Italian progress: Group stage
Football Italia recounts Italy’s steps through the World Cup, tournament by tournament. Two defeats against 1954 hosts Switzerland consigned Italy to another early exit on the biggest footballing stage in the world.
An event played just over the border removed any travel problems for the Azzurri, but again bizarre scheduling left them frustrated and heading home on the first bus over the Alps. This time the format saw four groups of four, but with only two fixtures each as the top two seeds were not scheduled to meet.
That meant Italy avoided facing England, but there was a big enough challenge to be had against the Swiss. In a portent of things to come eight years later the match with the hosts is remembered more for the wild tackles and squabbles between players and the referee. Robert Ballaman’s opener for the hosts was cancelled out by Giampiero Boniperti, but late on Josef Hügi grabbed a shock winner. Angered by Switzerland’s rough play and unjust decisions, the Azzurri players chased Brazilian referee Mario Viana off the field at full-time.
In the second game, against less cynical opponents, the Italians put on a display to hammer Belgium 4-1. The breakthrough was long coming, Pandolfini netting just before the half was up, but within no time after the interval they had made it 4-0 – Carlo Galli, Amleto Frignani and Benito Lorenzi getting the goals. Meanwhile, though, the Swiss lost 2-0 to England meaning a play-off with the Schweizer Nati for the quarter-final spot.
Curiously for the play-off in Basel, Azzurri coach Silvio Piola opted to make changes to his starting XI. Four of the men who trounced Belgium were dropped, while others were fielded out of position. Hügi gave the Swiss an early lead and Ballaman doubled the advantage. Fulvio Nesti clawed one back but late strikes from Hügi and Jacques Fatton left Italy in no doubt that the glories of the 1930s were truly in the past.
|23-Jun-54||Switzerland||4-1||Italy||Gp 4 play-off|
For the first time Italy were required to qualify. Over two legs they defeated Egypt 7-2, with half of the 14 players used coming from Fiorentina’s ranks.
Benito ‘Poison’ Lorenzi could easily have become the first Italian sent from the field in a World Cup game for his exuberant reaction to a disallowed offside goal in the opener against Switzerland.
Despite leaking four goals on his Azzurri debut against Switzerland, goalkeeper Giovanni Viola retained the No 1 shirt for the next 10 internationals – conceding a further 11 goals.