15th May 1910: The birth of the Italian national team
Italia 1934: Italy on top of the world>
Berlin 1936: Gold medal at the Olympics
France 1938: The Azzurri defend their title
Italia 1968: Champions of Europe!
Seventies and ‘Match of the Century‘
Spain 1982: Italy’s third star
From 1984 to 1996: Italia 90 and penalty shoot-out in Pasadena
From 1998 to 2004: Robbed by ‘Golden Goal’
Germany 2006: Fourth World Cup title in Berlin
From 2008 to 2010: Disappointment in South Africa
From 2010 to the present day: The era of Prandelli
The history of the Italian national team all began on 15th May 1910 in Milan. Despite Pro Vercelli, one of the best teams at that time, not making their players available to the national side due to a disagreement with the FIGC, the first ever match played by the Italian national team finished in an emphatic 6-2 win against France (Fossati, Debernardi, Rizzi and a hattrick from Lana). The Azzurri did not wear blue shirts at this point in time and only wore them for the first time a year later, inspired by the colour of the royal family, the Savoia family.
Italy played their first match in white shirts with the socks and shorts differing from player to player as they all wore their club attire on their bottom half. The Italian Football Federation was suffering financial difficulties, and since the white shirts cost seven Lira less than coloured ones, for financial reasons the players wore white shirts. The players who took part in this first match all received a little something for their victory – cigarette packets which were thrown onto the pitch by the 4,000 spectators at the Arena Civica.
The Italian national team were still taking their first steps on the international football scene and their second match was played against Hungary, a very strong team back then, on 26th May of the same year. Hungary and Austria were the two strongest teams in Europe at that time. The match took place in Budapest and finished in a 6-1 defeat for the Azzurri, whose only goal was scored by Rizzi. Against France first and then also against Hungary, Italy could not count on the Pro Vercelli players, who were disqualified from the domestic league and so automatically for the national team too.
The reverse match was much less traumatic for the Azzurri, who hosted Hungary in Milan: The Italian side featured five players from Pro Vercelli and the Azzurri managed to lose only 1-0. Italy played in a light blue shirt for the first time in history, after the color of the Royal Savoia Family.
After a break due to the First World War, Italy truly arrived on the international football scene by winning a bronze medal at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. The first real breakthrough for the Azzurri came on 11th March 1930 with a win in the so-called “International” Cup (it could have also been named the European Cup though, as only Austria, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Italy were the teams taking part in the tournament).
The decisive match took place in Budapest against Hungary, and Italy won 5-0 courtesy of goals from Magnozzi,Costantino and a hat-trick from Meazza to bring the trophy home to Italy. Less than a year later, on 22nd February 1931, Italy enjoyed their first victory against Austria too.
Italy hosted the 1934 World Cup. The national team beat the USA, Spain and Austria, and then faced Czechoslovakia in the final. The guests scored first with Puc, but Italy turned the game on its head through goals from Orsi and Schiavio, and Italy lifted its first World Cup trophy.
First participating, hosting, then winning the World Cup in 1934 – all tremendous milestones in the history of Italian football. The Azzurri were led by a bizarre duo – Vittorio Pozzo, who worked for Pirelli at the time and Giorgio Vaccaro, a general of the fascist regime. These two took the team away to a grueling training camp for one and a half months, preparing the team like they were about to fight a war, and not a major sports tournament.
The competition took place as a knockout format and Italy defeated the US national side, thrashing them 7-1. In the quarter finals, the Azzurri faced a dangerous Spanish side and legendary goalkeeper Zamora, nicknamed ‘el divino’, commanded his defence, stopping almost every shot on goal for the Italian side and the match ended 1-1 after extra time – in the replay, Zamora was finally beaten by Meazza. The Eiar made their debut on the touchline, with radio commentator Nicolò Carosio, who enthusiastically told anecdotes throughout the game, which were mostly ‘made up’, but the listeners had to make do as television was not yet invented. A goal from Guaita eliminated Austria in the semi-final.
The big showdown of the 1934 World Cup Final took place at the national stadium of the fascist party in Rome with 50,000 spectators present. Czechoslovakia took the lead with twenty minutes from time and it seemed as if mass failure was looming for Italy. But with eight minutes left on the clock, Orsi managed to equalize for the Italian national team. In the fifth minute of extra time, Schiavio struck to hand Italy their first World Cup title in their footballing history. Mussolini summoned the Azzurri to the Venezia Palace, still in their kit from the final. The same evening, general Vaccaro handed an envelope to the World Champions for the victory – inside was 20,000 Lira.
The 1930’s were a golden era for the Italian national side. In 1935, they won their third international cup and also won gold at the Olympic Games in Berlin a year later.
Their second major triumph at a tournament in the 1936 was also the second under Vittorio Pozzo. It was just as prestigious as it was unexpected.
The head coach assembled a squad consisting of mainly university students at very short notice, most of these had never played in Serie A.
It was a band of reckless and carefree youngsters, without international experience and an average of 21 within the squad. They approached this Olympic adventure with sheer professionalism and enthusiasm. Pozzo demanded absolute dedication and devotion from them and to honour the shirt which they wore. He was rewarded in a way which he could have never imagined.
The team was led by Annibale Frossi, who wore glasses for his poor eyesight, and the Azzurri thrashed USA, Japan and then Norway in the semi-final. On 15th August, Italy played in the gold medal match against Austria in front of 90,000 spectators at the Olympic Stadium. Our Azzurri took the lead thanks to Frossi’s strike after 70 minutes, only for Kainberger to equalise for Austria ten minutes later, forcing the game into extra time. Frossi took care of proceedings again and scored the winning goal to secure gold for the Italian national football team.
After the World Cup success in ’34 and the Olympic gold in ’36, Pozzo’s Italy travelled to France, trying to defend their title, and to win their third title in four years. They were stronger than four years ago; the team was not shy of confidence and could boast an abundance of skilful players. The trio of Colaussi, Piola and Meazza could not be bettered by any other team.
The Azzurri only came unstuck in their first match against Norway, but won 2-1 after extra time. Italy made their intentions clear by winning 3-1 against hosts France in the quarter-final. They met Brazil in the semi-final, winning convincingly 2-1 in Marseille thanks to goals from Colaussi and Meazza.
The final took place in the Parisian stadium of Colombes. 60,000 spectators applauded the pace of the Azzurri, which proved to be too much for the Hungarian side, who were still a slow side (as were many teams from the Danube area at the time). Colaussi and Piola both scored braces to secure the second title for the Italians. The Hungarians sportingly acknowledged Italy’s superiority on the pitch and their captain Sarosi uttered the words in perfect Italian when shaking hands with Meazza: “The best team definitely won today.”
It was a great moment for Italian sport, since Bartali had also won the Tour de France the same year. The French president Lebrun mentioned to captain Meazza: “Those blessed Italians, they win it all!” when awarding the trophy to him.
Italy returned to action in November 1945 after the Second World War and played out a draw in an international friendly with Switzerland. . Unfortunately, a new tragedy was already on the horizon for the Azzurri: almost the entire FC Torino squad, who were almost Italian champions at the time, died in a plane crash on the Superga hill on 4th May 1949. A disaster that had direct consequences on the national team too, which in those days would sometimes field 10 FC Torino players in the starting XI. The result in the World Cup 1950 in Brazil was also influenced by this tragedy: Italy were eliminated by Sweden in the first round.
Things did not get better for the Azzurri in the following tournaments. In 1954 in Switzerland, the Azzurri were eliminated by the hosts in the first round. Italy did not even qualify for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. In 1962 in Chile, Italy were again eliminated by the host team in a violent game that became part of history under the appropriate name “Battle of Santiago”.
The 1966 World Cup took place in England. But it was an unknown player from North Korea, Pak Doo Ik, who scored the goal that prevented Italy from reaching the quarter-finals.
Seventy years after the federation was founded, Italy organized and hosted the European Championships in 1968 consisting of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and England. The Azzurri faced the Soviet Union in the semi-final in Naples, traditionally a bogey side for Italy. Despite great support from the crowd in the San Paolo stadium, Italy were unable to beat the Soviet Union even after extra time. Italy only advanced to the final after being picked at random to progress (as there were no penalty shoot-outs at this time).
They met Yugoslavia in the final, who dispatched of England in the semi finals. On 8th June at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, the Yugoslavia team taught the Italian national side a footballing lesson. They took the lead thanks to Dzajic in the 39th minute, and passed up many opportunities to add a second goal. In the end, Italy managed to equalize thanks to Domenghini ten minutes before the end.
The rules at the time forced the game to be replayed, as it was a draw, two days later. Head coach Valcareggi wanted to play with the same team and formation but was convinced by Walter Mandelli to alter the line-up almost completely by playing fresh players such as Rosato, Salvadore, De Sisti, Mazzola and Riva, who seized their opportunity and two goals in quick succession from Riva and Anastasi proved to be a knockout blow for the Yugoslavs. Italy were European champions for the first time.
The continental victory gave Italy hope in view of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Italy first beat Sweden in Mexico, drew against Uruguay and Israel and then defeated the hosts in the quarter-final with an emphatic 4-1 victory. The semi-final against West Germany went into history as one of the most exciting matches of all time and was voted “Match of the Century”. Italy won 4-3 thanks to goals from Boninsegna, Burgnich, Riva and Rivera, in a match that only ended after 120 minutes and an incredible rollercoaster of emotions. Italy eventually lost in the final against Pelé’s Brazil, who were 4-1 winners (Boninsegna scored for the Azzurri).
1973 was a memorable year: Italy beat England for the first time on 14th June in Turin (2-0 thanks to goals from Anastasi and Capello), and repeated this feat five months later at Wembley (1-0 through Capello).
The World Cup 1974 in West Germany was not very successful for Italy: the Azzurri won their opening match against Haiti, then drew 0-0 against Argentina and finally lost to Poland, and were consequently eliminated from the tournament.
The tournament in 1978 was no different despite an apparently good start to the competition. The Azzurri topped their first eliminatory group of the World Cup 1978, thanks to victories against France, Hungary and Argentina, but then could not go beyond the second eliminatory group: after a victory against Austria, a draw against West Germany and a defeat against Holland, who won the group and went on to the final against Argentina, Italy were condemned to second place and did not progress to the next round.
1980 went into history as the year of the betting scandal, which also involved players of the national team. Key figures such as Bruno Giordano and Paolo Rossi were disqualified for Italy, and could not take part in the European Championships, won by West Germany. Italy finished fourth, after losing on penalties in the third place playoff against Czechoslovakia.
The adventure in Spain began in Vigo in 1982. The national team, led by Enzo Bearzot, had a seemingly easy group, consisting of Poland, Peru and Cameroon. They drew all three games but progressed to the next round on goal difference, at the expense of the unbeaten Cameroon which led to the Azzurri coming under a lot of criticism.
The atmosphere was far from ideal because of the difficult relationship between the media and the team. Therefore the Azzurri chose not to speak to the press for the first time in their history.
From the cool Vigo to the hot Barcelona: Italy had to face champions Argentina and Brazil, the big favorites of the competition. The game against the Argentines revived the Italian’s hopes for the tournament. Passarella’s side were cancelled out by Bearzot’s men. Gentile stopped Maradona, with Tardelli and Cabrini scoring against Argentine keeper Fillol. The Argentina national team were left on their knees.
Italy then had to face Brazil in the final group game, thanks to a favorable goal difference, Brazil could afford to either draw or win to progress to the next stage. At the stadium Sarrià in Barcelona, Italy took the lead immediately. Conti played the ball to Cabrini in the fifth minute, who crossed for Rossi and he headed home against a stunned Valdir Peres to give Italy a 1-0 lead. Socrates scored seven minutes later for Brazil. Italy didn’t give up though and Rossi scored again in the 25th minute. Twenty minutes before the end, Falcão equalized again for the Brazilians. It looked like it would stay that way but ten minutes later, the resurrected ‘Pablito’ Rossi beat the Brazilian goalkeeper for the third time and gave his side a 3-2 lead. After Antognoni controversially had a goal ruled out in the last minute, Oscar tried his luck with a header, The Brazilians thought they had equalised and were just about to wheel away in celebration before realizing that Zoff had saved it on the line.
Italy faced Lato’s Poland in the semi-final of the World Cup, but Boniek was missing for them through suspension. Rossi scored two marvelous goals again and the Azzurri flew through to the final of the tournament, where Germany awaited them after seeing off Platini’s France in the semi final, only decided on penalties.
On Sunday 11th July 1982, the whole world witnessed Italy’s triumph. In the stands of the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Italian President Sandro Pertini sat next to Juan Carlos, King of Spain.
The first emotional moment of the game came from Cabrini, who missed a penalty in the first half. In the second half, Italy put their foot on the gas and overcame Germany. Oriali was fouled constantly throughout the match and the next foul resulted in a free-kick in a dangerous position, which found Paolo Ross, who headed home to give the Azurri a 1-.0 lead. A marvelous goal.
A few minutes later, Tardelli scored the second goal thanks to an unstoppable long-range effort which beat Schumacher. His legendary scream after this goal was a shout of joy for the whole of Italy.
After an epic run down the right flank by Conti, Altobelli secured victory with a strike to make it 3-0 to the Azzurri. The German side could only score a consolation goal through Breitner.
The final whistle from referee Coelho signaled delirium for the Azzurri: Italy were World Champions, as TV commentator Nando Martellini repeated three times, his voice broken by emotion. Rossi was top goalscorer of the tournament, while captain Zoff had the honour of lifting his first trophy for his country. It was a triumph of the squad, a coach and of the entire country.
Italy did not qualify for the 1984 European Championships. In the group stages of the 1986 World Cup, the Azzurri drew to Maradona’s Argentina and then Bulgaria and won against South Korea, qualifying for the round of last sixteen, before losing to Platini’s France.
UEFA Euro 1988 was a better result for the Azzurri, who reached the semi-finals before being eliminated by the USSR.
The 1990 FIFA World Cup took place in Italy. The Azzurri won against Austria, USA, Czechoslovakia, Uruguay and Ireland, and then lost the semi-final to Argentina on penalties. Italy had to settle for third place, after the Azzurri beat England in the third-place playoff.
Italy did not qualify for UEFA Euro 1992 in Sweden, but took part in the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA. The Azzurri started the tournament with a defeat against Ireland, but progressed through the group stage as best third-placed team, thanks to a victory against Norway and a draw against Mexico. Italy then finally found their rhythm and from the round of last sixteen defeated Nigeria, Spain and Bulgaria on their way to the final, thanks to goals from ‘Divin Codino’ Roberto Baggio. The final was played against Brazil in Pasadena, on 17th July: Italy lost 3-2 on penalties, with Baggio missing the decisive spot-kick.
UEFA Euro 1996 in England was not as successful for the Azzurri and Italy were eliminated in the group stages.
The 1998 World Cup took place in France. Italy were in a group with Austria, Chile and Cameroon. The Azzurri drew against the South-Americans and won against the Europeans and Africans. Italy qualified to the round of last sixteen, and progressed to the quarters courtesy of a victory over Norway. In the quarter-final, Italy lost on penalties to hosts France.
Italy had to face France again at UEFA Euro 2000: The Azzurri could not take revenge though, as they lost the final in Rotterdam through a “Golden Goal” from David Trezeguet in extra time.
The 2002 World Cup took place in Japan and South Korea. Italy managed to go beyond the group stage after wins against Ecuador, Croatia and Mexico, but were eliminated in the round of sixteen by South Korea, who could capitalize on a few questionable decisions of Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno.
UEFA Euro 2004 was also a big disappointment for the Azzurri, who could not go beyond the group stage.
The 2005/2006 season ended with the notorious betting scandal called “Calciopoli”, which reached its peak right before the Azzurri’s campaign at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. Marcello Lippi’s team were not discouraged by these events though, and left for Germany in a focused mood.
Italy won their group by beating Ghana and the Czech Republic, before drawing against the USA. On their way to the final, the Azzurri eliminated Australia, Ukraine and Germany, who were beaten 2-0 in an epic semi final thanks to extra time goals by Grosso and Del Piero.
On 9th July 2006, Italy again faced France in Berlin in the World Cup final – but this time the outcome was different. The French took the lead thanks to a chipped penalty from Zidane. Italy came back shortly after thanks to a header from Materazzi. In extra time, the game was influenced by the Zidane’s red card, the captain of the French team, guilty of headbutting Materazzi. It was a penalty shootout again for both of the teams. This time luck was on our side and the French were defeated. All the Azzurri converted their penalty kicks (Pirlo, Materazzi, De Rossi, Del Piero and Grosso), while Trezeguet missed France’s only penalty.
Italy were World Champions again after 24 years.
Penalties were against Italy though in the quarter finals of UEFA Euro 2008 in Austria-Switzerland: Roberto Donadoni’s side lost to Spain this time after a well fought 0-0 draw in the quarter finals.
In the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Italy, again led by Marcello Lippi, did not make it past the group stage, and could only collect two points in three matches against Paraguay, New Zealand (both draws) and Slovakia (defeat).
After that huge disappointment in South Africa, Cesare Prandelli was appointed as manager of the Italian National team.
At the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, the Azzurri made it past the group stage thanks to a win and two draws. They then defeated England in the quarter-final against all odds and then Germany in the semi-final. Italy, who were extremely tired from the previous matches, took on the then World Champions Spain in Kiev, who won the tournament by beating the Azzurri 4-0 in the finals
The next year, the national team took part in the Confederations Cup in Brazil, Prandelli’s side managed to surprise everyone again, finishing third in the competition, eliminated by Spain in the semi-final again, in a penalty shoot out.