The Italians have produced some of the world cups’ greatest moments; think Baggio’s heroics in `94, the two late goals that saw them knock out the hosts and reach the final in 2006 and not forgetting the semi final of 1970, arguably the greatest world cup game ever. These moments and more have made Italy one of the most dominant and decorated forces in world cup history since its early days in the 1930’s.
Second only to Brazil, Italy have a rich history in the competition, crowned world champions on four occasions; 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006, as well as finishing runner up in 1970 and 1994. Their constant showcasing of some of the world’s finest players including Baggio, Maldini and Riva has meant that they have and continue to pose a threat in each tournament and remain serious contenders to defend their title this time around.
Following their success, a lot was expected of the Italians, but they failed to deliver; this was partly due to the rise of Brazil in the early 50’s. In the semi-final stages of 1970, Italy faced West Germany in what continues to be hailed as the greatest world cup match of all time. A third final looked on the cards for Italy as they led with just a minute to go, but they were to be halted by a late goal, forcing the game into extra time. They then trailed 2-1 before a Burgnich equaliser on 98 minutes. Riva restored the lead on 104, but the Germans fought back through Muller. Amazingly, the goals did not stop there and Rivera was to make himself a hero, scoring the winner just a minute later. The 4-3 aggregate win took them through to the final to face the mighty Brazil. Italy themselves were about to be taught a lesson in football, as they were trounced 4-1 by what is regarded at the best Brazil team in history.
The `82 world cup was to be a rollercoaster for Italy. Incredibly, they drew all three group games, but still managed to scrape through on goals scored, despite only finding the net twice. The fans became increasingly frustrated and began to loose faith in their side, especially looking at the round two three way group, which saw them up against Argentina and Brazil. In a huge turn of fortune, the Italians won both games to prevail from the group. They inevitably went on to lift the trophy after defeating West Germany by three goals to one in the final, watched by a crowd of 90,000.
A barren spell spanning over 20 years finally ended in 2006, as Italy claimed their fourth world cup, a 95th minute Totti penalty proved the turning point in the campaign, seeing them past Australia in the last 16 by the narrowest of margins. France awaited after a convincing display to see off the hosts Germany. In a final filled with controversy, it seemed fitting that the outcome would be decided by penalties; it was indeed the Italians who kept their cool, scoring all five to lift the famous trophy once again. They will no doubt be looking to repeat this in South Africa to level Brazils record in what could be a world cup to remember.
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