Euro 2020: Italy’s All-Time Best XI at European Championships

?Since Italy won their maiden European Championship in 1968, they’ve fallen in two finals, with Gli Azzurri making the last-four on a couple of other occasions.

Despite the fact they’ve not ruled the continent in over half a century, this is a nation that’s synonymous with football. They’ve played a key role in the development of the sport throughout history, providing countless superstars along the way.

Here’s our take on Italy’s all-time greatest XI at the Euros, ranging from their 20th-century champions to modern legends of the game.


GK – Gianluigi Buffon

Gianluigi Buffon

Dino Zoff was a marvellous goalkeeper in his own right, but no one can challenge Gianluigi Buffon for the Italy gloves.

If it weren’t for a knee injury in 2000, the 42-year-old would be the only player in history to have appeared at five different European Championships. Still, he holds the record for most appearances in the competition, including the qualifying rounds.

In his prime, there wasn’t a safer pair of hands than Buffon. He’s a true giant of football, and a worthy number one.


RB – Gianluca Zambrotta

Gianluca Zambrotta

Gianluca Zambrotta was entrusted with the role of right-back in three straight editions of the tournament, the former right midfielder being used to brilliant effect after transitioning to defence.

His offensive skill-set added a new dimension to Gli Azzurri’s attack, while he also proved a hit in the backline, helping the side concede just eight goals in the 12 games he played at championships.

Whereas many of his counterparts were primarily focused on their defensive duties, Zambrotta’s engine allowed him to ceaselessly bomb up and down the pitch, offering a blueprint for future wing-backs.


CB – Franco Baresi

WORLD CUP-1990-ITA-ARG

A marauding centre-half, Franco Baresi was the heart and soul of the team in the ’80s and ’90s, his domineering style of play earning him a place in Italian footballing folklore.

He was called up by his country for a hat-trick of European Championships, with the ?Milan skipper’s second tournament undoubtedly his most impressive performance as he drove Gli Azzurri to a bronze medal.

Baresi’s influence couldn’t secure a place in the showpiece event during his debut campaign in 1980, but he and Italy came roaring back four years later, only to suffer a 2-0 defeat in the last-four against the Soviet Union. 

Despite the loss, the defender’s displays were outstanding, and it’s doubtful the side would have made it to that stage without his presence at the back.


CB – Paolo Maldini

Emile Heskey, Paolo Maldini

When Paolo Maldini made his Azzurri debut, Rick Astley, Phil Collins and Cliff Richard were top of the charts. By the time he stepped down from international duty, Shakira and Eminem were leading the new wave of music.

One of the great centurions of Italy, the defender went from fresh-faced teenager to inspirational captain during his 14 years of representing the country. You’ll struggle to find many sub-par displays in that period.

With Maldini in the heart of defence, this lineup would be racking up the clean-sheets.


LB – Giacinto Facchetti

WORLD CUP-1970-BRAZIL-ITALY

Zambrotta was among the generation who introduced wing-backs to the wider footballing public, but Giacinto Fachetti is one of the position’s founding fathers.

Tutored by the prodigious Helenio Herrera at ?Inter, he far surpassed all of his competitors for a spot in the Italian national team, offering a revolutionary new approach to the role of wide defender.

Fachetti’s physical prowess and impeccable technique saw him collect 94 caps, with the most cherished of those coming in the final of Euro ’68 as Gli Azzurri dismissed Yugoslavia 2-0 to clinch their first and only piece of continental silverware.


CM – Daniele De Rossi

Daniele De Rossi

If someone asked you to name Italy’s all-time leading midfield goalscorer, it’s unlikely you’d say Daniele De Rossi. And yet, the ‘Roman Emperor’ has netted more times than any other, scoring on 21 occasions.

Of course, that’s not really what he’s known for. Spine-tingling tackles, intelligent reading of the game, and a bottomless engine made him a staple of the team during the first two decades of the millennium.

He was a dream for Italy’s various coaches, and an inescapable nightmare for his unfortunate opponents.


CM – Andrea Pirlo

Andrea Pirlo

On 24 June 2012, Andrea Pirlo confirmed his place in the pantheon of legendary footballers, courtesy of an outrageous panenka versus England.

Joe Hart’s spaghetti-legs routine did nothing to put the midfielder off, the goalkeeper left red-faced after the most nonchalant of chips down the middle, with that the winning penalty in the quarter final shootout.

Pirlo’s effortless distribution and calming demeanour made him a figure of intrigue for viewers at Euro 2012. His classy free-kick against Croatia edged Italy towards the knockout stages, yet all people wanted to discuss was his gorgeous passing and visionary reading of the game.

Strangely, his sophisticated style of play wasn’t quite so well regarded at the previous two campaigns he’d played, perhaps due to Gli Azzurri’s early exits.


RAM – Gianni Rivera

Gianni Rivera

Gianni Rivera was the archetypal number 10.

More like a ballet dancer than a footballer, the playmaker’s elegance and poise reflected the values of his country. Those qualities were instrumental to Italy’s triumph in ’68, with Rivera continuing his rich vein of form into the final of the tournament.

Though he failed to score a goal that year, he brought his best for the showdown with Yugoslavia, the midfielder electrifying a jubilant home crowd as he guided Gli Azzurri to victory.


LAM – Francesco Totti

Francesco Totti

Pirlo opted for the panenka eight years ago. If you go back a further 12 years, you’ll come across an equally cheeky penalty from Francesco Totti versus the Netherlands.

Having already notched a pair of goals at Euro 2000, he put Italy on the brink of making the final as the forward exhibited a new penalty technique, dubbed the ‘spoon’.

It’s essentially the same as Pirlo’s spot-kick. While the latter scooped the ball beyond Hart, Totti chose to stab under it, bamboozling Edwin van der Sar.

Oranje midfielder Paul Bosvelt proceeded to miss his attempt, thereby setting the Italians up for a clash with France, which Les Bleus would go on to win 2-1.


ST – Gigi Riva

European Cup Final

Gigi Riva was the man who broke the deadlock in that treasured triumph over the Yugoslavians in 1968, his spot-kick handing Italy a lead they would never relinquish.

The striker’s sublime finishing abilities had seen him hit Switzerland for six when the two nations locked horns in a qualification playoff, the Red Crosses getting ripped to shreds by back-to-back hat-tricks.

It should be clear to see how Riva was able to amass 35 goals in 42 matches at international level.


ST – Mario Balotelli

Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrat

Mario Balotelli’s career could have been truly special. As a teenager at Inter, he looked destined for the top. By the summer of 2012, he’d made good on that potential, winning the ?Premier League with ?Manchester City, as well as firing Italy to the European Championships final.

Since then, however, things have taken a turn for the worse. After spending several seasons as  bit of a nomad, he’s back at Brescia, the club he supported as a boy. Despite dropping out of the limelight, the striker remains a household name.

His breathtaking strike in Italy’s 2-1 win over Germany in the semi finals of Euro 2012 was a goal of the highest calibre, and it certainly helped him enter Italian football’s hall of fame.

What followed was nothing short of iconic, with Balotelli’s celebration trumping the thunderous half-volley he’d just scored. Super Mario somehow managed to overshadow himself, going full Hulk-mode to mark his third of the campaign and break the internet.


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