Azzurri World Cup years – 2006

With the 19th World Cup in South Africa just under a year away now, Football Italiano looks back at the Azzurri’s performances at recent tournaments. Today, we remember the glorious 2006 World Cup campaign.


Italy arrived at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany after emerging as comfortable winners of a qualifying group containing the likes of Norway, Scotland and Slovenia. With Marcello Lippi now at the helm following the debacle of the Azzurri’s humiliating first round exit at Euro 2004 and their disappointing showing in Korea and Japan in 2002 under Giovanni Trapattoni’s guidance, the squad travelled to Germany with a new inner-confidence.

As always, the squad would enter the tournament as one of the perennial favourites for glory, and in the build up to the summer’s showpiece event, Lippi admitted to World Soccer that his team would be looking to continue their offensive attitude on the field rather than slipping back into their old defensive ways: “I hope that we continue to play in Germany as we did in the qualifying games and recent friendlies, taking our football to the opposition.”

The squad


Lippi produced few shocks when naming his squad of 23 to travel to Switzerland for a pre-tournament training camp ahead of their arrival in Germany, although he did surprise many with veteran goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi’s inclusion as backup for first choice Gianluigi Buffon, following an excellent campaign with Lazio. Elsewhere, Palermo quartet Fabio Grosso, Cristian Zaccardo, Andrea Barzagli and Simone Barone were rewarded for their club’s strong showing in Serie A with places in the squad. As ever though, the spine of the team would be made up of Buffon in goal, Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta as first choice centre-backs with Andrea Pirlo providing the guile and Gennaro Gattuso the steel in midfield. Further forward la Nazionale would be looking to Fiorentina’s prolific striker Luca Toni to plunder home the goals with Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero aiming to provide the ammunition.


1. Gianluigi Buffon

12. Angelo Peruzzi

14. Marco Amelia


2. Cristian Zaccardo

3. Fabio Grosso

5. Fabio Cannavaro

6. Andrea Barzagli

13. Alessandro Nesta

19. Gianluca Zambrotta

22. Massimo Oddo

23. Marco Materazzi


4. Daniele De Rossi

8. Gennaro Gattuso

10. Francesco Totti

16. Mauro Camoranesi

17. Simone Barone

20. Simone Perrotta

21. Andrea Pirlo


7. Alessandro Del Piero

9. Luca Toni

11. Alberto Gilardino

15. Vincenzo Iaquinta

18. Filippo Inzaghi

Group Stages

The draw for the finals saw Italy placed in Group E with World Cup debutants Ghana, Pavel Nedvěd’s much-touted Czech Republic outfit and the United States.

Group E

Italy 2-0 Ghana – June 12, 2006 – Pirlo 40, Iaquinta 83

Team vs. Ghana

1 Buffon

2 Zaccardo – 13 Nesta – 5 Cannavaro – 3 Grosso

20 Perrotta – 21 Pirlo – 4 De Rossi

10 Totti

9 Toni – 11 Gilardino

The Azzurri’s first test of the 2006 World Cup saw them come up against the relative unknown quantity of Ghana’s Black Stars in Hannover. Lippi, as promised, set about taking the game to their inexperienced opponents, naming Alberto Gilardino to partner Toni in attack, with Totti also included just behind the front pairing despite the lingering doubts over his fitness, following a broken ankle.

Toni almost gave Italy the lead in the first half only to see his long-range effort smack against the crossbar and down onto the line before being cleared. However, Lippi’s charges would take a one-goal lead into the interval after Pirlo picked his spot with a fabulous shot from the edge of the area. Ghana were caught napping when Totti’s quickly taken corner allowed Pirlo the time and space to fire a precise shot through a number of bodies and into the bottom corner.

The Africans were not overawed however and proceeded to squander a number of clear-cut opportunities, left-back Emmanuel Pappoe and Chelsea star Michael Essien the most culpable. With time ebbing away, Vincenzo Iaquinta, on as a replacement for Gilardino, wrapped up a win for the notoriously slow-starting Italians, capitalising on a poor back-pass attempt from Samuel Kuffour to round Ghana keeper Richard Kingson and roll the ball into an empty net.


Italy 1-1 United States – June 17, 2006 – Gilardino 22; Zaccardo 27 (og)

Team vs. United States

1 Buffon

2 Zaccardo – 13 Nesta – 5 Cannavaro – 19 Zambrotta

20 Perrotta – 21 Pirlo – 4 De Rossi

10 Totti

9 Toni – 11 Gilardino

Next up for Lippi and his men was the challenge of Bruce Arena’s United States in Kaiserslautern. La Nazionale were expected to follow the Czech Republic’s lead by easily despatching their American opponents who had lost their opening match 3-0 to the Eastern Europeans. However, the United States started the match with the more vigour and came closest to opening the scoring through Bobby Convey and Clint Dempsey. Italy managed to keep their composure though and took the lead midway through the first half when Gilardino stooped low to head home Pirlo’s superb pinpoint free-kick. But, within the space of six crazy minutes the Azzurri were on the backfoot, when Cristian Zaccardo saw his attempted clearance slice into his own net and young Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi was sent-off for elbowing US striker Brian McBride in the face. Totti made way for Gattuso soon after to shore up the midfield, before the United States were reduced to 10-men themselves following a dangerous two-footed tackle by midfielder Pablo Mastroeni on Pirlo. Shortly after half-time their task became an even bigger struggle when defender Eddie Pope received a second yellow card. Italy looked set to take the game by the scruff of the neck with their man advantage but they failed dismally, with only two attempts from substitute Del Piero threatening to breach their opponents’ defence, as they settled for a 1-1 draw.


Czech Republic 0-2 Italy – June 22, 2006 – Materazzi 26, Inzaghi 87

Team vs. Czech Republic

1 Buffon

19 Zambrotta – 13 Nesta – 5 Cannavaro –3 Grosso

16 Camoranesi – 8 Gattuso – 21 Pirlo – 20 Perrotta

10 Totti

11 Gilardino

Italy entered their final group match needing a win over the Czech Republic to top the group and avoid a potentially explosive early match-up with holders Brazil in the first knock-out round. With the Calciopoli investigation nearing its conclusion, a dark cloud hung over the national team as it prepared for this vital clash. However, Lippi and his team put the country’s domestic problems to one side as they went in search of the win which would knock out the Czechs, who had their own problems with skipper Tomáš Galásek and giant striker Jan Koller missing through injury and centre-back Tomáš Ujfaluši out suspended.

Just 17 minutes in, Italy suffered a blow of their own when key defender Nesta was forced off the field with an injury. But, within nine minutes of replacing the Milan star, Inter veteran Marco Materazzi rose above the Czech defence to head home Totti’s corner and give the Azzurri a vital lead. Any hopes of a Czech comeback deteriorated drastically on the stroke of half-time when Jan Polak was sent off for a second yellow card, and despite the best efforts of Juventus playmaker Nedvěd, it was Italy who found the second goal when substitute Inzaghi broke the offside trap with the Czechs pushing up-field for an equaliser, to round Petr Čech and send Karel Brückner’s men home at the first hurdle.


Final Standings after three games – Italy 7, Ghana 6, Czech Republic 3, United States 1

Round of 16

Italy’s reward for finishing top of their group was a second round clash with Australia in Kaiserslautern, who qualified for the knock-out stages at Croatia’s expense thanks to a late Harry Kewell goal in Stuttgart. It also ensured an opportunity for revenge over the man who had masterminded their exit at the hands of South Korea in 2002, Guus Hiddink, now in charge of the Socceroos. With Nesta out for the tournament injured, Materazzi took his place alongside Cannavaro in defence while Lippi replaced Totti with Del Piero, who started wide-left in a 4-4-2.

Gilardino and Toni saw first-half chances denied by Mark Schwarzer in the Australian goal with Italy looking the more likely to score. Gilardino was withdrawn for Iaquinta at half-time but five minutes after the restart, Lippi’s attacking plans were thrown into chaos when Materazzi was shown a contentious red card for a foul on Mark Bresciano to swing the pendulum in Australia’s favour. Left with little option, Lippi withdrew Toni and replaced the striker with defender Barzagli to fill the hole vacated by Materazzi, as Australia began to dominate possession. Lippi introduced Totti for Del Piero with a quarter of the match remaining and although Hiddink’s men came closest to taking the lead through Scott Chipperfield and Tim Cahill, the match appeared to be heading for extra-time. But with the clock counting down, Italy made one final push and when Socceroos captain Lucas Neill went to ground in the area, Grosso, having eluded Bresciano’s prior tackle, went over claiming a penalty. Unbelievably, the referee pointed to the spot and despite Neill and his fellow Australian players’ protestations, Totti stepped up to confidently smash the penalty home and seal Italy’s place in the quarter-finals. After the match Lippi claimed: “Our organisation and our spirit saw us through.” Yes Marcello, that and a monumental piece of good fortune!

Italy 1-0 Australia – June 26, 2006 – Totti (pen) 90

Team vs. Australia

1 Buffon

19 Zambrotta – 5 Cannavaro – 23 Materazzi – 3 Grosso

20 Perrotta – 8 Gattuso – 21 Pirlo – 7 Del Piero

11 – Gilardino – 9 Toni



Ukraine and Andriy Shevchenko lay in wait for the Azzurri in the quarter-finals, but the match in Hamburg proved an immensely one-sided affair. Lippi reverted to a 4-4-1-1 formation for the match with Totti restored to support Toni, and Camoranesi brought in on the right-hand side of a four-man midfield. After only six minutes, right-back Gianluca Zambrotta opened the scoring with a long-range shot from his weaker left foot, which in truth Olexander Shovkovskiy should probably have saved. The Ukraine saw their best attempt from Andriy Husin’s header deflected onto the post by Buffon before Toni headed home a simple second to make it 2-0. And after Maxim Kalinichenko watched his header come back off the bar as the Ukraine’s luck continued to desert them, Toni wrapped up the win with a simple tap in.

Italy 3-0 Ukraine – June 30, 2006 – Zambrotta 6, Toni 59, 69

Team vs. Ukraine

1 Buffon

19 Zambrotta – 5 Cannavaro – 6 Barzagli – 3 Grosso

16 Camoranesi – 8 Gattuso – 21 Pirlo – 20 Perrotta

10 Totti

9 Toni



A clash with old foes Germany awaited Italy as their prize for defeating Ukraine, and in a tight and tense affair in Dortmund, and after no goals in normal time, the match progressed to 30 minutes of extra time to decide who would play the winners of France and Portugal in the final in Berlin. Looking to avoid the lottery of penalties which had cost them so dearly in the past, Italy emerged at the start of extra-time determined to end the game there and then. They came close to breaking the deadlock when substitute Gilardino’s shot cannoned back off the post before Zambrotta almost repeated his trick from the quarter-finals, only to see his shot strike the bar. Lukas Podolski wasted a good opportunity for Germany and after Pirlo’s attempt was cleared for a corner by Jens Lehmann with only one minute remaining, la Nazionale’s little schemer received the ball and threaded an inch perfect pass to Grosso in the area. In one movement the defender turned and shot, brilliantly finding the corner of the net to put Italy on the verge of their first final in 12 years. Straight from the kick-off, with Germany desperate to find an equaliser to take the game to penalties, Italy won possession and Gilardino’s lovely reverse pass put substitute Del Piero in the clear to emphatically find the top corner of Lehmann’s net to wrap up a stunning victory against the hosts with the last kick of the game.

Germany 0-2 Italy – July 4, 2006 – Grosso 119, Del Piero 120

Team vs. Germany

1 Buffon

19 Zambrotta – 5 Cannavaro – 23 Materazzi – 3 Grosso

16 Camoranesi – 8 Gattuso – 21 Pirlo – 20 Perrotta

10 Totti

9 Toni



Qualification for the final meant an opportunity to gain revenge over France for their last-gasp defeat in the Euro 2000 final would be on offer to the Azzurri. However, this was a French team that, having been written off at the start of the tournament, had overcome the likes of Spain, favourites Brazil and Portugal to reach the final. Victory over a team featuring a rejuvenated Zinedine Zidane would be no easy feat. Indeed, it was the former Juventus star who opened the scoring, clipping home a cheeky penalty off the bar after Materazzi had felled Florent Malouda in the box.


Within 12 minutes though, Italy were level. Latching on to a corner from Pirlo, Materazzi made up for his earlier indiscretion to power home the equaliser with a precise header. The remaining 71 minutes failed to provide another goal, although Toni did see an effort ruled out for offside in the second half. Into extra-time, winger Franck Ribéry missed a chance to put France ahead and Buffon denied Zidane with a brilliant save to keep the scores level, before the incident which would dominate the final occurred. Following a heated verbal exchange between the retiring-French maestro and Materazzi, Zidane lost his composure and head-butted the Inter defender in the chest. The referee brandished the red card and France was down to 10-men. With no further score, the match would be decided by penalties. Could Italy hold their nerve unlike in 1994? Pirlo and Materazzi despatched their penalties before Juve striker David Trezeguet watched in anguish as his strike rebounded off the bar – advantage Italy. Further successful efforts from De Rossi and Del Piero meant Willy Sagnol had to score. The French right-back duly obliged meaning Grosso could win the match if he scored his penalty. He did so with style, firing home confidently to give Italy their first World Cup trophy since 1982 and banish the memories of Roberto Baggio’s miss in 1994. Fabio Cannavaro lifted the trophy to the delight of the travelling hordes of Azzurri fans.

Italy 1-1 France – July 9, 2006 – Materazzi 19; Zidane (pen) 7

Team vs. France

1 Buffon

19 Zambrotta – 5 Cannavaro – 23 Materazzi – 3 Grosso

16 Camoranesi – 8 Gattuso – 21 Pirlo – 20 Perrotta

10 Totti

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