Four World Cup Champion Italy are just one World Cup short of matching the record of Brazil. The Italians have reached six finals in the history of the tournament, losing on two occasionsl; in 1970 and 1994 against the same opponent, Brazil.
The Azzuri were crowned FIFA World Champions in 2006 after a wait of 24 years. 2002 World Cup Winners Brazil were hot pre-tournament favourites. Even in the final, France were favoured above Italy because of the presence of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry and also because of the fact that they had beaten Ronaldinho’s Brazil. The Italian National Team built their tournament success on their defence, led by captain Fabio Cannavaro, who guided them to World Cup glory in Munich.
Italy topped their group by winning two games and drawing one. Italy dominated Ghana and Czech Republic, but they were held to a 1-1 draw by United States. Italy and Ghana progressed to the knockout phase of the tournament.
The Italians were pitched against a spirited Australia Socceroos team in the round of 16 in Kaiselautern. Marco Materazzi received a red card in the 50th minute, but even with the odds against them, Gianluigi Buffon inspired the Azzuri defence to a clean sheet. Francesco Totti then held his nerve to fire a penalty past Mark Schwarzer in the 95th minute. Italia then faced Shevchenko’s Ukraine in the quarter finals. Italy eased to victory as Zambrotta opened the scoring and Luca Toni bagged a brace in the second half.
The Italy versus Germany semi-final was a pulsating match that stopped the whole of Germany. Michael Ballack’s side were adamant to reach the World Cup Final once again after the loss in 2002 World Cup Final at the hands of Brazil. The match went to extra time, with Italy scoring through Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero which left the hosts heartbroken.
The final of the 2006 World Cup will always be remembered for the infamous headbutt and red card of French legend Zinedine Zidane. The Madrid football icon didn’t get the farewell that he deserved nor the world expected. Zidane had opened the scoring with a cheeky penalty past Buffon but Italy equalized through Marco Materazzi just 12 minutes later. It remained level until the 110th minute when Zidane got sent off for the head-butt on you know who. It was believed that Zizou would have lifted the World Cup if that incident had not happened. The game went on to penalties in which Italy scored a perfect 5 from 5. David Trezeguet missed the second penalty and Italy won 5-3 on penalties.
Fabio Cannavaro then lifted the Jules Rimet Cup and Italy were crowned World Champions for a fourth time.