After 10 years, 3 World Cups, 3 European Cups, hundreds of goals, countless celebrations, and several disasters, the Italian national soccer team, known world wide as the Azzurri, have had their share of tops, flops, fan favorites and legends. This article is dedicated to the best Italian team of the decade, based on both talent and contributions. These 23 players, and especially the starting 11, have meant more to the Azzurri over 10 years then any others, and many of them will forever be remembered as not only legends of Italian football but also as some of the greatest players of our time.
Since the new millennium, the Italian national team has had its share of coaches, starting with Dino Zoff for Euro 2000, moving on to Giovanni Trappattoni for World Cup 2002 and Euro 2004, Marcello Lippi for World Cup 2006, Roberto Donadoni for Euro 2008, back to Lippi for world cup 2010, and now, finally, Cesare Prandelli. Each coach had their highs and lows. Dino Zoff was hired for euro 2000, a tournament that saw Italy up by a score of 1 - 0 over france in the final with only minutes to go. Had Italy held on for the win his career as manager of the Azzurri may have continued, but after a shock loss to a golden goal by Davide Trezeguet, and strong criticism in Italy, Zoff resigned. Next was Giovanni Trappatoni, who started his job with World Cup 2002 in Korea/Japan, was a hot headed coach who had a tremendous amount of experience and football knowledge. Many people in Italy will go to their graves swearing that "Trapp" was never given a fair chance and that he was cheated out of his role as coach of Italy. Perhaps they are right. After a controversial to say the least world cup in 2002, Trappatoni led Italy into Euro 2004 with a team that on paper was easily the best in the tournament. Despite strong flashes of talent, problems with key players and bad luck ultimately led to a suprise group stage exit and Giovanni was sent packing. His successor Marcello Lippi came in and transformed the Azzurri into a tactical team who lived off of team spirit. Lippi's Italy went into world cup 2006 with high expectations and came out with the win over bitter rivals France. Following the triumph, Lippi resigned. Roberto Donadoni was hired in place of Lippi and was disliked from the start. With the bar set extremely high, Donadoni's 2nd round exit at Euro 2008 was not enough to prolong his stay at the helm of the Azzurri, as he was let go following the tournament. Despite Lippi's controversial methods and disastrous results that some beleive tarnished his high reputation in his second stint as coach of the azzurri, he has to be regarded as the best coach of the Azzurri this decade. And despite 2010's disaster, Lippi should always be regarded as a legend in Italy.
This slide will be short and sweet because there is no competition here. The Italian goalie of the decade is the easiest position to decide. Gianluigi Buffon has been one of the greatest keepers of all time and brought a World cup to Italy. His worth to the team is and always has been indescribable. The next keeper on this list is Francesco Toldo, who served as the starting goal keeper for Italy at Euro 2000 where he helped get Italy to the final. Toldo was no Buffon, but he was a serviceable and dependable keeper and for that he gets the back up position on this list. Though the 3rd spot is very much up for grabs, Angelo Peruzzi was a world cup winner who did contribute in qualifying, therefore for arguments sake, he wins a spot.
The area of Italian football that has received by far the most praise over these past 10 years is the defense. With star after star the Italian defense has been nothing short of spectacular this decade and have probably been the worlds best. Eight great players make the cut for the Italian defense of the decade. These men are Fabio Cannavaro, the world cup winning captain and most capped player in Italian football history. Alessandro Nesta, perhaps the most talented of all the defenders on this list. Gianluca Zambrotta, one of the most tireless workers on the azzurri for years and one of the few Italian players who stayed reliable with age. Paolo Maldini, the legendary captain of Italy into Euro 2000. Christian Panucci, an emensly talented and reliable player for La Nazionale. Marco Matteratzi, a huge part of Italy's world cup 2006 triumph. Fabio Grosso, a talented Italian left back who will forever be remembered for his goal against Germany in extra time and his 5th penalty that sealed an Italian world cup victory. And Giorgio Chiellini, the current starting center back widly regarded as the second coming of Fabio Cannavaro and as one of the best defenders in the world.
Often times in Italian football the mid feild has been over looked or under rated. The eyes have always been on star strikers and rock solid defense. But over the past 10 years Italy has had its share of talented mid feilders. Maybe not all of these men can compare to the names on the defense and forward side of this Italian team of the decade, but all have done more then just their part for the Azzurri over 10 years. The mid feild team of the decade for Italy is Gennaro Gattusso, the rock solid, tough as nails defensive mid feilder who served Italy more loyally then almost anyone for 8 long years. Andrea Pirlo, the creative genius who came up big in world cup 2006 winning mvp of the final match. Simone Perotta, perhaps the most under rated player on the Italian team of the decade, Perotta was a dependable player for both Roma and the Azzurri for several years. Mauro Camoranesi who served the azzurri loyally and creatively for 6 years with his best being displayed in 2006. Daniele De Rossi, one of the most exciting young players in football and one of the current leaders of the azzurri. and finally Massimo Ambrosini, an extremely talented midfeilder who could have done even more for the Azzurri had he avoided injuries.
With 3 of Italy's top strikers of the decade being on Pele's list of the greatest 100 footballers of all time, its easy to argue that Italy has had more then its share of talent up front. Italy's strikers of the decade are all incredibly talented, and some will forever be known as legends of football. The Top 6 Italian strikers of the decade are Alessandro Del Piero, the 4th all time top scorer in Azzurri history with 27 goals, his 14 years in the Azzurri shirt is matched by only Paolo Maldini on this list, and his loyalty to the Italian team could never be questioned, Del Piero is and always will be rgarded as one of the best strikers of all time. Christian Vieri, one of the greatest out and out strikers in Italian football history, his 5 goals at the 1998 world cup and 4 goals at world cup 2002 made him one of the most prolific world cup goals scorers in Italian history. Francesco Totti, one of the faces of Italian football for years, with Totti came one of the greatest "Trequartistas" of all time. Filippo Inzaghi, a lone striker with the ability to strike at any moment, one of the best ever at getting behind the defense. Antonio Cassano, the controversial youngster who, when given a chance, has played brilliantly for the Azzurri, his talent and prospects for the future get him on this list. And Luca Toni, the towering lone striker who was part of the 2006 world cup triumph brought an aerial attack to the Azzurri that at times proved impossible to defend.
The starting 11 team of the decade was difficult to choose, but these 11 men, above any other, have given their all for La Nazionale over the past 10 years and brought the team great times. Their names should always be remembered in Italian football history.
Zambrotta - Cannavaro - Nesta - Grosso
Camoranesi - Pirlo
Del Piero - Vieri