Italy’s star-studded squad features former AC Milan, Inter Milan, Torino, Juventus, Lazio, Roma, Cagliari and Napoli legends.
Write off Italy ahead of the International Legends World Cup at your peril. Whilst we have already seen some mouth-watering squads and some of the greatest attacking players the world has ever seen in the squads of Brazil, Argentina and more, the Italians conveyor-belt of world class defenders is astounding, and the Italian legends defence could be virtually impenetrable.
It is a mark of the sheer class of Italian defenders over the years that Fabio Cannavaro, a Ballon d’Or and World Cup winning central defender, misses out. He is one of a handful of greats that could not be accommodated here, such is the quality and depth Italy have produced over the years.
Italy have won the joint second most World Cup’s (four), tied with Germany and trailing only Brazil, as well as reaching two further finals, both of which they lost to Brazil. Surprisingly, the Azzurri have won just one European Championships, in 1968, having been losing finalists in 2000 and 2012. Below is Italy’s definite 15 man squad, plus their 8 reserves from which you choose which 3 join the initial 15 to create a final 18 man squad.
Only Germany and England can rival Italy when it comes to the number of great goalkeepers produced. Perhaps the finest of them all is Gianluigi Buffon. The 39-year-old Juventus goalkeeper is Italy’s most capped player of all-time, having made 169 appearances for the national team and still going strong.
For a long time, Buffon and Casillas were considered rivals for the title of best ‘keeper of their generation, but it is now widely accepted that Gigi was and is the superior goalkeeper. Buffon won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, finishing as the runner-up for the Ballon d’Or that year.
If Buffon is Italy’s greatest ever goalkeeper, it has taken some effort to usurp Dino Zoff, and many would claim he still has not. The oldest ever World Cup winner, Zoff won the game’s most prestigious trophy as Italy captain at the age of 40. IFFHS named him as the third best goalkeeper of the Twentieth Century, behind Lev Yashin and Gordon Banks. Zoff is best remembered for his time with Napoli and Juventus at club level, and won 112 caps for the Azzurri.
No nation has produced more great defenders than Italy, so here comes the debate over who are the greatest from the greatest nation. At right-back, there are many candidates from Gentile to Zambrotta, but Bergomi is number one. A one-club man who spent two decade with Inter Milan and won 81 caps for Italy, with whom he won the 1982 World Cup, Bergomi is among the game’s finest full-backs, and he was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
Despite standing at just 5″9′, Franco Baresi is a giant of Italian football and AC Milan in particular. A centre-back or sweeper of the highest calibre, Baresi spent his entire career with AC Milan, where he won six Serie A titles and three European Cup’s. Baresi won 81 caps for Italy, reaching two World Cup finals and winning one in 1982. He was a runner-up for the Ballon d’Or in 1989 and was named AC Milan’s Player of the Century in 1999.
Arguably the greatest defender of all-time, whether Paolo Maldini operates at centre-back or left-back during the International Legends World Cup, he is one of the tournaments outstanding players. The legendary one-club man made his AC Milan debut at 16 and made his final appearance for the Red and Blacks at the age of 41. During that time, Maldini won a joint record five European Cup’s, coming third in Ballon d’Or voting. He never won a World Cup with Italy, reaching a final in 1994 and a semi-final in 1990. He won a total of 126 caps.
The greatest attacking full-back Europe has ever produced, Giacinto Facchetti is one of the best left-backs the game has ever seen. Like every other defender in this squad so far, Facchetti was a one-club man, spending his entire 18 year professional career with Inter Milan, the team often referred to as ‘Grande Inter’ between 1960 and 1968. A two-time European Cup winner, Facchetti won the European Championships with Italy in 1968 and reached a World Cup final in 1970.
Gaetano Scirea, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Costacurta, the list of great Italian centre-backs goes on and on… But the last Italian defender in the initial 15 in Alessandro Nesta. A classy centre-back, Nesta spent a decade each with Lazio and AC Milan, winning the Champions League twice with the latter. Injuries prevented him from having a truly incredible international career, but he still won 78 caps for Italy, being a member of the 2006 World Cup winning squad and reaching the final of the Euros in 2000.
One of the greatest deep-lying playmakers in the history of the game, Andrea Pirlo makes the initial 15 in an Italian midfield dominated by players from yesteryear. Renowned for his incredible vision and range of passing, Pirlo has been controlling games for more than two decades, starting out at Brescia, before heading to Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus. Described as a ‘genius’ by Johan Cruyff, Pirlo has won 116 caps for Italy and won the World Cup in 2006.
Italy have had some tremendous attacking midfielders over the years, and Gianni Rivera is one of them. Best known for his 19 years with AC Milan, Rivera won two European Cup’s, the European Championships and even beat Johan Cruyff and George Best to the Ballon d’Or in 1969, having finished as a runner-up to Lev Yashin in 1963. A really intelligent footballer, Rivera could play anywhere in midfield, but was most commonly utilised in a central attacking midfield role.
The first of two Mazzola’s to make this squad, Valentino Mazzola was the captain and linchpin of the outstanding ‘Grande Torino’ team of the late 1940’s, which won five Serie A titles prior the Superga air disaster, during which the entire squad (barring two players) were killed in a plane crash. Mazzola is regarded by some as Italy’s greatest ever player. He could operate as either a midfielder or as a forward and died at the age of 30.
Football can write the best scripts, and in the case of Roberto Baggio at the 1994 World Cup, it wrote a great tragedy. Baggio, nicknamed the ‘Divine Ponytail’ had been mesmeric, and Italy’s outstanding player en-route to the final against Brazil. So typical of the beautiful game then that it would be Baggio who missed the final and decisive penalty as Italy lost to Brazil. A terrific creator and scorer of goals, Baggio played for Fiorentina, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan, scoring almost a goal every other game and winning 56 caps for Italy.
From Valentino to Sandro, the second Mazzola on this list is the son of the Torino legend. Unlike his Dad, Sandro spent his entire career with Inter Milan, where he won the European Cup twice, scoring a brace in the 1964 final win over Real Madrid. The fourth and final attacking midfielder who could operate either in a deeper playmaking role or as a second striker in this squad, Sandro Mazzola won 70 caps for Italy, came second to Johan Cruyff for the 1971 Ballon d’Or and won the 1968 European Championships.
One of the great pre-war footballers, Giuseppe Meazza won two World Cup’s with Italy, in 1934 and 1938. He was the best player at the 1934 tournament and captained the Azzurri in 1938, winning 53 caps in total and scoring 33 goals. A flamboyant character on and off the field, Meazza began his career as a centre-forward but often played in attacking midfield later in his career. At club level, he played mainly for Inter Milan, but also the likes of AC Milan and Juventus.
Teammates for Italy but routinely compared with one another away from the international scene, Silvio Piola was also one of the great pre-war strikers, and scored 30 goals from 34 caps for Italy. He played for Pro Vercelli, Lazio, Torino, Juventus and Novara at club level, scoring 333 goals in 619 games. Pacy, intelligent and efficient on the pitch, Piola won the World Cup with Italy in 1938 where he won both the Silver Ball and Silver Boot.
The most recent Italian striker in this squad still retired in 1976, with Luigi Riva being the last man to be named in Italy’s initial 15, although both Christian Vieri and Francesco Totti could join him in the final 18. Riva began his career with Legnano, but spent the vast majority of his playing days with Cagliari. A quick and powerful poacher who scored all kinds of goals, Riva scored 35 goals from 42 caps for Italy, winning the European Championships in 1968 and reaching the World Cup final in 1970. He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or four times, but never won it, coming closest in 1969 when he missed out to compatriot Gianni Rivera.
That’s it for Italy’s definite 15, now it’s over to you to pick which three reserve players get the nod and join the likes of Maldini and Baggio in Italy’s final 18. The eight reserve players to choose from are as follows:
1. Giampiero Combi – Former Juventus goalkeeper – 47 caps
2. Gaetano Scirea – Former Atalanta and Juventus defender – 78 caps
3. Claudio Gentile – Former Juventus and Fiorentina full-back – 71 caps
4. Marco Tardelli – Former Juventus and Inter Milan midfielder – 81 caps
5. Giancarlo Antognoni – Former Fiorentina midfielder – 73 caps
6. Bruno Conti – Former Roma winger – 47 caps
7. Francesco Totti – Former Roma attacking midfielder/forward – 58 caps
8. Christian Vieri – Former Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan striker – 49 caps