfort. Italy qualified for the second round after three uninspiring draws against Poland, Peru and Cameroon. Having been loudly criticized, the Italian team decided on a press black-out from then on, with only coach Enzo Bearzot and captain Dino Zoff appointed to speak to the press.
Italy's strength finally showed in the second round group, a true Group of Death with Argentina and Brazil – the defending champions and the team favoured to dethrone them. In the opener, Italy prevailed 2–1 over Diego Maradona's side after an ill-tempered battle in which Italy's defenders and midfielders proved their mastery in the rougher side of the game. Italy's goals, both excellent left-footed strikes, were scored by Marco Tardelli and Antonio Cabrini. After Brazil defeated Argentina 3–1, Italy needed to win in order to advance to the semifinals. Twice Italy went in the lead with Paolo Rossi goals, and twice Brazil came back. When Paulo Roberto Falcão scored to make it 2–2 Brazil would have been through on goal difference; but in the 74th minute Rossi poked home the winning goal in a crowded penalty area to send Italy to the semifinals after one of the all-time greatest games in World Cup history. In the wake of its brilliant second round performance, Italy easily dispatched Poland in the first semi-final with another two goals from Rossi.
In the final match, Italy met their traditional opponent West Germany, who had advanced thanks to a penalty shootout victory against France. The first half ended scoreless, after Cabrini missed a penalty awarded for a Hans-Peter Briegel foul on Bruno Conti. In the second half Paolo Rossi again scored the first goal, and while the Germans were pushing forward in search of an equaliser, Tardelli and substitute Alessandro Altobelli finalised two perfect contropiede counterattacks to make it 3–0. Paul Breitner smashed home West Germany's consolation goal seven minutes from the end, making him the second man after Pelé to score in two non-consecutives World Cup finals.
Tardelli's scream after his goal in the final is still remembered as the symbol of Italy's 1982 World Cup triumph. Paolo Rossi won the Golden Boot with six goals, and 40-year-old captain-goalkeeper Dino Zoff became the oldest-ever player to win the World Cup.
World Cup and European Championship runners-up (1984–2004)
For twenty-four years following the 1982 triumph, the Azzurri figured prominently on the world stage but did not win another tournament. Italy failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championship and were knocked out in the Round of 16 of the 1986 World Cup by France. 1988 saw them reach the semifinals of the European Championship, where they were defeated 2–0 by the USSR. It was the same year in which they lost to Zambia in the Olympic games.
Italy hosted the World Cup for the second time in 1990. The Italian attack featured talented forwards Salvatore Schillaci and a young Roberto Baggio. Despite being favourites to win and not conceding a goal in their first five matches, Italy lost in the semifinal to defending champion Argentina, losing 4–3 on penalty kicks following a 1–1 draw after extra time, Schillaci's first half opener having been equalised in the second half by Claudio Caniggia's header for Argentina. Aldo Serena missed the final penalty kick (with Roberto Donadoni also having his penalty saved by goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea). Italy went on to defeat England 2–1 in the third place match, with Schillaci scoring the winning goal on a penalty to become the tournament's top scorer with 6 goals. Italy then failed to qualify for the 1992 European Championship.
In the 1994 World Cup, Italy started very slowly but reached the final. They lost the opening match against Ireland 0–1, this being the only match Italy would lose (not counting games lost after shootout) over the span of three World Cup finals from 1990 to 1998 and one only of five games they have lost in regular time since 1988 in either a Euro or World Cup (losing 2–1 to Czech Republic in the first round of Euro 1996 is the second one, losing 2–1 to Croatia in the first round of 2002 World Cup is the third one, losing 3–0 to the Netherlands in the Euro 2008 opener is the fourth, and the 3–2 to Slovakia in the last match of the first round of 2010 World Cup is now the fifth). After a gritty 1–0 win against Norway and a 1–1 draw with Mexico, Italy advanced from Group E based on goals scored among the four teams tied on points. In the Round of 16, Italy was down 0–1 late against Nigeria, but Roberto Baggio came to the rescue with a splended equaliser in the 88th minute and a penalty in extra time to snatch the win. Baggio scored another late goal against Spain in the quarter-final to seal a 2–1 win and two beautifully taken goals against Bulgaria in the semi-final for another 2–1 win. In the final, Italy and Brazil played 120 minutes of scoreless football, taking the match to a penalty shootout. Italy lost the subsequent shootout 3–2 after Baggio, who had been playing with the aid of a pain-killing injection and a heavily bandaged hamstring, missed the final penalty kick of the match, shooting over the crossbar.
Italy did not progress beyond the group stage at the finals of Euro 96. Gianfranco Zola failed to convert a decisive penalty against Germany, who eventually won the tournament. Then, during the qualifying campaign for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, the Azzurri beat England at Wembley for the second time with Zola scoring the only goal. In the final tournament, Italy found themselves in another critical shootout for the third World Cup in a row. The Italian side, where Del Piero and Baggio renewed the controversial staffetta (relay) between Mazzola and Rivera from 1970, held the eventual World Champions and host team France to a 0–0 draw after extra time in the quarterfinals, but lost 4–3 in the shootout. With two goals scored in this tournament, Roberto Baggio is still the only Italian player to have scored in three different FIFA World Cup editions.
In the Euro 2000, another shootout decided Italy's fate but this time in their favour when defeating the co-hosts the Netherlands in the semi-final. Italian goalkeeper Francesco Toldo saved one penalty during the match and two in the shootout, while the Dutch players missed one other penalty during the match and one during the shootout with a rate of one penalty scored out of six attempts. Emerging star Francesco Totti scored his penalty with a cucchiaio (spoon) chip. Italy finished the tournament as runners-up, unluckily losing the final 2–1 against France (to a golden goal in extra time) after conceding les Bleus' equalizing goal just 30 seconds before the expected end of injury time (94'). After the defeat, coach Dino Zoff resigned in protest after being criticized by Milan president and politician Silvio Berlusconi.
In the 2002 World Cup, Italy again had a difficult time. A comfortable 2–0 victory against Ecuador with two Christian Vieri goals was followed by a series of controversial matches. During the match against Croatia, two goals were disallowed resulting in a 2:1 defeat for Italy. Despite two goals being ruled for 'questionable' offside, a goal from Alessandro Del Piero help Italy to a 1–1 draw with Mexico proving enough to advance to the knockout stages. However, co-host country South Korea knocked out Italy in the Round of 16.
A three-way tie in the group stage of the 2004 European Championship left Italy as the "odd man out", and they failed to qualify for the quarterfinals after finishing behind Denmark and Sweden on the basis of number of goals scored in matches among the tied teams. The winning goal scored during stoppage time against Bulgaria by Antonio Cassano resulted useless, leaving the Italian striker in tears at the end of the game.
World champions for the fourth time (2006 World Cup)
Italy's campaign in the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany was accompanied by open pessimism due to the controversy caused by the 2006 Serie A scandal. These negative predictions were then refuted, as the Azzurri eventually won their fourth World Cup.
Italy won their opening game against Ghana 2–0, with goals from Andrea Pirlo (40') and substitute Vincenzo Iaquinta (83'). The team performance was judged the best among the opening games by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
The second match was a less convincing 1–1 draw with USA, with Alberto Gilardino's diving header equalized by a Cristian Zaccardo own goal. After the equalizer, midfielder Daniele De Rossi and the USA's Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope were sent off, leaving only nine men on the field for nearly the entirety of the second half, but the score remained unchanged despite a controversial decision when Gennaro Gattuso's shot was deflected in but disallowed because of an offside ruling. The same happened at the other end when U.S. winger DaMarcus Beasley's goal was not given due to teammate Brian McBride being ruled offside. De Rossi was suspended for four matches for elbowing McBride in the face and could only return for the final match.
Italy finished first in Group E with a 2–0 win against the Czech Republic, with goals from defender Marco Materazzi (26') and striker Filippo Inzaghi (87'), advancing to the Round of 16 in the knockout stages, where they faced Australia. In this match, Materazzi was controversially sent off early in the second half (53') after an attempted two-footed tackle on Australian midfielder Marco Bresciano. In stoppage time a penalty kick was awarded to the Azzurri when referee Cantalejo ruled that Lucas Neill fouled Fabio Grosso. Francesco Totti converted into an upper corner of the goal past Mark Schwarzer for a 1–0 win.
In the quarterfinals Italy beat Ukraine 3–0. Gianluca Zambrotta opened the scoring early (6') with a left-footed shot from outside the penalty area after a quick exchange with Totti created enough space. Luca Toni added two more goals in the second half (59' and 69'), as Ukraine pressed forward but were not able to score, hitting the crossbar and requiring several saves from Buffon and a goal-line clearance from Zambrotta. Afterwards, manager Marcello Lippi dedicated the victory to former Italian international Gianluca Pessotto, who was in the hospital recovering from an apparent suicide attempt.
In the semi-final, Italy beat host country Germany 2–0 with the two goals coming in the last two minutes of extra time. After an exciting, back-and-forth half hour of extra time during which Gilardino and Zambrotta struck the post and the crossbar respectively, Grosso scored in the 119th minute after a disguised Pirlo pass found him open in the penalty area for a bending left-footed shot into the far corner past German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann's dive. Substitute striker Alessandro Del Piero then sealed the victory by scoring with the last kick of the game at the end of a swift counterattack by Cannavaro, Totti and Gilardino. The Azzurri won their fourth World Cup, defeating their long-time rivals France in Berlin, on 9 July, 5–3 on penalty kicks after a 1–1 draw at the end of extra time. French captain Zinedine Zidane opened the scoring in the 7th minute with a chipped penalty kick, controversially awarded for a foul by Materazzi. Twelve minutes later, a powerful header by Materazzi from a corner kick by Pirlo brought Italy even. In the second half, a goal by Toni was disallowed for a very close offside call, called by linesman Luc La Rossa. At 110', Zidane was sent off after a head butt, after a verbal exchange with Materazzi; the two players were eventually fined by FIFA for this incident. Italy then won the penalty shootout 5–3, the crucial penalty being David Trézéguet's powerful attempt that hit the crossbar and stayed out. Italy scored all five attempts in a shootout for the first time ever (Pirlo, Materazzi, De Rossi, Del Piero and Grosso). Italy remain the only side to have played in the two World Cup finals that have ended in shootouts; in 1994 and 2006.
Ten different players scored for Italy and five goals out of twelve were scored by substitutes, while four goals were scored by defenders. Seven players — Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Francesco Totti and Luca Toni — were named to the 23-man tournament All Star Team. Buffon also won the Lev Yashin Award, given to the best goalkeeper of the tournament; he conceded only two goals in the tournament, the first an own goal by Zaccardo and the second from Zidane's penalty kick in the final, and remained unbeaten for 460 consecutive minutes. In honour of Italy winning the FIFA World Cup for a fourth time, all of the World Cup Squad were awarded the Italian Order of Merit of Cavaliere Ufficiale.
After the World Cup (2006–2010)
After the Italian triumph in the World Cup, Lippi announced his resignation. 1994 World Cup star Roberto Donadoni was announced the new coach of the Azzurri on 13 July. Italy played in the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship qualifying Group B, along with France. Italy won the group, with France being the runner-up. On 14 February 2007, FIFA ranked Italy 1st in the FIFA World Rankings, with a total of 1488 points, 37 points ahead of second ranked Argentina. This moved them up one from their previous rank, 2nd. The Azzurri had not received such an honour since 1993.
In Euro 2008, the Azzurri got off to a poor start, losing 0–3 to the Netherlands. The following game against Romania ended with 1–1, with a goal by Christian Panucci that came only a minute after Romania's Adrian Mutu capitalized on a mistake by Gianluca Zambrotta to give Romania the lead. The result was preserved by Gianluigi Buffon who saved a penalty kick from Mutu in the 80th minute. The final game against France, a rematch of the 2006 World Cup Final, was won with a 2–0 victory. Andrea Pirlo scored from the penalty spot and a free kick by Daniele De Rossi took a wild deflection resulting Italy's second goal. Romania, entering the day a point ahead of the Italians in Group C, lost to the Netherlands 2–0, allowing Italy to pass into the quarterfinals against eventual champion Spain, where they lost 2–4 on penalties. Within a week after the game, Roberto Donadoni's contract was terminated and Marcello Lippi was rehired as coach.
By virtue of winning the World Cup, Italy qualified for the Confederations Cup, held in South Africa in June 2009. They won their opening match, against United States, 3–1, but defeats to Egypt (0–1) and Brazil (0–3) meant that they finished third in the group on goals scored, and were eliminated. The national football team of Italy qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup after playing home games at Stadio Friuli, Stadio Via del Mare, Stadio San Nicola, Stadio Olimpico di Torino and Stadio Ennio Tardini. In October 2009, the national team of Italy qualified for the 2010 World Cup South Africa after drawing with Republic of Ireland 2–2. On 4 December 2009, the draw for the World Cup was made, Italy was in Group F alongside Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.
At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Italy were eliminated in the first round, finishing last place in their group. After being held to 1–1 draws by Paraguay and New Zealand, they lost 3–2 to Slovakia.The results from the group stage sent shock waves across the world. It was the first time Italy failed to win a single game at World Cup finals, and in doing so became the third nation to be eliminated in the first round while holding the World Cup crown, the first one being Brazil in 1966 and the second France in 2002. Incidentally, the French national team, losing finalist in the 2006 World Cup, was also eliminated without winning a game in the first round in South Africa, making it the first time ever that no finalists of the previous edition were able to reach the second round.
Cesare Prandelli Era (2010–Present)
Marcello Lippi stepped down after Italy's World Cup campaign and was replaced by Cesare Prandelli, although Lippi's successor had already been announced before the tournament. Italy began their campaign with Prandelli with a disappointing 0–1 loss to Côte d'Ivoire in a friendly match. Then, during the 2012 Euro Qualifier, Italy came back from behind to defeat Estonia 2–1. In the next UEFA Qualifier, Italy dominated the Faroe Islands 5–0. Italy then tied 0–0 with Northern Ireland. Five days later, Italy played Serbia; however, Serbian fans in Stadio Luigi Ferraris began to riot, throwing flares and shooting fireworks onto the pitch, subsequently ending the game. Upon UEFA Disciplinary Review, Italy was awarded a 3–0 victory that propelled them to the top of their group. In their first match of 2011, Italy drew 1–1 a friendly with Germany at Dortmund, in the same stadium where they beat Germany 2–0 to advance to the final of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. In March 2011, Italy pulled out a 1–0 win over Slovenia to again secure its spot at the top of the qualification table. They then defeated Ukraine 2–0 in a friendly, despite being reduced to ten men for the late stages of the match. With their 3–0 defeat of Estonia in another Euro 2012 qualifier, Prandelli's Italy secured the table lead and also climbed to a 6–3–0 record since their initial debacle. That record equaled Italy's 2002 run of 9 straight undefeated games (under then-manager Giovanni Trapattoni). The streak was ended on June 7, 2011 by Trapattoni's current charges, the Republic of Ireland, with Italy losing 0–2 in a friendly in Liège.
At the beginning of the second season under coach Prandelli, on August 10, 2011, Italy defeated the reigning World champions Spain for 2–1 in a friendly match played in Bari's Stadio San Nicola.
FIFA World Cup
- Winner (4): 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006
- Runner-up (2): 1970, 1994
- Third place (1): 1990
- Fourth place (1): 1978
UEFA European Championship
- Winner (1): 1968
- Runner-up (1): 2000
- Fourth place (1): 1980
- Semi-finals (1): 1988
Olympic football tournament
- Gold Medal (1): 1936
- Bronze Medal (2): 1928, 2004
Central European International Cup
- Winner (2): 1927–30, 1933–35
- Runner-up (1): 1931–32
- Laureus World Sports Award for Team of the Year: 2007
During the earliest days of Italian nation football, it was common for a Technical Commission to be appointed. The Commission took the role that a standard coach would currently play. Ever since 1967, the national team has been controlled by the coaches only.
For this reason, the coach of the Italian national team is still called Technical Commissioner (Commissario tecnico or CT).
- Technical Commission (1910–1912)
- Vittorio Pozzo (1912)
- Technical Commission (1912–1924)
- Vittorio Pozzo (1924)
- Technical Commission (1924–1925)
- Augusto Rangone (1925–1928)
- Carlo Carcano (1928–1929)
- Vittorio Pozzo (1929–1948) — World Champions 1934, World Champions 1938
- Ferruccio Novo (1949–1950) — as Technical Commission Chairman
- Technical Commission (1951)
- Carlino Beretta (1952–1953)
- Technical Commission (1953–1959)
- Giuseppe Viani (1960)
- Giovanni Ferrari (1960–1961)
- Giovanni Ferrari and Paolo Mazza (1962)
- Edmondo Fabbri (1962–1966)
- Ferruccio Valcareggi and Helenio Herrera (1966–1967)
- Ferruccio Valcareggi (1967–1974) — European Champions 1968, Runners-Up World Cup 1970
- Fulvio Bernardini (1974–1975)
- Enzo Bearzot (1975–1986) — World Champions 1982— 4th Place World Cup 1978
- Azeglio Vicini (1986–1991) — 3rd Place World Cup 1990
- Arrigo Sacchi (1991–1996) — Runners-Up World Cup 1994
- Cesare Maldini (1997–1998)
- Dino Zoff (1998–2000) — Runners-Up European Championships 2000
- Giovanni Trapattoni (2000–2004)
- Marcello Lippi (2004–2006) — World Champions 2006
- Roberto Donadoni (2006–2008)
- Marcello Lippi (2008–2010)
- Cesare Prandelli (2010–present)