Ever since the World Cup in 2006, there has only ever been one name I would have had stitched only my Italy jersey. Most people would naturally assume that name would be Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero, or Fabio Cannavaro for their outstanding performances.
Some Italians would undoubtedly have Francesco Totti’s name adorning the Azzurri blue, but as we’ve discussed on the Pink Shirt Wise Guys podcast , the peninsula’s obsession with Totti escapes me.
I’ve always loved players like Gianluca Zambrotta and Gennaro Gattuso, but they don’t make the cut for my jersey either.
The man who has forever earned a place in my footballing heart is none other than Fabio Grosso. Grosso doesn’t appear to be the savior of a country’s hopes when you see him, but he will go down in Azzurri history in the same way that Paul Henderson does for Hockey in Canada.
Grosso was recently dropped from this year’s World Cup squad and deservedly so. Many of Italy’s best players from 2006 are no longer playing at the same level , and Grosso is definitely a cut below some of the other players Lippi has at his disposal.
With his departure from the Azzurri, it seemed fitting that we take a look at his improbable run to national hero in 2006.
As the starting left back for Palermo, Grosso made the Azzurri primarily as a substitute and backup for Cristian Zaccardo and didn’t make it into the starting lineup until Zaccardo was pulled after the game versus the USA.
While Grosso was a very good player for Italy, bombing up and down the left flank, he was far from a dominant player all tournament. What makes him stick out in my mind is that he came up big when Italy needed him the most. He was the most prominent player in the biggest plays in each of Italy’s final three games, all when the game was on the line.
I nicknamed him the “Iceman” after his stellar games versus Australia and Germany, and he vindicated the moniker in the final against France.
Vs Australia (Round of 16)
In a game where Italy largely dominated the scoring chances, the Australian team kept it close until Grosso drew the deciding penalty for Totti to convert.
While there was some controversy around the penalty drawn by Grosso, the fact remains that Neill didn’t get the ball and impeded Grosso’s path by bodying one of his legs. Neill didn’t intend it, but Grosso’s fabulous cut inside drew the foul, and his timing was impeccable. He either had a free run to goal or Neill would have to impede him. In this case he drew the penalty.
Much like a basketball player who continually gets into the lane, getting the ball into the box is placing the other team on their heels. They have to make a very good tackle, risk the penalty, or give up a chance. Grosso continually put defenses on their heels throughout the tournament.
Vs Germany (Semi-Finals)
Grosso helped create several chances pushing forward up the left, but will forever be remembered for scoring the winning goal in extra time on a first-touch, curling shot to the far post that was practically untouchable for goaltender Jens Lehman.
The goal decided what was one of the most entertaining and suspenseful World Cup matches in years.
His celebration after the goal was also a classic display of pure joy and excitement that will be shown on highlight clips for years.
This shows the highlights of the whole game, but jump to the 7:45 mark to see Grosso's goal.
Also, this video shows the goal from Grosso's angle, giving you an appreciation of how truly unstoppable it was.
Vs France (Finals)
While Grosso wasn’t quite as influential as he had been in previous games, he was still chosen by Lippi to be Italy’s final penalty shooter, showing the confidence the team had in him to perform under pressure.
I remember being incredibly tense as a spectator and instantly loosening up when I saw Grosso walking to the penalty spot. Inside, all I could think was “it’s OK, the Iceman’s got this one,” and I would regularly be considered a sports pessimist.
There are very few athletes who can project this type of confidence in their supporters and it’s a perfect way to describe the stamp Grosso put on this World Cup.
While Grosso has had to make way for younger and more in-form talent on the Azzurri, he will forever be remembered as he man who sealed the World Cup for Italy in ’06, three times.