One of Europe’s proudest footballing nations, Italy has always had exceptional players at its disposal.
From Giacinto Facchetti to Dino Zoff and Giorgio Chiellini to Leonardo Bonucci, the Azzurri has seen a fair few footballing gods come and go over the years. They’re also one of the most successful teams at the World Cup with four victories.
They’ve enjoyed a few high points since the turn of the millennium – the highest being the 2006 World Cup victory – though they’ve endured a fair few difficulties too.
But let’s not dwell in the doldrums for too long. Instead, let’s take a look at the greatest players to have donned the famous blue shirt from 2000 to 2020.
Goalkeeper & Defenders
Gianluigi Buffon (GK)
Arguably the greatest goalkeeper ever – well, that’s certainly our stance – Buffon was integral during Italy’s World Cup triumph in 2006. He’s also established himself as a Juventus legend, making over 650 appearances for La Vecchia Signora. Finished his Azzurri career with 176 international caps.
Gianluca Zambrotta (RB)
Zambrotta became Marcelo Lippi’s first choice right back during qualifying for the 2006 tournament and became renowned for his buccaneering runs down the flank. Made plenty of appearances alongside Buffon for Juve before leaving for Camp Nou after the World Cup success.
Alessandro Nesta (CB)
Still a remarkable defender and regarded as one of the greatest ever, Nesta’s career could have been even better had he not suffered injury after injury. Was part of the 2006 squad but was substituted in the third group game with a groin problem.
Fabio Cannavaro (CB)
Pretty, pretty, pretty…good. That’s a pretty reasonable summation of Cannavaro’s performances at the 2006 World Cup, with his display against Germany in the semi finals one of the greatest ever. Also won the Ballon d’Or that year. So yeah. Pretty good.
Paolo Maldini (LB)
The flowing hair made Maldini distinguishable whenever he played for Milan or Italy. What was odd, however, was how it looked like a world class midfielder was being played at left back, such was his passing range and dexterity with both feet. Sure, he retired in 2002, but it’s Paolo freakin’ Maldini. He’s gotta be in.
Daniele De Rossi (DM)
It’s really hard to hate a one-club man, and De Rossi earned plenty of admiration for sticking with Roma through thick and thin. He also saw it all on the international stage; he won the World Cup in 2006, was part of the botched defence of that title in 2010, reached the Euro 2012 final, and was part of the failure to qualify for 2018’s international showpiece. Finished his international career in 2017 with 21 goals in 117 appearances.
Andrea Pirlo (CM)
Imagine the archetypal elegant midfielder and this man almost certainly comes to mind. Another from the class of 2006, Pirlo’s performances at Euro 2012 reminded everyone of his natural talent. Both Buffon and Johan Cruyff described him as a genius. Enough said.
Marco Verratti (CM)
Stepping into the modern age and we have Italy’s leading light in midfield. It hasn’t quite happened for Verratti on the international stage, with Italy struggling at the 2014 World Cup before he missed Euro 2016, but at just 27 there’s still time for the Paris Saint-Germain star, especially with the amount of young talent at Roberto Mancini’s disposal.
Francesco Totti (RF)
Again, a player we all only have fond memories of. Somewhat surprisingly in retrospect, Totti only managed 56 appearances and just the nine goals at international level, but he’s still regarded as one of Italy’s greatest ever. Scored the winner against Australia in 2006 with a typically powerful penalty.
Christian Vieri (LF)
His list of clubs might be about 26 miles long, but wherever Vieri went one thing stayed the same; he scored loads and loads and loads of goals. The former Atalanta, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Lazio, Inter and Milan striker ended his international career with 23 goals in 49 appearances.
Alessandro Del Piero (ST)
5’8 of pure genius, Del Piero could do everything. With a flair for the flamboyant and spectacular, the former Juve star scored an iconic strike in the semi final triumph over Germany in 2006, smacking into the top corner past Jens Lehmann.
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