Italia / Italy
- Capital: Rome / Roma
- Official Languages: Italian
- Nicknames: Gli Azzurri (The Blues – Men’s side); La Nazionale (The National [Team]); Le Azzurre (The Blues – Women’s side)
- Association: Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC)
- FIFA Code: ITA
- Best World Cup Result (Men): WINNERS (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Quarter Finals (1991, 2019)
- Best Euros Result (Men): WINNERS (1968)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Finalists (1993, 1997)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 1ST (Various)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 10th (July 2003)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 21st (August 2018)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 19th (March 2017)
- Most Capped Player: Patrizia Panico – 196 caps
- Top Scorers: Patrizia Panico & Elisabetta Vignotto – 107 goals
The Italian Republic (Repubblica Italiana), or Italy as it’s more commonly known, is traditionally one of the powerhouses within European and international football. Not only is their domestic league, Serie A, considered one of the ‘Big 5’ leagues within European club football, but the national team is one of the most successful nations within international football by having won four World Cups and one European Championships throughout its history. It is also one of a select few nations to have organised multiple World Cups, hosting the 1934 and 1990 editions of the tournament.
Occupying the boot-shaped peninsula of Southern Europe which juts out into roughly the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares a number of land borders at its northern frontier. France is situated to Italy’s northwest (alongside the French island of Corsica located to the direct north of the Italian island of Sardinia), with Switzerland and Austria sharing Italy’s northern Alpine border, whilst Slovenia is located on Italy’s on northeastern border. In addition, there are two micronations located within Italy’s borders, with the ancient republic of San Marino just south of the Italian city of Rimini, whilst the Vatican City, the home of the Holy See, is in the middle of the Italian capital of Rome. Historically the Italian peninsula was occupied with multiple warring Italian duchies, kingdoms, and city states for centuries, and it wouldn’t be until 1861 when Italy was entirely unified during the Risorgimento period of conflicts throughout the mid-19th century. Football was brought to the country during those early decades of unity of the late 19th century by British traders and dock workers (in particular from the port city of Genoa/Genova, where some of Italy’s oldest football clubs were founded), with the Italian Football Federation being established as early as 1898, and the nation becoming one of the first nations to join FIFA in 1905. The Italian side adopting their recognisable blue shirts in honour of the royal house of Savoy, which reigned Italy between 1860 and 1946.
Italy hosted the first World Cup tournament to be held on the European continent in 1934, under the unnerving auspices of Benito Mussolini and his fascist government, after they were unable to attend the inaugural tournament in 1930. With the help of the oriundi (foreign-born players of Italian descent), the Azzurri repeated the feat of Uruguay from four years previous when they won the title on home soil and became the first European world champions. The Italians would confirm their position of being the best side of the 1930s when they successfully defended their title in France, beating Hungary 4-2, becoming the first of just two countries (the other being Brazil in 1958 & 1962) to successfully retain the World Cup.
- 1938 World Cup Final Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbJIqjny2Jk
Post WW2, Italy’s performances in the World Cup naturally dipped from the pre-war period as they failed to progress beyond the group stage between 1950 and 1966, even failing to qualify for the 1958 World Cup (the first of two times to have failed to qualify for the finals tournament). However, with a talented generation of players progressing into the team in the late 1960’s, as shown in their first (and only) European Championship triumph in 1968 (again on home soil), Italy reached the final of the 1970 World Cup – their first final in 32 years. Sadly for the Azzurri, they came up against the dominant and iconic Brazil side of the same era, and were heavily defeated 4-1 in Mexico City, in one of Brazil’s greatest ever performances. 12 years later, and Italy would finally lift their third title despite being outsiders prior to the tournament, enduring match fixing problems within the domestic league, and having a poor start to the tournament. Aided by the goals of the late Paolo Rossi, and with the legendary Dino Zoff in goal, Italy defeated Brazil and Argentina in the second round before defeating West Germany 3-1 in Madrid, with Zoff lifting the iconic trophy as captain after being a substitute in the 1970 final.
There were hopes that history could repeat itself as the country rehosted the World Cup in 1990, which would become an iconic tournament for many reasons. The Azzurri progressed to the semi-finals of the tournament, and there were hopes amongst the nation that a repeat of 1934 and 1968 was on the cards again, but it would prove to be a heartbreak as they were knocked out in the last four on penalties by a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina in Napoli. A game which is infamous for having a number of the “home” fans cheering for their Neopolitan icon rather than the hosts, whom they also deemed represented the ‘north’ of the country. It looked as if the Italians would finally rectify the despair of four years prior when they reached the final of the 1994 World Cup, this time inspired by Roberto Baggio. Alas it would be Brazil who would dash their hopes once more, this time beating the Italians on penalties, with the pivotal moment of Baggio missing his penalty to confirm Brazil’s fourth title. They would suffer further final heartbreak six years later, being defeated by defending world champions France in the Euro 2000 final, losing to David Trezeguet’s golden goal in extra time.
Italy would finally taste success in the 2006 World Cup held in Germany. In eerily similar circumstances to that of 1982, with Italian football being rocked by another match fixing scandal, and the team considered outsiders for the tournament, they progressed to the final after beating Australia (rather controversially), Ukraine, and the hosts Germany after extra time to set up a final against France. After a 1-1 scoreline after 120 minutes, and France’s goalscorer Zinedine Zidane memorably getting himself dismissed in his retirement game after headbutting Italy’s goalscorer Marco Materazzi, the game went to a penalty shootout. Italy managed to hold their nerve, scoring all of their five penalties with Fabian Grosso slotting in the winning spot-kick, to give Italy their fourth world title, and become the second most successful nation in the tournament’s history.
- 2006 World Cup Final Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nlsm0RlC8zI
Alas, since their heroics in Berlin, Italian football suffered a slow decline for the remainder of the 2000s and throughout the 2010s. They did surprisingly reach the final of Euro 2012 but were carved apart by a swaggering Spanish side 4-0, and that would be the highlight of a difficult period for the Azzurri. They failed to progress beyond the group stage of both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, but the nadir was failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – only their second World Cup where they had failed to progress to the finals tournament. However, since that monumental götterdämmerung moment for calcio, Italian football looks set to be on the rebound and progressing upwards once again. Under the astute management of Roberto Mancini, and with another generation of talented young players progressing into the senior team, Italy have qualified for Euro 2020/21, and have started their 2022 World Cup qualifying with a 100% start. Certainly, confidence is high amongst the Italian camp and they are considered as potential ‘dark horses’ for Euro 2020, and as history has proven in 1982 and 2006, Italy usually do very well when they’re considered as ‘outsiders’ for tournaments…
To talk about the four-time World Cup winners who seem to be returning to their high standards after a period of disappointment, and are considered one of the ‘dark horses’ for potentially winnning this summer’s European Championships, we interviewed the excellent Calcio England. They are an English-language website and account who reports on all things ‘calcio’, whether it involves the ongoing news from Serie A and the domestic leagues, looking back at Serie A’s zenith in the 1990s, or the performance of the national team, it’s all covered with this excellent website. In addition, they have also written for such superb publications like The Guardian, These Football Times, The Gentleman Ultra, as well as for Classic Football Shirts. To find their website and social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @CalcioEngland
- Website: https://calcioengland.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/calcioengland/
- YouTube: Calcio England’s Channel
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
For me it would have to be Juventus’ outgoing goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, a player who has achieved incredible things at both club and international level. His longevity simply has to be admired; 176 caps across 21 years and a World Cup winners’ medal in his pocket.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Roberto Baggio has a special place in the hearts of Italian tifosi, despite missing that crucial penalty in the 1994 World Cup Final. We saw so many great moments from Il Divin Codino [“The Divine Ponytail“], but sadly his abundant talent was held back by a succession of serious injuries. In terms of the current crop, prolific Sassuolo forward Francesco Caputo has battled his way to the top after a long career outside the top flight. Francesco Acerbi [33-year-old centre-back currently with Lazio] also commands a lot of respect having recovered from a serious illness [he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2013 but it was successfully cured which allowed him to return to football in September 2014] to recapture his best form.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Italy currently?
I think Italy’s current strength is that they aren’t overly-reliant on the form and mood of any single individual. Nicolò Barella has emerged as a real force in midfield this season with Inter and Federico Chiesa has grown enormously in recent months at Juventus. The consistency of Milan’s Gigi Donnarumma (remember, still only 22) is a crucial in goal.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
It’s fair to say that La Nazionale are riding on the crest of a wave with their last defeat coming 22 matches ago, back in 2018. The team has been transformed under the leadership of Roberto Mancini who has overseen a quiet revolution. The remaining wrinkle for Italy is up front, where players such as Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti – both prolific at club level for Lazio and Torino respectively – have yet to recreate that form in the blue of Italy.
Q. Are there any Italian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
The current squad has a sizeable youth contingent which bodes extremely well for the future. Manuel Locatelli [23-year-old midfielder] and Giacomo Raspadori [21-year-old forward] have come of age with Sassuolo, so too has Alessandro Bastoni [21-year-old centre-back] at the heart of Inter’s title-winning defence. Moise Kean [21-year-old forward] has put a bleak spell at Everton behind him and found form again on loan with PSG. Nicolò Zainolo is another one for the future, but the 21-year-old Roma playmaker sadly misses out this time due to injury. Euro 2020 probably comes just too soon for 22-year-old forward Gianluca Scamacca who has enjoyed a breakthrough season with Genoa [on-loan from Sassuolo].
Q. Looking at Italy’s long and illustrious international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
Italy entered the 1982 World Cup as outsiders. In 1980, the Totonero betting scandal had rocked the domestic game resulting in enforced relegations, points deductions, and lengthy player suspensions. One of those players was the late Paolo Rossi, who had always maintained his innocence. He sat on the sidelines for two years, returning to action at the very end of the 1981-82 season with a huge point to prove. On the road to victory, Italy faced – and defeated – Argentina, Brazil, and West Germany.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
There have been a few low points over the years! World Cup defeats to North Korea (1966) and South Korea (2002) immediately spring to mind. More recently, Italy suffered a prolonged hangover from their run to the final at Euro 2012 and the subsequent retirement of several of their mainstays. That was followed-up by a group-stage exit in Brazil 2014 (including defeat to Costa Rica), a passable showing at Euro 2016, and then failure to qualify for World Cup 2018. Thankfully, Italy have now emerged from that funk!
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Italian national team?
Italy remains quite a divided country; most obviously between north and south, but also strong rivalries between neighbouring towns and cities (the famed campanilismo). It’s easy to forget that Italy’s fiefdoms were only united into a single country 150 years ago, so tournaments are a special time when the country seems more united than normal. The best example is the 1982 World Cup victory, which is credited with helping to unite the country, contributing to the emergence from a period of social and political turmoil. The worst thing has to be the lazy stereotypes deployed by commentators regarding Italy’s defensive playing style and cynical defending.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
No need for unofficial anthems when you have an official anthem this good! Whenever Italy play you can be assured of a rousing rendition of Il Canto degli Italiani, led by the eleven players on the pitch. The chorus says it all; “Let us unite! // We are ready to die; // Italy called“.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
There are too many to choose from! The Diadora shirts worn during Italia 90 have iconic status, perhaps due to the association with that festival of football. Italy were one of the first to adopt skin-tight Kappa jersey which set the trend for modern tailoring in football. The current crop of renaissance-inspired jerseys by Puma are pretty special too. The less said about the new ‘corporate’ away shirt launched just ahead of Euro 2020, the better.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Italian national team?
Italy are capable of both the sublime and the ridiculous in summer tournaments…but fans are feeling quietly optimisitic this year. Anything barring a total capitulation at Euro 2020 will serve as valuable experience for a young squad who should be well-placed for years to come. Roberto Mancini has just signed a new 5-year contract so all the building blocks are in place for a promising future.
A massive grazie mille to Calcio England for answering our questions on the Azzurri. Remember you can find their social media accounts and website in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.