1. Gianluigi Buffon (goalkeeper)
“His command of the penalty area is second to none. Being a top class ‘keeper is about total domination of anything that comes into the box and he achieves that. That he achieves that with a smile on his face and a great level of sporting behaviour makes him even harder to fault.”
2. Antonio Benarrivo (defender)
“Only 23 caps but just shaded Zambrotta for right-back spot. If it was for engine alone Zambrotta would have strolled it, but Benarrivo had style and class and speed in such abundance that he couldn't be ignored. I also love the fact that he stayed with Parma despite pressure to sign for bigger clubs.”
3. Fabio Cannavaro (defender)
“Without doubt the greatest ever performance I've witnessed from a defender was his at the Amsterdam Arena against Holland in Euro 2000. Not only were Maldini, Nesta and Cannavaro down to three defenders after Zambrotta's 34th minute sending off but they were also up against the Holland of Overmars, Bergkamp and Kluivert. Instead of substituting an attacker or midfielder, Zoff simply put trust in his three colossal defenders. With each thundering tackle Cannavaro would pick himself up and puff out that peacock chest ready for the next assault.”
4. Franco Baresi (defender)
“What many remember Baresi for was his positional sense, calm nerves and timely interceptions. What I recall from watching him live was his blistering pace, particularly his acceleration over the first 10 yards. His era was without doubt the most testing, with him being pitched against Careca, Maradona, Baggio, Batistuta, Klinsmann, Vialli to name just a few but frequently he made household names look like Sunday pub players. On top of this, his display against Brazil in the 1994 World Cup Final made many a grown man cry and turned the tournament's stars, Bebeto and Romario, into a pair of wimpering babies.”
5. Paolo Maldini (defender)
“Unluckiest person in football? Any brilliant Italian left-back who was unfortunate to have been born around 1968, that's who. No matter how brilliant they were they could wave goodbye to their international career.
“Adept with both feet, fantastic aerially and equally useful at centre-back, Maldini was a colossus. I saw at first hand the likes of Roberto Carlos, Andreas Brehme, Frank de Boer and Philipp Lahm and Maldini towered above them. Watching him in a stadium, relatively close up you were struck by something that you perhaps didn't realise from television coverage, and that was he had the simple ability to take the ball off the opposition and he did it time and time again.
“Whether it be with an interception, a tenacious tackle or his favourite - bullying and shepherding the opposing player into a pointless corner - his greatest talent was quite simply to remove the ball from the opposition and return it to his own, often without the other player quite realising how he'd done it.”
6. Giuseppe Giannini (midfielder)
“To witness Giannini in the flesh was to witness more than a football performance. On his day he could wave his left or right foot like a magician's wand. He ran like he wasn't quite touching the ground, he played like he wasn't quite touching the ball. That magical movement was spellbinding for fans and opposing players alike.”
7. Diego Maradona (attacking midfielder)
“I met Maradona twice. Once before the 1990 World Cup and once during it I had the privilege of staying in the same hotel as the great man. He was as dignified and calm off the pitch, as he was brash and colourful on it. He was the one player in Serie A who had the ability to run defenders ragged and he did so to Riccardo Ferri the night of that semi-final in Napoli. Ferri, who was an incredibly talented man-to-man marker, was fighting cramp in extra time whilst Maradona attacked the Italians relentlessly.”
Image: Paul Heaton pictured with 'Perfect 10' Diego Maradona
8. Lothar Matthaus (midfielder)
“All German cliches applied to Lothar the Motor. His engine was ruthless, his temperament impeccable and he was an out and out winner. His joining Inter totally turned the team around. His vision, mixed with a Bobby Charlton like swagger when the ball was at his feet, spelt danger for every Serie A midfield and defence. The only player I ever saw who was able to stem the tide of his power was strangely Giancarlo Marocchi of Juventus.”
9. Andrea Pirlo (midfielder)
“He's such a clever player that danger can often lurk within his quietest moments. Just when you think he's had a dormant five or 10 minutes, he'll open up the opposition defence with one seemingly effortless passage of play. And unfortunately for the other nations in Group D, he seems to be getting cleverer with age. We have to enjoy great players like Pirlo now, because I believe as the game gets quicker and quicker, it will become harder to hone a player as individually brilliant as him.”
10. Alessandro Altobelli (striker)
“After only really watching English football live, one of the most striking things about Italian football was the grace of a player like Altobelli. To watch him was like watching a wily old fox homing in on a farm full of chickens. He would wait, poise himself, then attack but all within a split second.
“I've never really understood what makes a great attacker. A goal like the one he scored against Germany in 1982 seemed so randomly placed, it was difficult to tell exactly what made it special but watching him in the flesh it was apparent that every passing body movement was quite deliberately engineered towards the scoring of a goal. I realised that there was nothing random about any part of his game - it was all natural grace and determination that only a true goalscorer, a true great has.”
11. Marco Van Basten (striker)
“Van Basten was at the forefront of the one of the greatest teams of the last century. He could have easily flopped. Many Dutch players haven't been successful in Italy but what he had that none of the players I've mentioned thus far had, was an athleticism that was actually above and beyond most of the Serie A players at the time. Altobelli had a fine strike rate but Van Basten's 90 goals in 147 matches says it all. He was absolutely unstoppable and lethal from practically every distance, with every usable part of his body. When I saw him first in 1988, Lecce put two defenders on him and that still wasn't enough. As with all of these players, he was a pleasure and a privilege to watch.”
Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott play the London O2 Shepherds Bush Empire on May 27.
What Have We Become is the new album from Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, released May 19
Italy vs. Republic of Ireland
On Saturday May 31, 7.45pm, Italy take on a Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane led Republic of Ireland.
In a match that will certainly be of interest to England fans, with the Azzurri being Roy Hodgson’s first opponents in Brazil, Cesare Prandelli can select from big-names, including Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano.
Tickets are on sale now, priced from £25 adults and £10 juniors, and can be purchased here.
Alternatively, you can be in with a chance of winning a pair of tickets to the game. Just visit Football Italia’s official Facebook page for details on how to enter our competition.
Think you know your Italian football? Share your knowledge, tips and comments to win cash prizes in OLBG's tipster competition - £5,000 monthly.