Chiudete le valigie amici, andiamo a Berlino!
To all of the world outside of Italy, those words hold very little significance. But to every Azzurri supporter who witnessed one of the greatest and most celebrated World Cup goals in history back in 2006, that sentence is etched into their memories for the rest of time.
Pack your bags everyone, we’re off to Berlin! For Italy, this is their ‘They think it’s all over’ moment.
In one of the most gripping matches that international football has ever produced, Italy faced hosts Germany in the 2006 World Cup semi-final, hoping to conquer Dortmund and progress to the nation’s capital.
It was a time of turmoil in Italy, as it came shortly after the calciopoli scandal, which saw giants Juventus relegated for their part in match-fixing offences. Tensions were high between players, supporters and media within the beautiful game, but the country banded together, and what they would go on to achieve was simply remarkable.
A tournament full of drama reached its peak in Dortmund, with both Italy and Germany dealing blow after blow to their opponents, but neither finding the back of the net. Gli Azzurri hit the woodwork twice, going excruciatingly close, while the hosts forced Gianluigi Buffon into some smart saves.
And in the 119th minute – sweet release. Fabio Grosso, one of the many heroes from this brilliant Italy side, broke the deadlock with the purest strike of a football in his career, bending the ball into the top corner from an Andrea Pirlo no-look pass.
Despair for Germany, but ecstasy for Italy. But that iconic moment in World Cup history was soon overshadowed by a counter-attack designed by the Gods, and a passage of play which confirmed Fabio Cannavaro’s status as the best defender in the world, and soon-to-be Ballon d’Or winner.
The move began with a frantic and desperate Germany pumping the ball back into the Italy penalty area, knowing they were only seconds away from elimination from their home tournament. But there was one man whose destiny was to lead his nation to eternal glory.
Cannavaro leapt above his attacker, repelling the ball from the danger zone with one of the most powerful headers in defensive history. But the centre-back wasn’t finished there. Not content with the distance he’d put between danger and goal, Italy’s captain hurtled towards Lukas Podolski in the midfield, and threw his body in the way, chesting the ball to the safety of teammate Francesco Totti.
As far as bravery and drive goes, there’s no better scene that truly epitomises what it means to be a defender and a leader. A moment so great, that commentator Fabio Caressa bellowed in appreciation ‘CANNAVARO, CANNAVARO.’ No other words were needed.
But Italy were not satisfied with simply hoofing the ball downfield, or taking it to the corner flag to waste precious seconds. Totti, a man who would never pass up the opportunity of splitting open a defence, saw Alberto Gilardino pulling to the left of his marker. And naturally, Totti found him with ease.
Gilardino changed his course, and instead chose to dart back inside, surprising the German defence. He waited, waited, waited, and then, when a shooting opportunity seemed to have passed, shocked everyone by playing an inch-perfect reverse ball to his left.
From nowhere, off the picture, from another planet, Alessandro Del Piero came careering into view, charging towards this dead ball, motionless, about 12 yards from goal, to the left of the penalty spot. Jens Lehmann rushed to close him down, but it was no use. This is Ale Del Piero we’re talking about.
The Italian marksman opened up his body, took aim, and fired a curling missile into the top corner, breaking the net and German hearts simultaneously. Game over. Mission complete. Italy were going to Berlin, where they would go on to lift the fourth World Cup of their illustrious history.
It was a strike that highlighted everything which made this Italy team great. Heart, defensive solidity, a sprinkling of stardust and a ruthless edge which could not be halted. It was a goal which led Cannavaro to become the third defender in history to win the Ballon d’Or. and it was a sweeping 17-second move that will go down as one of the best – and most underrated goals in football history.
What a goal.