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International football was rocked this week when Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini announced his retirement from the Azzurri after June’s Finalissima at Wembley Stadium.

The 37-year-old centre-back has had one heck of an international career, namely his role in guiding Italy to Euro 2020 success as Roberto Mancini’s side steamrolled the competition before beating England on penalties in their own national stadium.

Indeed, the veteran defender is a true legend of the modern game and for Italian football in general, and given Chiellini’s incredible achievements for the European giants this century, HITC Sport take a crack at what Italy’s best XI this century would look like.

GK – Gianluigi Buffon

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The most obvious player to select for this XI has to be Gianluigi Buffon, who to this day remains Italy’s most capped player and is regarded by many as one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever play the game.

A titan for Italy on an international level, Buffon was a star in the 2006 FIFA World Cup where Marcello Lippi’s side beat France on penalties in Berlin to lift the greatest prize in football, and the 42-year-old’s appearance record could remain unbreakable for decades to come.

CB – Giorgio Chiellini

The man who inspired this XI, Chiellini might not have won a World Cup with Italy, but the Juventus defender played a massive role last summer in the Azzurri’s triumph in London at Euro 2020.

One of the most intelligent defenders to play the game at a top-level this century, Chiellini’s longevity has made the veteran one of the best in the business, and Italy will struggle to replace the Serie A star in the coming years following his retirement.

CB – Fabio Cannavaro

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Whilst Buffon shone in the final for Italy in 2006, it was captain Fabio Cannavaro who was the real star of the tournament, so much so that the centre-back won the Ballon d’Or that year, becoming the only defender this century to win the biggest individual honour in football.

Italy’s second all-time appearance holder, Cannavaro was a staple for Italy from 2000 to 2010, and with Paolo Maldini retiring from international duty in 2002 (the reason the great man doesn’t feature in this XI), the 5’9” centre-back led his nation brilliantly with quality and finesse.

CB – Leonardo Bonucci

Leonardo Bonucci and Chiellini has slowly morphed into the centre-back equivalent of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, you can’t play one without the other. And the Italian defender, just like his Juventus teammate, was also incredible at Euro 2020.

Scorer of the crucial equalising goal in the final that took the game to penalties, Bonucci looks set to continue playing for Italy despite Chiellini’s retirement, and the 34-year-old will likely take over as captain for the coming years.

RM – Gianluca Zambrotta

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A member of both Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning side and their runner-up squad in Euro 2000, Gianluca Zambrotta played a key role at fullback and wide-midfield for the Azzurri in the early 2000s as well as for Juventus.

Making the Euro 2004 Team of the Tournament as well as the UEFA Team of the Year in 2006, Zambrotta was arguably the best right-back in the world for a good two years during Italy’s last World Cup triumph, an impressive feat given how few quality fullbacks the nation have produced over the years.

CM – Andrea Pirlo

Arguably the silkiest midfielder to play the game in the past 20 years, Andrea Pirlo is a talent that Italy will be hoping to replicate in the coming years, with the retired midfielder one of the most iconic players to ever represent the famous Blue and White.

A legend at both AC Milan and Juventus, Pirlo’s qualities on the ball made the midfielder a joy to watch, and for Italy, the maestro was a key player for many years, playing from Euro 2004 up until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

CM – Daniele De Rossi

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From one of the most elegant midfielders to one you don’t want to mess with, Daniele De Rossi played a huge role for Italy, with his ability to thrive in almost every position on the pitch making him a valuable asset for the European giants.

Lethal in the tackle and able to ping a ball to anyone, De Rossi could go down as one of the most underrated midfielders in recent years, especially given the former AS Roma legend’s achievements for Italy, which include the 2006 World Cup.

LM – Fabio Grosso

Fullbacks are hardly known for their goalscoring ability, yet the two goals Fabio Grosso scored for Italy in the 2006 World Cup put the former Juventus and Olympique Lyonnais star in this XI.

The left-back’s 119th-minute strike against Germany in the semi-final saw Italy on their way to a 2-0 win against the tournament hosts, before Grosso scored the winning penalty in the shootout against France to secure the Azzurri’s fourth ever World Cup title, and immortalising the defender in history.

CAM – Alessandro Del Piero

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Tied with the great Roberto Baggie for goals for Italy, Alessandro Del Piero was one of the great attackers of the early 21st Century, with the versatile striker able to play as the leading man as well as in a deeper role, hence his position in this XI.

Another member of the World Cup-winning squad in 2006, Del Piero retired from Italy just two years after the tournament in Germany, with the Juventus legend famously going on to play in Australia’s A-League as one of the marquee signings for the revamped league in 2012.

ST – Christian Vieri

A true icon of 90s Football Italia, Christian Vieri makes the XI on the back of his four-goal tally from the 2002 FIFA World Cup, with the former Inter talisman one of the most prolific strikers to represent the Azzurri in the past 25 years.

Whilst the attacker failed to make the 2006 World Cup squad and infamously criticised the Italian set-up in 2004 after their elimination from the Euros, it’s hard to look past Vieri’s goalscoring record, which eclipses that of other top strikers this century.

ST – Filippo Inzaghi

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Filippo Inzaghi remains one of Italy’s top strikers and one of the most potent to ever play in Serie A, with Sir Alex Ferguson famously labelling the attacker as someone who was born offside, such was the forward’s ability to always be at the right place at the right time.

A poacher in the purest sense of the term, Inzaghi became the oldest Italian to ever score in a World Cup after bagging against Petr Cech in the group stages of 2006, and the forward remains a fan favourite for both Juventus and Milan during his time with the Serie A titans.

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