Italy reached the Final when they played at Mexico in 1970, but returning 16 years later the Azzurri struggled to make any kind of impression. Nik Howe looks back on a disappointing tournament for Italy but one rich in controversy.
It took the Gallic wizard just under quarter of an hour to make his mark, amazingly scoring his first goal of the competition. Italy, a shadow of the team that was victorious in Spain ’82, failed to get a grip and were taught a French footballing lesson by the likes of Platini, Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana who crafted chance after chance. Yannick Stopyra eventually put the game beyond the Italians, doubling France’s advantage early in the second half.
Despite being outplayed by their European counterparts, the Azzurri - and especially the fans and Press back home - were disappointed they had conceded their crown so early in the competition. But a side made up of ageing members of the 1982 squad, perhaps lacking ambition and desire, and rather average Serie A players from the likes of Verona, Sampdoria and Avellino never really got going and failed to put up an adequate defence of title.
Bearzot’s decision to stick with the tried and tested rather than vary his formation and tactics also left question marks over his ability but in truth it was a squad shy on young talent and lacking in depth. It was a sorry finale for a team and a Coach that had been so successful just four years earlier. The majority bowed out after the tournament. It was just a shame they couldn’t have done it with their heads held high.
France, meanwhile, went on to play favourites Brazil in the quarter-finals. The game between two fancied sides was one to savour and perhaps worthy of a Final. It was a demonstration in fast, free-flowing, attractive football with Juve’s Platini and future Napoli star Careca at the forefront. The only disappointment was that the game had to be decided on penalties.
It was another loss to the tournament when France, spot kick winners of that superb match, fell in the semi-finals to their bete noire, West Germany. Meanwhile, Italy’s group opponents, Argentina, had progressed faultlessly - a handball aside - through to the Final. There the skill of South Americans with Napoli’s Maradona prevailed over the power of a West German side captained by Inter’s Karl Heinz Rummenigge. Argentina were deservedly crowned world champions for the second time in their history.
Revered for scoring Italy’s third and final goal that finished off the West Germans in the 1982 Final - after coming on as an eighth-minute substitute for Francesco Graziani - Alessandro Altobelli was the only Italian player to get on the scoresheet at Mexico ‘86. The 31-year-old scored in each of the Azzurri’s three group games, including two against South Korea, before La Nazionale were knocked out in the second phase by European champions France.
Having begun his career with hometown club Latina and then Brescia, Altobelli made his Italy debut in the 1980 European Nations’ Cup having just won Lo Scudetto with Inter and finished as the Nerazzurri’s top scorer on 15. Though part of the 1982 squad, it was between 1983 and ‘88 that the player nicknamed ‘Spillo’ - because of his physical prowess - became a symbol of the side, even captaining his country under Enzo Bearzot’s successor Azeglio Vicini.
A fast, technical forward, he bowed out of international football at the same place he arrived - the European Championships - after Italy were defeated 2-0 by the USSR in the semi-finals of the 1988 tournament. Altobelli had made 61 appearances for the Azzurri, scoring 25 times. Having played 317 games for Inter and notching 128 goals, the forward finished his domestic career with Juventus, aged 34.