Millions of fans applauded when seven FC Barcelona players featured in the Spanish team which won world cup in 2010. A Juventus fan would have neither been amused nor surprised to see the prevalence of Barca players in Spain team. After all, Juventus has a similar connection with the Italy National Team for almost eighty years.
Origin and Early Impact
Very few Juventus fans will know the name of Giovanni Giacone, who played for Juventus between 1919 and 1921 as a goal-keeper. However, he was the first Juventus player in history who got a call up from National Team. He played his first match in a 3-0 loss to Switzerland on 28th March, 1920. That year he represented Italy four times, twice in Antwerp Olympics.
Italy was the best football team in 1930s becoming the first team to win back to back world cups as well as an Olympic Gold medal in 1936. At the same period backed financially by the Agnelli family, Juve assembled a fearsome team which won five consecutive Scudetti (still standing record). As many as nine Juventus players were included by Vittorio Pozzo in the 1934 team. Virginio Rosetta and Umberto Calligaris were one of the greatest full-back pairings of that period, playing in Pozzo’s famous 2-3-2-3 formation. The team was led by veteran ‘keeper Gianpiero Combi, a Juventino through and through.
Most crucial player in Pozzo’s Italy was Luis Monti. Monti, known for his gung-ho style of play, was one of the earliest defensive centre-halves in football. One of the best performances came in the semi-final against the legendary ‘Wunderteam’ of Austria. Monti’s tough tackling rendered useless two of the most potent players of that time – Mathias Sindelar and Joseph Bican. Raimundo Orsi scored a peculiar goal against Czechoslovakia in the final – a goal which brought Italy level in that match. Giovanni Ferrari scored two goals in four matches he played, including the equalizer against Ricardo Zamora’s Spain in second round. All Juventus players.
Juve’s winning cycle had stopped when Italy travelled to France four years later. Naturally, the number of Bianconeri players in the team had also dropped. The defence was still manned by two Juve full-backs, just as 1934 world cup. This time it was Pietro Rava and Alfredo Foni. La Nazionale once more stamped its authority on the Julet Rimet trophy – defeating Hungary 4-2 in the final.
Bearzot places his faith on the Old Lady
After the Second World War both Juventus and Italy National team went through a long patch of indifferent form. Juventus players were present in Azzuri squads but their impact was lesser. Sentimenti IV played as a goalkeeper in an Azzuri team which remarkably, contained ten players from the Il Grande Torino team in its starting lineup.
1960s was an especially disappointing decade for Juventus as the club won only one scudetto. The Old Lady was overshadowed by the two Milanese clubs and her contribution to the national team also dropped significantly.
By mid-70s Juventus had turned a corner under managers Cestamir Vyspalek and more importantly, Giovanni Trapattoni. Under Il Trap Juve would go on an all conquering spree, with a mostly Italian squad. In 1978 the club won its first European trophy by defeating Athletic Bilbao in UEFA Cup final. Juve became the first (and till date only) Italian club to win a European trophy with a squad of only Italian players. It was all but natural that Italy teams of that era would be filled with Binaconeri players. Under Enzo Bearzot La Nazionale finally achieved the level of consistency that eluded them in previous two decades.
As many as nine Juventus players played against eventual winners Argentina in 1978 world cup group stages. Dino Zoff, the wizened but timeless custodian backed up the good cop-bad cop pairing of Gaetano Scirea and Claudio Gentile. After 1930s Italy had to rely on another successful Juventus cycle to get back to winning ways. A creditable fourth place finish in Argentina followed.
With a scandal back at home and a series of insipid performances few expected Italy to achieve anything in 1982 World Cup. Platini’s France, Zico’s Brazil were two of the overwhelming favourites. In knock-out rounds everything changed as the Azzuris completely transformed themselves.
Playing some scintillating football Italy dispatched Argentina in first match of second group phase. An all-time classic encounter with Brazil followed as Paolo Rossi engraved his name amongst all time legends. A Rossi hattrick and Claudio Gentile’s expert man-marking on Zico ensured Italy curved out one of their greatest victories in world cup by beating Brazil 3-2. Bearzot’s team was not to be stopped after that as they slalomed past Poland and West Germany to clinch their third world cup title. That team contained another core of Juventus players. Zoff in goal, stylish full-back Antonio Cabrini, Scirea, Gentile in defence, Marco Tardelli as the unrelenting central midfielder (who also gave birth to one of the most enduring images in football) and the star man Paolo Rossi, who won both the golden ball and golden boot that year.
An ex-Juventus coach leads a team of Juventus players to fourth World Cup title
You couldn’t have a more dramatic script for Italy’s 2006 World Cup win. Like 24 years back, there was another scandal back home but this time it engulfed Juventus. The Serie A champions were facing a punishment of demotion while a number of their players were involved with the national team in Germany. Marcelo Lippi, a man best known for his success with Juventus, had created a solid and flexible unit. Scandal back home coupled with suicide attempt of Gianluca Pessotto, a popular team-mate with a number of players, consolidated the mentality of the team.
In the end, after a dramatic final, Italy again triumphed. Italy had finally achieved redemption for the loss in 1994 world cup final (where, incidentally, Roberto Baggio, a Juventus player at that time dictated the show). Lippi’s team was also built around a Juventus core. Fabio Cannavaro (winner of world player of the year award for his performance), Gigi Buffon (winner of Lev Yashin award), Gianluca Zambrotta, Mauro Camoranesi and Alessandro Del Piero all played important roles. Three of the seven Italians that made in FIFA all-star team for 2006 World Cup were Juventus players.
Juventus and Euro: Time to Improve?
In comparison to its record in World Cup, Juve’s contribution to Azzuris in European championship is somewhat modest. Ferruccio Valcareggi’s team which won Italy’s first Euro in 1968 contained only three Juventus players who played bits and parts role in the triumph.
Italy’s next notable performance in Euro came 32 years later. Coached by Juventus legend Zoff Italy reached the final by seeing off a rampant Dutch side in semi-final. Zoff’s Italy contained as many as seven Juventus players in its ranks. Till final, half the number of goals scored by Italy was thanks to Juventus players. In the final, it was Gianluca Pessotto’s, another Juventus legend, pinpoint delivery that led to Marco Delvecchio’s goal. Sadly, Alessandro Del Piero fluffed two easy chances to wrap up the title for Italy. As France lifted the title after David Trezeguet’s golden goal, Juventus fans were left wondering what might have been.
Come Euro 2012 once against Juventus has contributed seven players to Italy’s final squad. Since their world cup win, La Nazionale has underwent through a particularly lean patch, as has Juventus. Under Antonio Conte, the man who scored Italy’s opening goal in Euro 2000 only to see a horror tackle from Georghe Hagi end his campaign, Juventus seem to have ended their dark days. Is it time for the Azzuris to follow suit? Only time will tell.
Click here to read Italy’s in-depth squad analysis for the Euro 2012.