Football can be a cruel, cruel game and over the years the Azzurri have had their share of heartbreaks. Moments, frozen in time, as hopes of glory are dashed in the most unforgiving of circumstances. In researching this feature we have encountered footage that will send a shiver down the spine of Calcio’s most hardened supporters. Let Football Italiano guide you through 10 moments that sent a fanatical football nation into mass mourning.
European Championship quarter- final – Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna – June 22, 2008
Spain 0-0 Italy – Spain win 4-2 on penalties
Roberto Donadoni had the task of leading his nation into their first major championship since being crowned world champions in 2006. The Azzurri were much fancied in the pre-tournament build-up but a stuttering group phase raised concerns. In the last eight, they were paired against the tournaments outstanding team, Spain. Donadoni kept faith with his attacking pairing of Antonio Cassano and the misfiring Luca Toni, in the hope they could provide the golden touch to overcome a staunch Spanish rearguard. In a dour contest with chances at a premium, it seemed the Italians were content to wait for spot-kicks, as the Spanish pressed for a winning goal. A 0-0 scorline after 120 minutes signalled yet another penalty shoot-out for the Azzurri. Spain led 2-1 as the first three kicks were all converted. Then Daniele De Rossi, one of the few bright spots in a lacklustre Italian display, failed to convert and put the Spanish in the ascendancy. Gianluigi Buffon made a great save from Dani Guiza to keep the Azzurri in the match. Antonio Di Natale then stepped up for Italy but couldn’t hold his nerve, planting the ball against Iker Casillas. Cesc Fabregas, the games outstanding player, kept his nerve to put the Spanish into the semi-final. They would go on to win the tournament. Donadoni was relieved of his duties shortly after.
European Championship semi-final – Neckarstadion, Stuttgart – June 22, 1988
USSR 2-0 Italy
Coach Azeglio Vicini, in his first major tournament, got his charges into the semi-final where a strong USSR side would be waiting. During a second half downpour, the Russians scored twice in four minutes to leave Azzurri hopes in tatters. Again, the Italians had fallen at the penultimate hurdle. Vicini would suffer the same heartbreak two years later on home soil in the World Cup.
World Cup quarter final – Stade de France, Saint-Denis – July 3, 1998
France 0-0 Italy – France win 4-3 on penalties
Christian Vieri’s goals had fired the Azzurri into another quarter-final and hosts France were the opponents. Another tense affair between these two old adversaries would be decided by spot kicks. Demetrio Albertini for the Italians and Bixente Lizarazu for France had already failed to convert as Luigi Di Biaggio stepped up knowing he had to score to send the match into sudden death. The weight of expectancy was too much and he crashed his kick against the crossbar. Another Azzurri campaign had been halted by the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
World Cup Group 4 – Ayresome Park, Middlesborough – July 19, 1966
Korea DPR 1-0 Italy
During the most famous year in football for English fans, Italy were involved in one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history. A team featuring Giacinto Facchetti, Sandro Mazzola and Gianni Rivera succumbed to the heroics of one Pak Doo Ik on a dreadful day in the north east of England. With a partisan English crowd behind them, the North Koreans played the game of their lives with the impish Ik netting the winner on 42 minutes. The Azzurri were welcomed home by rotten tomatoes as Italian football suffered one of its darkest days.
World Cup Round of 16 – Daejeon Stadium, Daejeon – June 18, 2002
South Korea 2-1 Italy (after golden goal)
Some 36 years after the upset in England, Italy once again fell to Korean opposition. Debatable refereeing decisions aside, the Azzurri were struggling in this tournament and when they faced the co-hosts in the first knockout stage, a nation feared the worst. Giovanni Trapattoni’s defensive tactics were exposed as Ahn Jung Whan shocked the football world with a golden goal in every sense of the word. The Italians were coming home much earlier than had been predicted with Trapattoni facing serious doubts about his managerial future with la Nazionale.