The four-time World Champions Italy have a deep-rooted footballing tradition and have produced several great players over the years. This article talks about Italy’s Greatest XI of all time, considering only a player’s record for the national team.
SYSTEM : 5-3-2
GOALKEEPER : Gianluigi Buffon
Buffon has appeared 176 times for Italy, a record. Buffon played a crucial role in Italy’s penalty shootout victory against France in the 2006 World Cup. Buffon was also instrumental in Italy’s run to the final of EURO 2012.
DEFENDERS : Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Cannavaro, Franco Baresi, Giorgio Chiellini, Paolo Maldini
The Italy team’s long list of great defenders makes it difficult to pick just five out of them. However, Zambrotta and Maldini are easy picks as full-backs. They both had a long career and have few rivals for their position. Maldini’s underutilized attacking potential will be of full value in such a system where he can make forward runs.
Zambrotta was a very veratile player for Italy as he played on either flanks. His versatility bought him a spot in the 2006 World Cup all-star squad. 10 years after his retirement, Italy are yet to find a proper replacement for him.
The center of the defense is occupied by three legends. Fabio Cannavaro was the last Italian to win the Ballon d’or, thanks to his solid performances in the 2006 World Cup. In the absence of Maldini, Cannavaro wore the captain’s armband and led Italy to World Cup glory. There was a lot of pressure on Cannavaro to step up as Nesta too missed the bulk of the tournament due to injury.
Franco Baresi was part of the squad that won the 1982 World Cup, but did not play a single game. He was also left out of the 1986 World Cup and made his WC debut only in 1990. Baresi played a crucial role in helping Italy keep five consecutive clean sheets before they were beaten by Germany in the semi-final.
Chiellini rose to fame after the 2006 World Cup and slowly became a global star due to his defensive prowess. But an international trophy eluded him until EURO 2020 where he led Italy to European glory at the age of 36.
MIDFIELDERS: Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Gianni Rivera
At the heart of the midfield is the man who revolutionized the central defensive midfield role, Andrea Pirlo. There were many deep-lying playmakers before Pirlo but none of them excelled at the role as efficiently as Pirlo. Pirlo deserves a spot in Italy’s greatest XI due to his vital contributions in the 2006 World Cup victory.
Danielle De Rossi will complement Pirlo’s attacking instincts with his ability to tackle hard and cover space. De Rossi was the youngest player in Italy’s 2006 World Cup squad. Gianni Rivera is regarded by many as the greatest Italian player of all time due to his vision, passing and elegance. He can play as a central midfielder or as a classic number 10 behind the forwards.
FORWARDS: Luigi Riva and Roberto Baggio
Riva is Italy’s most prolific goal scorer, with 35 goals in 42 appearances. He won the 1968 European Championship and was part of the 1970 World Cup squad that finished second to Brazil. Riva scored the winner in Italy’s 4-3 victory over West Germany in the 1970 WC semi-final. Like Riva, Baggio also carried his team to a World Cup final in 1994. Unfortunately, he missed a penalty in the shootout but he deserves to be in Italy’s greatest XI due to his nine goals in WC games.