Italy, with six Bianconeri players among their ranks, will take to the pitch at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife at 6 pm tomorrow to face Costa Rica, seeking three more points that could ensure their place in the next round. The game against Jorge Luis Pinto’s side, who showed their mettle by beating Uruguay 3-1, will not be the first meeting between the Azzurri and a team from Central or South America. Many historic confrontations have been settled by brilliant moments from Bianconeri players – a pattern we hope to see followed tomorrow as well.
In 1950 the Italians faced off against Paraguay in Brazil. It ended as a 2-0 win for the Azzurri with two Bianconeri, Giacomo Mari and Ermes Muccinelli, playing a crucial role.
Then in 1974 Ferruccio Valcareggi’s Italy side took on Haiti in the Olympiastadion in Munich. In one of the first matches played in pleasant weather, the national team entered the pitch and immediately took control, feeding chances to Riva with Juve man Fabio Capello playing as the regista. When Haiti took the lead on 46 minutes through Sanon, the Azzurri ramped up the pressure and turned things around by scoring three goals. The last of those, in the 78th minute, came courtesy of Bianconeri player Pietro Anastasi. Pietruzzu took two steps before smashing a right-footer between the keeper and the near post. The match thus ended 3-1 to Italy.
In 2002 the World Cup was co-hosted between Japan and South Korea, and Italy began their tournament with a match against Ecuador. Between the posts was Gigi Buffon, protecting the two-goal lead that Vieri had established. The Juve net minder closed out the game with a big save against Chala during the final Ecuadorian assault before the South Americans were ultimately defeated 2-0.
Also in 2002, and once again in Group G, there was a meeting with Mexico. The Azzurri were losing 1-0 after Borgetti’s 34th-minute goal when Alessandro Del Piero grabbed the equaliser in minute 84. The goal from Pinturicchio, an idol in Asia, sent the crowd into rapture at the Big Eye Stadium in Oita and secured Italy’s spot in the next round.
The Azzurri have only played twice against Uruguay in the World Cup. The first time was in 1970 at the Estadio Cuauhtemoc in Puebla and it ended scoreless. The second time was in 1990 with Italy coming out on top. The first goal came courtesy of Salvatore Schillaci in minute 65, while Aldo Serena bagged the second.
Italy’s games against the football giants of Brazil and Argentina deserve a discussion of their own.
The Italians beat the Seleção by a 2-1 scoreline in 1938 but had to wait until 1982 for their next victory against them. In between they tasted defeat at the World Cups of 1970 and 1978, then again in 1994.
The night before Italy v Brazil in 1982 was a tense one. All of the pundits had practically written off the Azzurri’s chances ahead of this meeting with such a powerhouse side. But the action at the Estadio Sarrià on the following day showed just how horribly wrong those predictions were. Italy scored in the 5th minute through Bianconeri striker "Pablito" Rossi. Socrates answered for Brazil before Rossi had Italy back in front again on 25 minutes. The opponents weren’t backing down and Falcao found the net in the 68th minute. Then Rossi and Zoff took over to seal the win, with the forward hitting the winner in minute 74 to complete his hat-trick and the keeper barricading the door during Brazil’s final siege.
Giuseppe Furino was the only Bianconeri player involved when Italy lost 4-1 to Brazil at Mexico '70, while a strong Juve contingent that included Zoff, Cabrini, Cuccureddu, Gentile, Scirea, Benetti, Tardelli and Bettega was unable to prevent a 2-1 reverse eight years later, when Franco Causio netted the Azzurri's only goal. At USA '94 Italy suffered heartbreak in the final: Roberto Baggio, Dino Baggio and Antonio Conte were in the line-up that agonisingly missed out on becoming world champions after 120 minutes and a penalty shootout.
It’s a different story when it comes to Argentina, against whom Italy have only lost once at the World Cup – on penalties in 1990. There were draws in 1974 and 1986, and victories in 1978 and 1982.
In the first of those wins it was legendary Juve forward Roberto Bettega who scored the decisive goal, while in the second Marco Tardelli and Antonio Cabrini found the net. Both Bianconeri, naturally.
The 1974 draw saw six Juventini involved (Zoff, Spinosi, Morini, Capello, Causio and Anastasi) while three featured in the 1986 meeting (Cabrini, Scirea and Serena).
In 1990 Juve had De Agostini, Tacconi, Marocchi and Schillaci representing them on the pitch in the semi-final: Schillaci grabbed the equaliser for Italy before the Azzurri sadly went out on penalties.