Football Italia recounts Italy’s steps through the World Cup, tournament by tournament. The Azzurri conquered the World Cup with a club mentality, strength in depth and the desire to prove themselves more than the sum of their scandals.
New tactician Marcello Lippi had presided over a fairly steady qualifying campaign and the 2-0 win over Ghana in the first game sent out a strong message. However, traditional Italian jitters were not far away and a 1-1 draw with an underdog USA left several concerns. Unfortunately, the match was overshadowed by the actions of Daniele De Rossi, who channelled Tassotti in violently elbowing Brian McBride.
The Roman was handed a four-match ban, and more problems emerged in the crucial Group E game with the Czech Republic as Alessandro Nesta hobbled off injured to be replaced by Marco Materazzi. However, the towering defender turned the game with a headed goal and Inzaghi secured the win late on. More drama followed against Australia in the knock-out stages as Materazzi was dismissed early in the second half. It took a controversial penalty in the 90th minute to send Italy through, converted by Totti to avenge his tawdry 2002.
A straight-forward quarter-final demolition of Ukraine preceded a semi-final against the hosts. Unbeaten in four previous World Cup meetings against the Germans, Lippi’s boys contested one of the most entertaining goalless draws on record. Extra-time maintained the pace and again penalties seemed likely before Italy snatched it late. First Fabio Grosso converted in the 119th minute, before a Tardelli-esque celebratory run, and moments later Del Piero capped it off with a beautifully executed counter-attack goal.
The Final paired Italy with France, conquerors eight years earlier. Zinedine Zidane put France ahead early from the penalty spot but unlikely hero Materazzi headed the equaliser soon after. Of course, those two moments are not why those names are remembered. In the second half of extra-time a brief altercation between the two scorers ended with Zidane headbutting Materazzi’s chest and earning a red card. The match petered out and Italy faced the dreaded shoot-out again. Finally, fortune favoured the Azzurri. All five Italian kickers – including the returning De Rossi – scored, leaving France’s David Trezeguet as the fall guy when Grosso slotted away the fifth to earn Italy’s fourth.
|17-Jun-06||Italy||1-1||United States||Group E|
|22-Jun-06||Czech Republic||0-2||Italy||Group E|
|26-Jun-06||Italy||1-0||Australia||Round of 16|
|(5-3 on pens)|
|4||M||Daniele De Rossi||3|
|7||A||Alessandro Del Piero||5||1|
Italy’s match with Australia marked their first World Cup encounter with a nation from Oceania, completing the six continental regions of the world.
All four of Italy’s World Cup victories have come when the event has been staged in Europe, although they have reached the Final twice on North American soil.
Cristian Zaccardo’s own goal against the US made him the third Italian to net a World Cup goal against his nation, following Fulvio Collovati (1982) and Antonio Benarrivo (1998).