Italy: The Journey to Their 2006 World Cup Victory
In 2006, the Italian National Team accomplished something that most nations could only dream of—winning their fourth World Cup Trophy in dramatic fashion against France.
Unfortunately, the win would not be replicated with a stunning encore, as the 2010 World Cup was one of the darkest for the Azzurri. They failed even to make it out of the group stage despite being pitted against Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand.
With the 2014 World Cup in Brazil just around the corner, let's take a look at some of the most memorable moments from the last time Italy hoisted the most important trophy in world football.
NOTE: Matches in chronological order.
Italy 2-0 Ghana
Being notoriously slow starters in major competitions, Italy needed a convincing win against Ghana in their opening World Cup group stage match.
They started off in stunning fashion, with a signature Andrea Pirlo bending strike opening up the score at 1-0 and a Vincenzo Iaquinta breakaway goal giving them all three points to open their record on a positive note.
Italy 1-1 United States
It was the only goal Italy would concede in the entire World Cup leading up to the final against France.
A Cristian Zaccardo own goal gave the United States a chance that they ultimately could not capitalize on, as Alberto Gilardino's diving header from an Andrea Pirlo free-kick was enough to give Italy a point to take them past the group stage.
Another memorable incident from this game was Daniele De Rossi's vicious elbow which gave USA striker Brian McBride a bloody gash. De Rossi would be red-carded for the incident, spoiling his World Cup temporarily.
Italy 2-0 Czech Republic
Even though the match started on a sour note with Alessandro Nesta forced off early in the first half from injury, it would be his replacement, Marco Materazzi, who'd have his fingerprints all over Italy's run throughout the rest of the World Cup.
Materazzi not only scored against the Czech Republic but would become an integral pillar to the Azzurri's success throughout the competition.
What was an unfortunate end for a classy defender such as Nesta turned out to be the saving grace for both Materazzi and his nation.
Italy 1-0 Australia
Was it or wasn't it a penalty, that is the question.
The foul in extra time that brought down Fabio Grosso in the penalty box would be the deciding factor in an otherwise lackluster performance from the Azzurri.
Francesco Totti stepped up to take the penalty and delivered a rocket past Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.
It has to be said that Italy were lucky with their draws leading up to the semifinal, as they encountered two of the weakest nations to make it past the group stage—Australia and Ukraine.
Italy 3-0 Ukraine
Finally, the World Cup match when Luca Toni broke loose.
After having failed to score in the competition to date, the hulking Italian striker took advantage of a very average Ukrainian defense and scored the brace which would spearhead his nation past the quarterfinals and into a nightmare matchup against host nation Germany.
Italy 2-0 Germany
(The above video remains my personal all-time favorite. The two most emotional minutes I have ever spent as a football fan.)
Another clean sheet, this time against the host nation.
Fabio Grosso's howl after scoring the extra-time goal against Germany remains one of the most iconic moments in Azzurri history.
Adding to the delirium, Alessandro Del Piero would score on a stunning counterattack only a few minutes later, booking Italy's place to Berlin for the 2006 World Cup final.
The match also featured plenty of stunning saves from Gianluigi Buffon, who had the best stretch out of any goalkeeper. In front of him, Fabio Cannavaro was immense throughout the match and has to be viewed as one of the main reasons why Italy were able to go on such an impressive run.
Italy vs. France 2006 World Cup Final
Incredibly, the little-known Fabio Grosso would once again be a genesis of Italy's success, being put in the most tense situation of taking the last penalty kick, which he coolly slotted past Fabien Barthez.
Other than the dramatic penalties, the match will be remembered for the vicious Zinedine Zidane headbutt towards Marco Materazzi, who had apparently insulted a member of Zidane's family.
Zidane was promptly red-carded, an incident that remains one of the most controversial exits in world football and became a sad note for Zidane's retirement.
Either way, Italy managed to get past the drama to force France to penalties. David Trezeguet's miss would prove to be the deciding factor which ultimately gave Italy their fourth World Cup in their storied history.