In 1934, Italy won the World Cup, even though it was the first time they had entered the tournament. Angelo Schiavo finished as the second-top scorer with four goals and remains Bologna’s all-time top scorer with 252 in 361 appearances.
Four years later, Italy won again, led by Vittorio Pozzo who remains the only manager to have lifted two World Cup trophies.
That triumph in 1938 would be the last World Cup for 12 years, as the sport was put on hold due to World War II. Yet Italy faced a devastating tragedy just one year before play was due to resume when almost the entire team was killed in a plane crash at Superga in Turin. Of course, this had a huge impact and after failing to advance from the group stage at the 1950 and 1954 World Cups, they missed the 1958 edition of the tournament altogether.
Return to prominence
The Azzurri were gaining momentum by 1970, beating West Germany 4-3 in the World Cup semi-final. No less than five goals were scored in extra time in that match, the most in the history of the competition.
The preparations for the 1982 World Cup were plagued by the Totonero match-fixing scandal, which saw numerous players including Paolo Rossi handed suspensions by the Italian football authorities. Rossi was allowed to play in the World Cup that year and finished the tournament with both the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot awards.
In 1982, Italy were World Champions again. That tournament saw a match that is regarded as one of the greatest of all time, when Italy beat Brazil 3-2, when Rossi became only the second Italy player to score a hat-trick at a World Cup since Angelo Schiavio in 1934.
#OnThisDay— Italy (@Azzurri_En) July 5, 2019
5 July 1982, Sarrià Stadium
Italy 3-2 Brazil
Paolo Rossi: 5', 25', 74'
A stunning display from 'Pablito' to send the #Azzurri to the semi-finals on the road to glory. #VivoAzzurro pic.twitter.com/qZhqhSgBYc
When Italy faced Poland in the first game in that World Cup, goalkeeper Dino Zoff became the first ever player to reach 100 caps for the Azzurri, but there are now seven players in front of him – Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Paolo Maldini, Fabio Cannavaro, and Gianluigi Buffon – with Buffon leading that list with 176 caps.
Italy reached the World Cup final in the USA in 1994. Roberto Baggio was the unfortunate player to miss the decisive penalty against winners Brazil, but he was instrumental in getting his side to that final in the first place. Baggio has the joint-most World Cup goals for Italy with nine.
2006 was the year that Italy put that World Cup final heartbreak behind them with a penalty shoot-out win over France in the final, the first time the side had ever won on penalties at the fourth time of trying.
The Azzurri were led to that triumph by Marcello Lippi, who had won the Champions League with Juventus ten years earlier. In doing so the Italian tactician became the first to have won both elite competitions.
With Andrea Pirlo on the side, it probably comes as no surprise that Italy was deadly from set-pieces in 2006. In fact, seven of Italy’s 12 goals that year came from dead-ball situations.
The final with France saw Zinedine Zidance sent off for that famous head-butt on Marco Materazzi, and the game itself was a cagey affair. Finishing 1-1, Materazzi scored in the 19th minute with Italy’s only shot on target in the entire game, but crucially Lippi’s men converted all five of their penalties.
Decline and collapse
Italy set out to retain its crown in 2010, but there was to be no repeat of their back-to-back trophies of 1934 and 1938. This Azzurri side was an aging one, with an average age of 28 years and eight months, the third-oldest in the competition that year.
Under Cesare Prandelli, Italy failed to win a single match for the first time in World Cup history, drawing with Paraguay and New Zealand and losing 3-2 to Slovakia. They weren’t alone though, as before 2018 four of the past five World Cup holders were eliminated in the group stage; France in 2002, Italy in 2010, Spain in 2014, and Germany in 2018.
Italy’s failure to qualify for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was the first time in their history that they hadn’t taken part in the tournament.
Chloe Beresford is an experienced Serie A expert, with previous bylines at Forbes, The Guardian, AS Roma and many more. She has appeared on the radio at Sirius XFM and on the BBC Euro Leagues podcast. Watching live games in Italy and experiencing all the country has to offer are her biggest passions.