World Cup Round of 16 – Estadio Olimpico, Mexico City – June 17, 1986
Italy 0-2 France
Italy came to Mexico as defending champions with high hopes of retaining their crown. Enzo Bearzot had kept faith with the spine of his all-conquering 1982 squad. But in the sweltering heat of Mexico City, their dreams were ripped apart by a scintillating French team, led by the mercurial Michel Platini. Platini put his country ahead after 15 minutes, Yannick Stopyra doubled the advantage on 57 minutes and the Azzurri had been dethroned. Bearzot called time on his career and the Italians looked to rebuild their squad, ahead of hosting the competition in 1990.
European Championship Final Feijenoord Stadion, Rotterdam – July 2, 2000
France 2-1 Italy (after golden goal)
Italy had their critics in this tournament especially after the semi-final penalty shoot-out win over co-hosts, the Netherlands. Some aspects of the Azzurri’s play were called into question in certain quarters, but they had reached the final to play France. Dino Zoff’s men were transformed in this match and thoroughly deserved the lead given to them by Marco Delvecchio on 55 minutes. As time ebbed away it looked like Italy would have its first European Championship crown since 1968, but, with the last kick of normal time, Sylvan Wiltord broke Azzurri hearts to take the match into Golden Goal extra time. On 103 minutes, the match was finished by David Trezeguet. The Azzurri had earned respect for this performance, but the prize had been snatched from them in the cruellest of circumstances.
World Cup Second Round – Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aries – June 21, 1978
Italy 1-2 Netherlands
Coach Enzo Bearzot took a strong Azzurri team to Argentina for the finals. The tournament was divided into two group stages, the second group stage replacing the usual knockout format. The goals of Paolo Rossi and Roberto Bettega were crucial as Bearzot’s men eased into the second round robin format. Results in this section meant the game against the Netherlands would effectively be a semi-final, with the winners progressing to the final. Italy took an early lead through an own-goal from Ernie Brandts, who then made amends with an equaliser on 50 minutes. The game will always be remembered for what happened on 75 minutes when Dutch playmaker Arie Haan scored one of the greatest goals ever seen in the finals, a strike from 35 metres leaving Dino Zoff helpless. Agony for Bearzot but four years later, his new look Azzurri would be crowned World Champions.
World Cup semi-final – San Paolo, Naples – July 3, 1990
Argentina 1-1 Italy – Argentina win 4-3 on penalties
A nation expected at Italia 90, the hosts made it to the last four thanks largely to the goals of Salvatore Schillaci, the tournament’s undoubted star. Argentina – their opponents in the semi-final – had a certain star of their own in none other than Diego Maradona, who as a Napoli player tried to turn the Neapolitans against the Azzurri. It was a brutal encounter, Schillaci put the hosts in front in the first half but Claudio Canniggia equalised on 67 minutes. In extra time Ricardo Giusti was dismissed for Argentina and the game would be decided by spot-kicks. In the shoot-out the Azzurri cracked under the weight of expectation, their final kick by Aldo Serena was saved by the outstanding Sergio Goycochea. The cynical Argentines had made the final, the hosts would finish third.
World Cup final – Rose Bowl, Pasadena July 17, 1994
Brazil 0-0 Italy – Brazil win 3-2 on penalties
The Italians had made a slow start to the tournament just scraping into the Last 16. Then Roberto Baggio stole the show to drag the Azzurri into the final to play overwhelming favourites Brazil. A cagey game was deadlocked after 120 strength-sapping minutes. The first two penalty kicks by Marcio Santos and Franco Baresi were missed, the next two for each side converted. Daniele Massaro then missed and Dunga converted to leave Baggio needing to score. As the ball sailed high over the bar, Baggio’s look said it all and Italy’s dreams were shattered.