Ranking Italy's 10 Greatest World Cup Strikers

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistJune 7, 2014

Ranking Italy's 10 Greatest World Cup Strikers

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    Getty Images

    As with selecting the greatest World Cup XI for Italy, choosing the 10 best strikers in Azzurri history is equally difficult.

    So rich and storied is the record of the four-time winners in this competition, drawing up a comprehensive list is a tough task.

    However, focusing solely on the one tournament makes that selection easier, as a number of truly wonderful players failed to sparkle on football's grandest stage.

    As such, it must be remembered that this list only includes those strikers who had a direct impact in helping Italy to shine at the World Cup.

    Over the following pages, the top 10 are ranked in descending order—please leave a comment with your choices!

10. Roberto Bettega

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    As Italy laboured in the 44-year drought between their 1938 and 1982 victories, Roberto Bettega is perhaps the most unfortunate striker to represent the Azzurri.

    Star of their run to the semi-final four years earlier, the Juventus forward was left out by Enzo Bearzot in what proved to be a return to glory in Spain.

9. Raimondo Orsi

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    While the contributions of Giuseppe Meazza and Silvio Piola to Italy's first World Cup win are well known, the impact of Raimondo Orsi also deserves special credit.

    Having won the 1927 Copa America with his native Argentina, the striker left Independiente for Juventus and was then allowed to represent the Azzurri.

    He would score three times in the 1934 edition of the World Cup for his adopted nation, including one in the final against Czechoslovakia.

8. Gigi Riva

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    Ulf Simonsson/Associated Press

    Italy's all-time leading scorer with 35 goals in just 42 appearances, Cagliari legend Gigi Riva is only so low on the list due to incredible bad luck.

    Prior to the 1966 World Cup, he suffered a broken leg playing against Portugal and missed the tournament, returning to net vital strikes in both the quarter- and semi-final four years later.

7. Alessandro Altobelli

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    Often the forgotten man of Italy's 1982 triumph, Alessandro Altobelli netted in the final of that tournament and would be the Azzurri's leading striker four years later.

    With goals in each group game, he was perhaps the best player in a campaign to forget.

6. Christian Vieri

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    If Roberto Baggio's longevity on the international scene is to be admired, so too must the consistency of well-travelled striker Christian Vieri.

    He is the joint-leading scorer for the Azzurri at World Cups, and his tally of nine goals came in just the same number of matches.

    Representing Italy in both the 1998 and 2002 editions, he scored in all but one match in those two tournaments combined.

5. Toto Schillaci

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    Like Vieri, Toto Schillaci finds himself above far better strikers on this list thanks to his exploits at the World Cup; his tally of six goals enough to clinch the Golden Boot as top scorer for Italia '90.

    He entered the tournament as a largely unknown figure, but his eye-popping celebrations would endear him to the hearts of many.

4. Silvio Piola

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    Associated Press

    With 30 goals in 34 appearances, Silvio Piola is undoubtedly the most prolific striker ever to represent Italy, and his record would surely be greater were it not for the outbreak of World War Two.

    Top scorer for Italy as they lifted the title in 1938, he truly was one of the best Italy has ever had.

3. Roberto Baggio

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    Susan Walsh/Associated Press

    As the fourth-highest scoring player in Italy's history, the only Azzurri player to net in three World Cups and a man who twice carried his nation to the brink of success, nobody came closer to winning the golden trophy for his country.

    Roberto Baggio announced his arrival on the international scene with a stunning goal against Czechoslovakia at Italia '90 and would carry his side to the final four years later.

    Heavily injured, he was unable to lift Italy past Brazil—his penalty miss is perhaps the enduring memory of that tournament.

2. Paolo Rossi

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    Associated Press

    No player has had the impact on a single tournament that Paolo Rossi had in 1982, his remarkable return to football punctuated by lifting the Golden Boot with six goals.

    Much like Italy, he was poor in the first three games but came alive in the latter stages to net a hat-trick against Brazil in a thrilling 3-2 victory.

    With two more in the semi-final and the opening goal in the final match, "Pablito" delivered the World Cup to Italy and ended that incredible 44-year drought.

1. Giuseppe Meazza

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    The man after whom the San Siro stadium is named, Giuseppe Meazza played a major role in Italy winning both the 1934 and 1938 editions of the World Cup.

    The striker was named player of the tournament in his first final and was the Azzurri captain at the latter. Meazza retired with a record of 33 goals in 53 matches for his country.