Italian progress: Group stage
Football Italia recounts Italy’s steps through the World Cup, tournament by tournament. Needing only a draw to qualify, defeat in their final group game of 1974 saw Italy again fail to impress on the biggest stage of all.
Italy displayed newfound mental strength in their opener against Caribbean outsiders Haiti. After falling behind to a shock goal from Emmanuel Sanon early in the second half, Valcareggi’s side dusted themselves off and responded. Rivera equalised within six minutes before Romeo Benetti and Pietro Anastasi sealed the win. Sanon’s goal was the first that Dino Zoff had conceded in international football in 1,142 minutes.
However, the game is remembered for the actions of Giorgio Chinaglia. The Welsh-raised Lazio striker was replaced by Anastasi with 20 minutes to go, after spurning numerous chances. On his way off he gesticulated towards the bench and proceeded to take out his frustration on various items in the dressing room. It did not help a camp reportedly already split into factions and on the verge of self-destruction.
The next game produced Italy’s first competitive encounter with Argentina, but neither side took bragging rights as a Rene Houseman opener for the South Americans was cancelled out by a Roberto Perfumo own goal. However, with Argentina losing to Poland in their opener a win could have eliminated them.
As it happened Italy needed just a draw against Poland, a defeat would leave Argentina a chance as long as the maths of the results worked in their favour. Having failed to create too many chances against Argentina, Valcareggi dropped Rivera and Luigi Riva in favour of Franco Causio and Chinaglia but by the interval they were 2-0 down while Argentina held a 2-0 lead over Haiti.
The Albiceleste needed another goal, and it came 10 minutes into the second half. Sanon did his bit for the Italian cause by cancelling it out but with 20 minutes left Hector Yazalde struck a fourth leaving Italy needing two or a miracle from Haiti. Neither came, although Fabio Capello did pull one back late on. It was too little too late though and, once again, the Azzurri were on the first flight home.
Italy qualified for the 1974 tournament in fine style. They were unbeaten in six games against Turkey, Switzerland and Luxembourg and did not concede at all.
A new trophy was required for 1974 after Brazil won the Jules Rimet outright. Designed by Italian Silvio Gazzaniga it was potentially going to be named the Stanley Rous Trophy.
The game against Argentina marked the final appearances in the blue jersey for both Riva and Rivera. Riva retired with 35 goals for Italy from 42 games, a tally that is still unsurpassed.