Brazil and Italy – two of the most successful countries in football history. A clash of styles. Their clashes have often gone down in folklore as some of the greatest matches ever played. Brazil with five World Cup titles is the most successful team in football’s ultimate competition while Italy, with four titles comes in second. In a strange way, their fortunes have often been entwined with each other. They have faced off against each other twice in World Cup finals, one of only two pairs (other being Argentina and West Germany) to have this feat. Keeping with their reputation Brazil and Italy have always faced each other in the business ends of tournaments.
Overall, Italy and Brazil have squared off 16 times with Brazil winning eight to Italy’s seven victories. In World Cups Brazil lead the head to head as they have won thrice against Italy’s two wins.
World Champions Italy faced Brazil for the very first time in the 1938 World Cup. The 1938 side was the first among many great Brazilian World Cup teams as they knocked out Poland after an epic encounter and got past Czechoslovakia after a replay. Confident that they would progress, Brazilian coach made an enormous blunder of resting tournament top scorer Leonidas Da Silva against Italy in semi-final. Vittorio Pozzo’s Italy was the defending champion and also won gold in 1936 Olympics and was hardly pushovers. The Italians took full advantage of Leonidas’ absence and eked out a 2-1 win on their way to a second consecutive World Cup title.
They would face off the next time post WWII, in 1956. Under the captaincy of Giampiero Boniperti, Italy were going through a mean period, still trying to come to grips with the demise of the Il Grande Torino side which used to form the bulk of the national team in the previous decade. Gli Azzuri would even fail to qualify for the 1958 World Cup, the only time Italy has failed in qualification in their history. Brazilian football was slowly recovering from the tragedy of Maracanazo and Vicente Feola was yet to take over the reins of Selecao. Italy triumphed convincingly in this clash of sides in transition. Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Virgili grabbed a brace in a 3-0 win at the San Siro. Few months later Italy travelled to Brazil to play in Maracana and promptly suffered a 2-0 loss in front of 118,000 people. Italy did manage to beat Brazil in the 1960 Rome Olympics when they played each other in the group stage. Waldir gave Brazil an early lead but Gianni Rivera and Giorgio Rossano struck in quick succession in the second half to give Italy a 2-1 lead. It was Rossano who put the match beyond doubt by scoring Italy’s third goal in the 84th minute.
Giovanni Trapattoni gained mythical status when Italy faced World Champions Brazil in San Siro in 1963. It is often remarked that “Il Trap” neutralized Pele in that match but actual fact was that Pele was not fully fit and they played for less than half an hour. Brazil didn’t play their strongest side and Italy duly romped to a 3-0 with goals from Sormani, Mazzola and Bulgarelli.
Seven years later they faced off in one of the most famous World Cup finals on 21st June at the Azteca Stadium. Brazil had barely broken a sweat and won all their games to reach their fourth final in three editions while European Champions Italy had steadily grown in strength before dispatching West Germany in the “Match of Century” in the semi-finals. Roberto Boninsegna cancelled Pele’s header as the score remained 1-1 in first half. In the second half Brazil’s quality proved too much for a fatigued Italy side as the South Americans scored three emphatic goals to record the biggest margin of win in a World Cup final. Both teams were on the verge of a record third World Cup title but it was Brazil who was permanently awarded the Jules Rimet trophy.
Most of the World Cup winning players had left when Brazil travelled to Rome to face Italy on 9th June, 1973. Filled with Serie A legends, Ferruccio Valcareggi’s Italy recorded a comfortable 2-0 win thanks to goals from Gigi Riva and Fabio Capello.
Three years later Italy, Brazil and England were invited to take part in Bicentennial Tournament, along with Team America, to celebrate 200 years of USA’s Declaration of Independence. Italy faced Brazil in the last match to prevent the South Americans from lifting the title. Things looked on course when Fabio Capello gave Italy the lead after just two minutes. However, a brace from Gilberto Alves and goals from Zico and Roberto Dinamite ensured Brazil repeated the scoreline of the 1970 World Cup final in front of the 37,000 crowd in Connecticut.
After being edged out by The Netherlands and Argentina respectively, Italy and Brazil faced off in the consolation match of the 1978 World Cup for third place. Franco Causio gave Italy the lead as the score remained 1-0 in favour of the Azzuri at half time. Brazil came back strongly after the restart and scored twice in a seven minute period between 64th and 71st minutes through Nelinho and Driceu. Despite finishing outside podium place, the 1978 World Cup was an encouraging performance from Italy and would build the core of the team which travelled to Spain four years later.
Enzo Bearzot’s team had struggled and barely qualified for the knock-out round. Paolo Rossi was looking like someone who had forgotten how to score goals and Italy were not eliminated only because of their strong defence. Such was the media backlash to Italy’s performance in the group stage that a media blackout was enforced by the team management mid-way in the tournament. There were some signs of improvement when Italy dispatched Argentina 2-1. Paolo Rossi had finally found the net as Claudio Gentile did a “job” on Diego Maradona. But surely, Bearzot’s Italy were no match for Tele Santana’s Brazil, the team which had won every match in that World Cup and had romped past opponents after playing some breath taking football.
The 44,000 strong crowd in Barcelona on 5th July, 1982 must have expected an entertaining match but few would have guessed the epic encounter about to enfold. Knowing they had to win to qualify, the Azzuri relaxed their safety first approach – to emphatic effects. Paolo Rossi headed Italy in the lead 5 minutes after the kick-off, Socrates equalized with a beautiful strike seven minutes later. On 25 minutes Rossi once again restored the lead, taking advantage of an error from Toninho Cerezo. Falcao equalized in the 68th minute with a fine strike from the edge of the box. Brazil would have progressed with a draw but Santana’s side was not built to play pragmatic football. Six minutes after Brazil’s second goal Rossi once again took advantage of some dodgy defending to score one of the most famous hattricks in the history of football – organization had won over individual brilliance. Italian strong men Marco Tardelli and Claudio Gentile did a stellar job in stifling Brazilian flair players, the South Americans didn’t have similar players to counter with physical force. Gentile marked Zico strongly, tearing the Brazilian’s shirt off at one point. Brimming with confidence after this win, Italy would brush aside Poland and West Germany to win their third World Cup title.
Brazil would have a small measure of revenge two years later in the semi-final of the 1984 Olympics beating Italy, still coached by Bearzot, 2-1. Franco Baresi, Daniele Massaro faced off against Dunga – a decade later they would again face each other in a World Cup final. In 1989 Brazil won their first head to head encounter in Italy when they defeated the Azzuri 1-0 thanks to a goal from Andre Cruz. In Italia ’90, however, the hosts would eventually outperform Brazil.
Just like the 1970 World Cup, history beckoned both sides in the final of USA ’94 under a blistering sun in Rose Bowl, Pasadena. Arrigo Sacchi’s Italy had started in a typically unconvincing fashion but inspired by the world’s most expensive player Roberto Baggio, they had reached a final few expected them to reach weeks before. Carlos Alberto Perreira’s Brazilian side was a far cry from Pele or Zico’s sides. Deploying two no-non sense midfielders in the form of Dunga and Mauro Silva, this Brazil was pragmatic and focused on result more than entertainment. Flair came in the form of Romario, a street smart striker who would go on to score 1000 career goals. The match never reached the level of previous Italy-Brazil encounters – it was cagey, tactical. With Roberto Baggio not being 100% fit Italy lacked imagination in attack while Brazil was repelled by a majestic Franco Baresi, who had miraculously recovered from a surgery to play in the final. For the first time a World Cup final had to be decided via tie-breaker. Ironically, Baggio and Baresi, two of Italy’s most crucial players went on the miss their spot kicks, along with Massaro. Baggio’s forlorn figure in front of Claudio Tafarrel has become an iconic picture of modern football. Just like 1970, Brazil had once again pipped Italy to win a record number of World Cup titles.
Despite winning one World Cup each since 1994, Brazil and Italy have not faced off in the World Cup since that final.
In 1997 they played out one of the most famous friendly matches in recent memory during a pre-World Cup tournament which also involved France and England. Italy raced to a 2-0 lead in first half thanks to an early Alessandro Del Piero header and an own goal from Aldair. Seven minutes before half-time Brazil clawed a goal back when Attilo Lombardo put Roberto Carlos’ cross in his own net. Del Piero scored a spot kick on 63 minutes leaving Italy coasting towards victory with a 3-1 lead. Seleccao then mounted a memorable fightback with goals from Ronaldo in the 72nd minute and Romario finding the equalizer six minutes before the final whistle.
Italy-Brazil encounters in the new century have tilted the scales heavily in Brazil’s favour. Marcelo Lippi faced Brazil twice in 2009. Brazil won the February friendly 2-0 before thoroughly outclassing Italy with a 3-0 score-line in the Confederations Cup. Cesare Prandelli’s men are about to face Brazil in a similar pattern by playing a friendly before the Confederation Cup this year. The Euro 2012 runners-up will surely want to avoid the same fate when the “World Derby”, as it is called in Italy, resumes today.