Italy have won the FIFA World Cup four times, next only to Brazil`s five. The Azzurri are the first team to win back-to-back titles and also the first to win the competition at home. Besides their four titles, they were the runners-up in 1970 and 1994. And have finished third and fourth in the 1990 and 1978 finals respectively. In Brazil this June, they will be competing in this show-piece tournament for the 18th time.
Let`s have a look at their four titles:
1934 – Politics and football mingled
Just when the world was witnessing a new wave of nationalism, Benito Mussolini utilised all his available resources to host the FIFA World Cup, which was later adopted by Adolf Hilter for the 1936 Olympics.
Italy were the favourites, with the defending champions Uruguay declining to participate in protests over the poor representation of European teams in the inaugural World Cup. The hosts started their campaign thumping Unites States 7-1 in Rome with Angelo Schiavio scoring a hat-trick and Raimundo Orsi netting a double. Then after the one-off first round match, their quarter-final match against Spain ended 1-1 after extra time. Legendary Giuseppe Meazza scored the lone goal in the replay to set-up their semi-final against Austria.
Enrique Guaita scored an early goal in front of a packed San Siro crowd to assured a final showdown against Czechoslovakia. The final held in then National Stadium in Rome, was decided on extra time as Italy fought back from a goal down through Raimundo Orsi. Angelo Schiavio scored the winner five minutes into the extra time to give Italy their first World Cup title.
1938 – First team to defend the title
Italy became the first team to defend the World Cup title. But the defending champions started their campaign with a fighting win over Norway in Marseille. Silvio Piola scored the 94th minute extra-time winner after the team from Scandinavia equalised late in the regulation time.
Their hero, Piola scored a brace to beat hosts France 3-1 in their quarter-finals at Paris` Olympic Stadium. In the semi-final against Brazil, Giuseppe Meazza scored from the spot in the hour-mark to secured a close 2-1 victory. However, their summit clash against Hungary proved little easier as a brace each from Gino Colaussi and Silvio Piola gave Italians their second trophy in eight years, and also the first team to win the title on foreign soil.
The win also marked as the high-point of an undefeated Italian side under Vittorio Pozzo, who famously started the Metodo. To date, he is the only coach to win the World Cup twice.
1982 – The real Italian Job
After their back-to-back World Cup triumphs, Italy won their third title in 1982. Enzo Bearzot`s side was not considered a favourite in the presence of free scoring sides like Brazil, West Germany and England. But thanks to Bearzot`s tactical awareness, the squad completed the job.
Italy started the tournament in a dismal note, with a stalemate against Poland. In fact, they qualified for second round without winning a single match. Their cause was, however, served by a defensive style of play and the presence of Dino Zoff under the bar provided a perfect setting to thwart any attack thrown at them. Besides the legendary goalie, the side also had the likes of Franco Baresi, Marco Tardelli and Paolo Rossi. In the second round, they surprised everyone by topping the group containing pre-tournament favourites Brazil and Argentina.
After eliminating a star-studded Brazilian side and the holders Argentina, Italy blanked Poland 2-0 in the first semi-final, thanks to a Rossi double.
The final at the historic Santiago Bernabeu stadium, Rossi, Tardelli and Alessandro Altobelli scored a goal each to beat the West Germany side led by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Unknown Juventus player, Paolo Rossi, who has spent more than five years on the sidelines due to injuries, scored six goals to become the tournament`s top goal scorer. His raise also gave birth to the now-popular number 9, players who can roam in the opponent half, drawing defenders out, creating chances and also scoring goals. A complete modern-day front-man!
2006 – Penalties, late-goals, Zidane, Materazzi and a Head-butt
Having already won three World Cup trophies, Italy started the 2006 World Cup as a perennial favourite. Their reputation as one of the strongest defensive sides was anointed further after the French edition. They conceded only one goal during the first round, that too an own goal by Cristian Zaccardo against the United States. Wins against Ghana and Czech Republic justified their top-billing in the group.
In the Round of 16, they got the better of an unknown side from Down Under, with Francesco Totti scoring the decisive penalty against Australia. Then, in the quarters, Marcello Lippi`s team overwhelmed Ukraine 3-0 thanks to a double from Luca Toni and a goal from Gianluca Zambrotta.
But the semi-final clash against previous edition`s runners-up, Germany proved a tough one. The match was decided in extra-time with goals coming from Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero.
The final against France started with Zinedine Zidane scoring an early goal from the spot. But Marco Materazzi, from an Andrea Pirlo free-kick, equalised under 15 minutes. Then the match in Berlin headed for a 1-1 draw even after the end of extra-time. In the penalty shoot-out, Italy converted all their five chances and won 5-3 with David Trezeguet missing for France.
The final match will be remembered for the sending-off of Zidane, who head-butted Materazzi in the 100th minute of the game, reducing France to 10-men for the remaining 10 minutes.