Italy National Football Team
The Italy National Football Team was the first European nation to win the most prestigious trophy in world football, and it was also the first team to win two back-to-back World Cup titles. Two of Italy’s four World Cup wins came at times when the country’s domestic football scene was marred in deep controversy. The Italians have also won the European championships twice.
Italy National Football Founding and Early Years
The Italy national football team has been playing matches with foreign teams since 1899, but Gli Azzurri’s first official match took place on 15 May 1910. In its debut match, Italy subjected France to a 6-2 defeat. Eighteen years later, the Italian football team won the bronze medal in the 1928 Summer Olympics.
Back-to-Back World Titles
Italy was not eager to take a cross-Atlantic trip to Uruguay to play in the 1930 World Cup held in Uruguay. The Italians played in the tournament’s next two editions in 1934 and 1938 and won them both. In doing so, Italy became the first World Cup-winning team to defend its title. That feat would be replicated by Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
A popular story suggests that the infamous Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini had sent death threats to the Italian team before the 1938 final if they had lost the match. However, no historical evidence is available to back up this claim, and members of Italy’s 1938 World Cup-winning team denied the rumor.
Plane Crash Devastation
Shortly after WWII, a tragedy struck Italy National Football. A plane crash in 1949 led to the untimely demise of 10 Italian players who were members of a Torino side that was on a five-Scudetto streak at that time.
The accident severely weakened the core of the Italy National Football team, and it was reflected in the team’s future World Cup campaigns. Italy could not go beyond the first round in 1950 and 1954 before failing to qualify for the 1958 World Cup. Italy would fail to get out of the first round after returning to the competition in 1962 and 1966.
After years of underperformance, Italy enjoyed some respite in the 1968 European Championships. The Italians won the tournament, beating Yugoslavia in the final. Two years later, Italy would progress to the World Cup final for the first time in 32 years. However, the Azzuri were no match to the high-flying Brazil side that cruised to a 4-1 victory in the final.
Italy’s resurgence in the international football scene suffered a major blow as it crashed out of the 1974 World Cup group stages and failed to qualify for the 1972 and 1976 European Championships.
Another era of renaissance began in the 1978 World Cup when a new crop of Italian players secured a fourth-place finish. Italy National Football was the only side that could beat the hosts and eventual champions Argentina in that tournament. Another fourth-place finish followed in the 1980 European Championships. However, the best would come under the most unexpected circumstances.
Match Fixing Scandal
Ahead of the 1982 World Cup, Italy National Football was reeling with match-fixing accusations against several national team players, including the mercurial Paolo Rossi. The Italians announced a media blackout to concentrate on the pitch, and they responded to the criticisms with a World Cup-winning run. A Paolo Rossi hattrick in the semifinals brought Italy to the final, eliminating Brazil. Italy picked up a comfortable 3-1 victory over West Germany in the final to celebrate its third World Cup title.
The aftermath of the 1982 World Cup win was tumultuous for Italy as it failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championships and dropped out of the 1986 World Cup Round-of-16.
World Cup Misery
In 1990, Italy fell to reigning champion Argentina on home soil and salvaged its World Cup dreams in the semifinals.
Four years later, the Italy National Football team would make it to the World Cup final in 1994. Brazil and Italy played out a goalless stalemate in front of the Rose Bowl crowd, and the match went to penalty shootouts. Italy lost the shootout 3-2 as Roberto Baggio, who had been Italy’s World Cup hero thus far, fired his shot well over the crossbar.
Baggio would retire after Italy’s 1998 World Cup quarterfinal run. The ponytailed maestro is still the only Italian footballer who has scored in three different World Cups.
Poor Referee Decisions
Four years later, the Italy National Football team fell victim to several poor refereeing decisions in the 2002 World Cup. The Italians saw two goals ruled off in their 2-1 group stage loss to Croatia. Italy had two goals ruled out in its next group stage match as well, but a late Alessandro Del Piero header secured a 1-1 draw against Mexico, which granted Italy a knockout stage pass.
In the Round-of-16, Italy played co-host South Korea. A series of questionable refereeing calls led South Korea to a 2-1 win. After the match, Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni claimed that there was a conspiracy to kick Italy out of the competition. The allegation was echoed by many Italian players, including Francesco Totti, who was sent off in the South Korea match for diving.
Italy’s miseries would continue as it suffered a group stage exit from Euro 2004.
Fourth World Cup Victory
Before the 2006 World Cup, the infamous Calciopoli incident had cast a shadow of uncertainty over the Italy National Football squad. The backdrop was almost the same as the 1982 World Cup, but miracles don’t happen twice, do they? Italy proved they do as Marcelo Lippi’s men won the competition defeating France in the final. Italy responded to scandal and criticism just as it did 24 years earlier. The Azzurri had become world champions for the fourth time in their illustrious history.
After the euphoria of the World Cup win faded away, Italy started its Euro 2008 with a devastating 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands. The world champions recouped from that shock to progress past the group stages, but their journey ended in the quarterfinals, losing to eventual champions Spain.
The Modern Era
Italy’s luck worsened in the 2010 World Cup. Italy became the third defending champion in World Cup history to get eliminated from the group stages. Italy was the first victim of the so-called champions curse that resulted in both of the next two winners, Spain and Germany, crashing out of the group stages in 2014 and 2018, respectively. Italy failed to get out of the 2014 World Cup group stages as well before failing to make the cut for the next two World Cups.
Roberto Mancini Era
After missing out on the 2018 World Cup, ex-Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini took charge of the Italy National Football team and inspired a resurgence that saw the Italians become European champions in 2021. But Mancini’s high-spirited Italy side could not win its World Cup qualification group and lost the qualification playoff tie against North Macedonia to prolong Italy’s World Cup exile.