It was 20 years ago that a golden goal settled the final of Euro 2000 and it went against Italy.
France, the reigning global champions at the time after lifting the World Cup on home soil in 1998, were pushed all the way by an Azzurri team packed full of Serie A legends and cult heroes.
Sure, that victorious Les Bleus vintage had their own icons like Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira, Lilian Thuram, Thierry Henry, Marcel Desailly and current national boss Didier Deschamps, but it’s often forgotten half of the French squad had played or were playing in the Italian league at the time.
Serie A was a soccer hotbed in the late 1990s and that formed the backdrop to this tournament. A total of 50 footballers selected for the finals played in Italy in the previous club season prior to Euro 2000.
The Azzurri roster picked by iconic goalkeeper Dino Zoff reads like a who’s who of Serie A from the period. There was no Gianluigi Buffon in net, but Francesco Toldo – unlucky to be a contemporary of the Parma and Juventus legend but named in the team of the tournament – got the nod over AC Milan’s Christian Abbiati and his penchant for fisting the ball away.
It’s not hyperbole to describe the Italian defence at Euro 2000 as containing some all-time greats. Skippered by Paolo Maldini, future 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta were both at the heart of Zoff’s back three.
The Azzurri have their own modern-day equivalents in Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci so, if they are to belie outright football betting odds of 10/1 to win the 2021 tournament, they will need to emulate the 2000 team that only conceded twice en route to the final.
Gianluca Zambrotta, another subsequent World Cup winner, and Gianluca Pessotto were among the wingback options providing Italy’s main width. Midfield saw Juventus captain Antonio Conte selected alongside versatile former Old Lady club teammate Angel Di Livio.
Stefano Fiore was a more forward-thinking option in the engine room. Milan duo Demetrio Albertini and Massimo Ambrosini joined Internazionale’s Luigi Di Biagio among those who could hold midfield together.
Zoff chose five forwards for the finals. By Italian standards they were relatively young at the time and many would go on to great things.
In keeping with the tradition of having strong options in the number 10 or deep-lying forward position off the front, both prolific Juve goalscorer Alessandro Del Piero and Roma star Francesco Totti competed for that role.
They managed goals at Euro 2000 between them. Del Piero was far more effective in an Italy shirt, scoring three times as many international goals as Totti.
The Azzurri also called upon the clever movement of Filippo Inzaghi – the diminutive striker once described by Sir Alex Ferguson as being born in an offside position. No prizes for guessing the tactics here, as Pippo sought to spring the trap.
Totti’s club teammate Vincenzo Montella, nicknamed the Little Aeroplane, acted as backup alongside another Roma attacker in Marco Delvecchio. If the Italy team of today can emulate these luminaries, then they could go far at the Euros.
By TGU Editor