We continue our series of iconic games that are impossible to forget, this time with Italy’s finest display in their 2006 World Cup triumph…

Who doesn’t like to see Italy do well in the World Cup?

With some Italian ancestry I’ve always felt more drawn to Italian football than the average English person might. However, at its 90’s and early 00’s peak there was so much for everyone to love about Italian football. 

Except for the match-fixing, that is.

Ironically, Italy’s most iconic football moment this century came in the immediate aftermath of its most shameful one: the Calciopoli scandal of 2004-06. Those involved (prominently Juventus) had cheated the fans and had inflicted potentially irreparable damage to the image of Serie A, once the most prestigious league in Europe.

The scandal appealed to the already slightly xenophobic perception of Italians and Italian football elsewhere on the continent. They may have boasted a league of unparalleled strength but with it came a shady reputation, epitomised by Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous quip that when an Italian tells you its pasta, you should “check under the sauce” first.



In the 2002 World Cup, Italy’s problems were unmistakably on the pitch. They were hugely disappointing, and it marked the beginning of a dark few years for a country that values football as much as anywhere else on the planet.   

With that heavy cloud hanging over them, nobody really expected redemption to be found in the 2006 World Cup, even if they were now led by coaching royalty, Marcello Lippi. The semi-final looked like it would probably be the end of the road for the Azzurri, where they faced the Germans on home soil. 

Germany had sailed through their group and defeated Sweden and Argentina on their way to the semis with trademark efficiency. Italy had been almost as impressive, mind. It was a mouthwatering match-up of two genuine international heavyweights, both with three World Cups to their name and a fourth in sight.

Not unusually for the World Cup (at least until Russia 2018), the goals had dried-up after the group stage, and given Italy’s defensive reputation few expected a goalfest at the magnificent Westfalenstadion in Dortmund. Nobody wants the 90 minutes to be goalless though, and that’s precisely what we got. On the surface, it’s a peculiar entry to a series of games that claim to be ‘etched in memory’.



However, it’s the only 0-0 I’ve ever wanted to rewatch - and loved rewatching. As a 15-year-old I remember it being a pulsating game that really should have been won in normal time, and I wasn’t wrong. A key reason why it wasn’t was Gigi Buffon, who - like ten others for Italy - were in the form of their life. 

He was outstanding, making several spectacular saves to go with his usual indomitable presence and leadership. But that could be said of so many champions in the Italy team that night. Everywhere you looked there were performances for the ages and even the hosts, ultimately, couldn’t quite equal such a magnificent collective effort. 

Both sides were incredibly well matched for the majority of the game, however. While neither was blessed with a great deal of pace nor flair, the margins were inevitably won in midfield where the real quality was. For Germany, it came from Michael Ballack’s commanding presence, winning the headers and the second balls. For Italy, it came from the liberating creativity of Andrea Pirlo. It was his ingenious pass that unlocked Germany deep in extra time and set Italy on their way to a fourth World Cup.



Watch – Pirlo vs Germany set to classical music.




Pirlo spots a pass in a split-second that lesser players could spend a whole lifetime waiting to see”, Carlo Ancelotti once said. I’m not sure there could be stronger proof of this than Italy’s deadlock-breaking goal. I’ve watched it countless times and I’ve become almost obsessed with the details of the assist. It’s not just the vision to see Grosso through so many bodies; it’s the imagination to place the pass in such a way that Grosso had to take that shot. Perhaps the only shot that could find its way in. Look closely at how he disguises the pass, too. 

To validate Ancelotti, most players couldn’t find that pass in training. Pirlo found it in extra time of a World Cup semi final, and Grosso did the rest with a glorious finish. The celebrations were befitting of such a goal: Grosso peeling away on the brink of tears before he’s mobbed by his teammates. It capped off one of the most uplifting sequences I’ve ever witnessed in football, a sequence you could only find in the latter stages of a World Cup.



Italy sealed the victory almost immediately after. It was another picturesque goal that started with Fabio Cannavaro and an interception that came to symbolise his tournament and year.  With Germany not quite dead and buried and Italy retreating deeper, Cannavaro took matters into his own hands, sprinting out to meet a high ball in a position he had no right to claim. But claim it he did, and seconds later Alessandro Del Piero had finished Germany off. 

There’s a sacredness about a World Cup final victory that can’t really be topped, especially when it’s punctuated by an astonishing act of violence from one of the greatest players of the game. But for me, the semi final was the best of the Azzuri in 2006, and proved to the world that despite the scandals and the shame, Italians could still play the game as well as anyone else.


Written by Dom Kocur





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