World Football: Top 20 Italian Defenders of All Time

Jack Alexandros Rathborn@@jackrathbornContributor IIIDecember 23, 2011

World Football: Top 20 Italian Defenders of All Time

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    Italy is a country that values defenders above any other nation that has ever played association football.

    Defence has been the cornerstone of their success over the country's illustrious history in the sport.

    So good have the Azzurri been at this particular facet of the game that they have made it an art as such.

    The Azzurri won the World Cup in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 with finals appearances in 1970 and 1994.

    Defending has been highlighted as a crucial aspect to each side's success, so here are the 20 greatest defenders in the country's history who will be recognised for their achievements forever.

20. Giuseppe Favalli

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    Giuseppe Favalli was a superb defender who is one of Lazio's all-time great players.

    Favalli spent the majority of his career with the Biancocelesti, making 401 appearances and was part of the side's second ever scudetto-winning side in 2000.

    On top of this, he won three Coppa Italia (1998, 2000, 2004) and the last ever Cup Winners' Cup in 1999, beating Real Mallorca in the final.

    He got a big move to Inter Milan in the autumn of his career and promptly claimed Serie A in 2006 along with two more Coppa Italia in 2005 and 2006.

    His last move was to Milan in 2006 where he contributed to the 2007 Champions League-winning side.

19. Christian Panucci

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    Christian Panucci may not have been one of the most highly acclaimed defenders in Italy's history but his record is remarkable.

    The former Roma player, where he predominantly played, picked up 57 caps for the Azzurri.

    Panucci also played for Milan, winning two scudetti and the Champions League in 1994.

    He moved on to Real Madrid in 1996, winning La Liga in 1997 and the Champions League again in 1998.

    Finally at Roma, he was able to win back-to-back Coppa Italia trophies in 2007 and 2008.

    He scored a crucial equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Romania in Euro 2008 to ensure qualification from the group in what would be a disappointing tournament for the Azzurri.

18. Giorgio Chiellini

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    Giorgio Chiellini may only be just 27 years old but he has already amassed 49 caps for his country.

    The Juventus player can play centre-back or left-back interchangeably and is surely destined to become one of Italy's all-time great defenders.

    He has been named Serie A Defender of the Year three years running from 2008-2010.

    He was part of the Italy U19 side that won the U19 European Championship in 2003. 

17. Mauro Tassotti

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    Mauro Tassotti was a terrific right-back who made his name with AC Milan.

    He never quite made his name with the Italian national side, having just seven caps.

    But his achievements for the Rossoneri make him one of the great Italian defenders with 583 appearances. 

    He claimed the Champions League in 1989, 1999 and 1994 along with Serie A in 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996.

16. Cesare Maldini

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    Cesare Maldini might not have been as great as his son, Paolo, but he certainly became known as one of the country's finest defenders in his time.

    Also a legend at AC Milan, he made 412 appearances for the Rossoneri, winning four scudetti (1955, 1957, 1959, 1962) in a great era for the club.

    He also won the Champions League in 1963 and appeared for the Azzurri 25 times, scoring once.

15. Giovanni Trappatoni

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    Giovanni Trappatoni may be a better coach than he was a player but he still managed to leave his mark in Calcio history.

    Part of a great Milan side, he picked up two scudetti in 1962 and 1969, following on from Cesare Maldini's era and promptly picked up a two European Cups in 1963 and 1969.

    He played 17 times for his country, but in that time there were much less friendlies and opportunity to amass dozens of meaningless caps.

    He represented the Azzurri at the 1962 World Cup in Chile where Italy were knocked out in the group stages, with the hosts claiming a controversial win against the Italy which sealed their fate.

14. Alessandro Costacurta

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    Alessandro Costacurta would have been among the greatest ever for a country if he had not been unfortunate enough to play in the same era as Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi, who took his spotlight somewhat.

    Although along with the aforementioned defenders, he was able to form one of the greatest defences in the history of football, so he deserves to be up on this list.

    Playing 663 times for the Rossoneri and 59 times for Italy, "Billy," as he was affectionately known, has a trophy cabinet bulging.

    With seven scudetti, one Coppa Italia and five Champions League titles, the man is a legend.

13. Fulvio Collovati

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    Fulvio Collovati was part of the squeaky tight defence that was the foundation for Italy to win the World Cup in 1982.

    He never settled at one club in his career, playing over 100 games for Milan (where he won his only scudetto) and also Inter, before spells with Udinese, Roma and Genoa.

    In all, he featured 50 times for the Azzurri, scoring three times.

12. Antonio Cabrini

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    Antonio Cabrini was a left-back for Juventus predominantly, making almost 300 appearances with other spells in his career with Bologna, Atalanta and Cremonese.

    Cabrini was part of the 1982 World Cup-winning side, making 73 appearances in all for the Azzurri.

    He won six scudetti, two Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup, Cup Winners' Cup and the Champions League to go down as one of the greats of his era.

    He missed a penalty in the 1982 final against West Germany but managed to play every game for Italy in their World Cups from 1978-1986.

11. Aristide Guarnieri

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    Aristide Guarnieri was part of the great Inter side of the 60s but also represented Como, Bologna, Napoli and Cremonese.

    Guarnieri played just 21 times for the Azzurri but was a key part of the Euro 68-winning side, featuring as a starter in both the original final and the replay against Yugoslavia where Italy triumphed 1-0 in the replay.

    He made 330 appearances for Inter and in the process claimed three scudetti and and back-to-back European Cups in 1964 and 1965.

    His best personal moment in his international career came in 1966, when he scored his only ever goal for the Azzurri past one of the greatest goalkeepers ever in Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union.

10. Gianluca Zambrotta

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    Gianluca Zambrotta has been a superb full-back his entire career, amassing a total of 98 international caps and counting.

    He started his career with Como, who perhaps have the most beautiful ground to play football in, before moving to the opposite end of the country with Bari.

    His big move to Juventus came in 1999 for €15 million and he made the most appearances for a club there in his career with 294 appearances.

    His time with the Bianconeri was a major success until his career was turned upside down by the calciopoli scandal.

    In 2006, Zambrotta won the World Cup under Marcelo Lippi's tutelage and was given the ultimatum to stick it out with Juventus or move for the sake of his career. At 29-years-old, Zambrotta did not have too many years left in his prime.

    The versatile full-back jumped at the chance to join Barcelona, where he spent two seasons, until moving back to Italy to play for AC Milan. At Milan, he picked up his first legitimate trophy at club level since the 2003 scudetto with Juve after his triumphs in 2005 and 2006 were annulled.

    His career is winding down but Zambrotta has proved to be ever-dependable at both left-back and right-back and the best of his kind in the last decade.

9. Tarcisio Burgnich

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    Tarcisio Burgnich was a sweeper for Italy spanning over a decade.

    A crucial part of the team's 1966-1974 World Cups, he was also part of the Italian victory at the 1968 European Championship, the only time Italy have won this tournament.

    So trusted was Burgnich that he was assigned the responsibility to man-mark Pele in his prime, the Italian doing an admirable job although later referring to the great Brazilian as not human.

    He played 66 times for the Azzurri with most of his club career being spent with Inter Milan where he played 358 times, his other notable spell was with Napoli where he ended his career.

8. Claudio Gentile

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    Claudio Gentile was a superb defender who formed part of the 1982 World Cup-winning side.

    He represented Juventus during most of his club career with 283 appearances but also had a notable spell with Fiorentina.

    Gentile was capped 71 times by Italy and had plenty of domestic honours to go with the most coveted trophy in International football.

    He won six scudetti, two Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup, Cup Winners' Cup and the Champions League during the greatest period in the Old Lady's history.

    He is famous for man-marking Diego Maradona and did an excellent job against the greatest player in the world at the time.

7. Giuseppe Bergomi

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    Giuseppe Bergomi is legend at Inter Milan.

    Bergomi featured 756 times in his career with the Nerazzurri, spanning 20 years from 1979-1999.

    Unfortunately for Bergomi, his time with Inter coincided with one of the less successful eras in its history, as he only won one scudetto in 1989, but did manage to win three UEFA cups in 1991, 1994 and 1998.

    Bergomi played 81 times for the Azzurri and was the most capped player at Inter until Javier Zanetti claimed the record this season.

    Il Zio (Uncle), as he was affectionately known, was part of the Italy squad that won the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

6. Giacinto Facchetti

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    Giacinto Facchetti is Inter Milan's answer to Paolo Maldini.

    He was a one-club man his entire career with the Nerazzurri, featuring 629 times and scoring a remarkable 75 goals from left-back.

    Facchetti won four scudetti and two European Cups with Inter to become one of their all-time greatest players.

    His impact with the Azzurri was also noteworthy, as he triumphed at Euro 68, the first and only time Italy have won this trophy.

    Two years later, he was part of the Italy side that was blown away by that Brazil side in 1970's World Cup final.

    Sadly, Facchetti passed away in 2006 and as a sign of respect Inter retired the No. 3 shirt.

5. Fabio Cannavaro

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    Fabio Cannavaro is one of the most dominating centre-backs Italy has ever seen.

    Recently retired, Cannavaro is Italy's most capped player of all time with 136 games and has the prestigious honour of captaining his country to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Italy's fourth.

    Cannavaro represented seven clubs during his career, beginning with his beloved Napoli before really announcing his name on the world stage with the great Parma side of the '90s on a free transfer in 1995.

    Seven years later, Inter Milan paid a massive €20 million in 2002, but it was an unsuccessful spell and he later joined Juventus and claimed scudetti before having them revoked in the calciopoli scandal.

    This enabled him the opportunity to join Real Madrid where he was a leader in the side that claimed back-to-back La Liga titles in 2007 and 2008.

    Cannavaro repaid some of the faith shown in him at the Bianconeri by resigning in 2009 for a brief spell that ended in 2010 when he decided to have one last pay day in the United Arab Emirates with Al-Ahli.

    Cannavaro was awarded the prestigious Ballon d'Or in 2006 for his part in Italy's World Cup triumph.

4. Alessandro Nesta

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    Alessandro Nesta is a hybrid of a typical Italian defender mixed with the great elegance of some of Brazil's greatest centre-backs.

    Along with Fabio Cannavaro, he is the greatest defender of his generation and the perfect compliment to his aforementioned Azzurri captain.

    Nesta unfortunately has been plagued by injuries over the years and this prevented him from being part of the World Cup-winning squad in 2006 and he then retired from international football in the weeks after the tournament with just one more appearance in order to prolong his club career.

    He ended his international career with 78 caps and was part of the Italy U21 European Championship winning side in 1996 as well as a winners medal for the 2006 World Cup due to his part in qualifying.

    Nesta begun his career with Lazio and was their great hope, making 261 appearances in nine seasons, famously winning their second ever scudetto in 2000.

    He left in 2002 for the Rossoneri, who paid a whopping £27 million, but undoubtedly he has made that price seem a bargain by becoming the stalwart of the defence over 10 seasons and counting.

    With 314 appearances for Milan, the 35-year-old seemingly has a few years left in him yet and will want to add to the two scudetti and two Champions League triumphs he has notably won in his time with the Diavoli.

3. Franco Baresi

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    Simply, a phenomenon.

    Franco Baresi was voted as AC Milan's Player of the Century in 1999 and experienced a remarkable amount of success with the Rossoneri, the only club he played for his entire career.

    The sweeper made 719 appearances for Milan and was vital for Italy, as he featured 81 times over 12 years.

    Baresi, or piscinin, won everything including a World Cup with the Azzurri in 1982, three European Cups and six Scudetti.

    His impact is unparalleled in domestic football, especially when you consider he mentored Paolo Maldini who would inherit his crown as Milan's defensive cornerstone.

    He was unfortunate not to collect over a century of caps considering his emergence as a world class sweeper, a position that was popularised during his era in Italy, coincided with Gaetano Scirea's time as the occupier of this role.

2. Gaetano Scirea

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    Gaetano Scirea was another member of the famous 1982 World Cup-winning side.

    Italian tactics transformed the game of football in his time with a position known as the libero, where he would almost do as he pleased from the back.

    He made 78 appearances for the Azzurri and 377 appearances for Juventus.

    Along with his World Cup, he won many domestic honours with the Old Lady, including seven scudetti, two Coppa Italia, one UEFA Cup, one Cup Winners' Cup and a Champions League to complete his set.

    Tragically, he died at age 36 in a car accident, but his legend lives on.

1. Paolo Maldini

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    Paolo Maldini's career is something of a fairy tale, as he achieved everything he could possibly have dreamt of at club level.

    His international career, whilst impressive, collecting 126 caps, ended in disappointment and heartbreak.

    First, at the World Cup at USA 1994, where he captained the Azzurri to a final defeat on penalties to Brazil.

    Then, at Euro 2000 Italy, he reached the final against France, only to lose in extra time thanks to, firstly a stoppage time equaliser by Sylvain Wiltord and then a golden goal by David Trezeguet in extra time.

    It is a blemish, but Maldini has perhaps the most glittering club career of all time.

    Maldini represented the Rossoneri in 25 seasons and amassed a crazy 902 appearances in that time.

    His trophy cabinet is bulging with seven Scudetti, one Coppa Italia and five European Cups.

    Paolo Maldini, simply the greatest.

    Follow me on Twitter @jackalexandros and @FRcalcioJack.


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