Italy defeated England in the gut-wrenchingly tense penalty shoot-out last night to book their semi-final place against Germany in Warsaw on the 28th of June. On the night Italy were thoroughly deserved winners with 37 shots at goal to England’s 10. But with 63% possession in a game they so clearly dominated why leave it to the last in a do-or-die shoot-out? Well the Italians, have a love/hate relationship with the penalty shootout.
Before penalties, games in major tournaments, that we level after extra time were replayed or decided by the flip of a coin or drawing lots. Italy beat USSR in the 1968 semi-final by drawing lots. That’s pulling the straw to see who has the shortest, and if you thought it was agonising watching your team go out on penalties, try watching them go out based on pure chance, in a spectacle that has all the drama of a Wednesday night Bingo hall. This saw Israeli Josef Dagan propose the format after seeing Israel eliminated from the Olympics on the drawing of lots.
So the shoot-out in major tournaments has only been in use since 1976, that’s amazing when you consider so many of the most important shoot-outs seem to involve the Italians. The Italians love the excitement of the penalty shoot-out. Perhaps the fascination with runs deep with Italians and it’s a remnant of the glories of the Coliseum. There is something gladiatorial about watching the player make the lonely walk up to the spot to face his opponent with the crowd baying for blood. Swide serves up for you Italy’s top 5 penalty shoot-outs.
1980 Italy v Czech 1-1 (8-9), European Championships, third place play-off
Italy had automatically qualified for the European Championships as tournament hosts and when the hosts met the holders in an otherwise forgettable tournament it was in the third place play-off. The sides finished 1-1 after play and after each side had taken 8 successful spot kicks before Jaroslav Netolička saved one taken by defender Fulvio Collovati. The home crowd liked what they had seen and gave their team a standing ovation, two years later the same team were to be crowned world champions. Special note on Enzo Bearzot’s pipe, truly magnificent.
1990 Italy v Argentina 1-1 (3-4), Cup semi-finals
In what was probably the greatest World Cup of modern times Italy had looked unstoppable. They had reached the semi-final by winning all five of their previous games without conceding a goal. The hosts meet the holders in Napoli in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, where Maradona who was treated like a god had stirred polemics by calling on Neapolitans to support Argentina, citing ancient North-South divides. Stand-in keeper Sergio Javier Goycochea was the unlikely hero saving from Roberto Donadoni and Aldo Serena to send Argentina through to the final to play West Germany, as possibly the tournaments least deserving finalist.
1994 Brazil v Italy 0-0 (3-2) World Cup finals
A pragmatic and effective Brazil inspired by Dunga played out a dull and uninspiring final in the Pasadena Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, which ended in stalemate. First the illustrious Baresi skied his effort which was cancelled out when Marcio Santos’ was saved by Gianluca Pagliuca. Brazil’s Romario very coolly found the top left corner but Italy’s Evani kept his head despite the building pressure and netted down the middle. Daniele Massaro’s limp shot was easily saved by Taffarel leaving it up to Roberto Baggio to draw the sides level. Cue one of the most famous misses in football’s history, Italy’s favourite ponytailed son alone and destitute before the world. Somehow, this image has endeared Baggio to Italian’s hearts even more.
2000 Holland v Italy 0-0 (1-3) European Championships, semi-finals
The Netherlands had looked every bit the champions in their run to the semi-finals playing a dynamic, attacking football; the game before they had destroyed Yugoslavia 6-1. Maybe they didn’t keep their powder dry as against Italy down to 10 men for most of it they failed to score two penalties in normal time. In the resulting shoot-out they missed three and Francesco Toldo was the hero with four saved penalties. Frank de Boer suffered the ignominy of missing in regulation time and in the shoot-out. For Italy it was a gorilla off their backs and the start of a new relationship with the spot-kick decider.
2006 Italy - France 1-1 (5-3) World Cup finals
We will probably never know what Marco Materazzi said to Zinedine Zidane that caused the most astonishing and clinically executed head-butt in World Cup history. But Italy had to defend and defend again against holders the French. In Hollywood land Zidane would have scored in regulation time to claim the World Cup for France whereupon he could have dedicated the victory to all the children of the world, but it’s not, this was real life and instead guile won out and the Italian’s claimed their fourth ever World Cup victory making them the second most successful national team in the universe ever, just behind Brazil.
by Hugo Mc Cafferty