From Boniperti and Riva to Balotelli and Darmian: the blue heroes of the “inside or outside” challenges

There are many “play-offs” matches in the history of the national team’s qualifiers for World Cups or Europeans. The first with Egypt in 1953. And 3 times we wiped out Switzerland

From Boniperti to Balotelli, from Gigi Riva to El Shaarawy. The challenges without tomorrow of the National team in the post-war period saw many protagonists take advantage of the moment to confirm all their talent or even become heroes for a night, as was probably the case for Zaccardo or De Agostini. The Olimpico match against Switzerland will be just the latest in a long series of “play-offs” to center the qualification for the World Cup or European Championships faced by the Azzurri in the last half century or so.

At the foot of the pyramids

It may seem strange, but to get to the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, Italy had to eliminate Egypt in a double challenge. Went to the National Stadium in Cairo on 13 November ’53, won 2-1 in comeback thanks to goals from Frignani and Muccinelli, then a wide 5-1 at San Siro with a brace from Boniperti. Also to earn a place in Chile ’62, the national team took the field against a team that was not really European, at least geographically speaking, Israel. Two walks: 4-2 in Tel Aviv (double from Corso) and 6-0 at the Comunale di Torino with Omar Sivori’s poker.

It was better to lose first …

On 7 December 1965 in Naples with a 3-0 over Scotland with goals from Pascutti, Facchetti and Mora, Italy snatched the pass for the 1966 World Cup in England. Where, 8 months later, in Middlesbrough, the North Korean dentist Pak Doo-Ik wrote one of the blackest pages of our football, eliminating the national team of coach Edmondo Fabbri. It went better 4 years later in Mexico, where Italy reached the final lost to Brazil after the legendary Italy-Germany 4-3. The qualification had come with the 3-0 of Naples to East Germany (Mazzola, Domenghini, Riva). In 1974 here is Switzerland: beating them 2-0 in Rome (previous good luck) with goals from Rivera on a penalty and Riva, the Azzurri hit the target of the World Cup in Germany. Another 4 years and to get on the plane to Argentina you sweat. It takes a 3-0 at the Olimpico over Luxembourg to qualify only thanks to the favorable goal difference compared to that of England.

The triumphal Mundial

At the 1982 Spanish Mundial finished in triumph, that of Pablito and Tardelli’s scream, we got there from second in the qualifying group, behind Yugoslavia, thanks to a skimpy 1-0 at San Paolo again against Luxembourg with goals by Collovati after 6 ‘. In 1994 (after two editions in which we were admitted by law, first as reigning champions, then as organizing country), Switzerland is still on the way to the USA. By beating Portugal at San Siro 1-0 thanks to Dino Baggio’s goal with 7 ‘from the end, we overtake the Rossocrociati by one point and the Lusitanians by 2. In Pasadena he will end in tears on penalties against Brazil.

In fluency

In 1998 he already reached the third to last day of qualifying, thanks to a comfortable 3-0 over Poland, the arithmetic certainty of second place in the group behind England, valid for access to the playoffs. A play-off in two rounds that the Azzurri won thanks to the 1-0 victory against Russia. The hero of that November 15, 1997, in Naples, is Casiraghi. In Moscow, two weeks earlier, it had ended in a draw (1-1). Even in 2002 we do not suffer (the 4-0 to Lithuania in Trieste gives us the pass well in advance), while in 2006 it is a goal by Zaccardo in Palermo against Slovenia and kick off the triumphal ride that will end under the sky of Berlin with Fabio Cannavaro raising the cup. The last two editions have instead arrived with a 2-2 in Dublin against Ireland with goals from Camoranesi and Gilardino (2010) and a 2-1 against the Czech Republic in Turin (2013) with goals from Chiellini and Balotelli and a penalty saved. by Buffon. The last two in which we participated, given the dramatic exclusion from the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Decisive, in negative, the return match of the playoffs against Sweden, in which the Ventura national team failed to score a goal in 180 minutes . 1-0 defeat in the first leg with a goal by Johansson, 0-0 draw on 13 November 2017 at San Siro.


Not just World Cups though. Italy has faced several games from the inside out also to get to the European Championships. The first in November 1967 in Bern (Switzerland is back) with a penalty from Riva which is worth 2-2 which allows us to keep Romania behind in the standings. And then to go on to win the encore final in Rome with Yugoslavia (repeated after it had finished 1-1 in extra time two days earlier). In 1972 it was a 3-0 to Sweden at San Siro that opened the doors of the greatest continental competition (Boninsegna and Riva brace) to us, while in 1988 it was Vialli, De Agostini and Principe Giannini who signed another 3-0 at the Meazza decisive, that to Portugal. In 2000, however, we were forced to snatch a 0-0 in Belarus to qualify. Everything simpler in 2004, 4-0 to Azerbaijan. In 2008 it was Panucci’s penalty in full recovery to give the 2-1 over Scotland in Glasgow that ensured the Azzurri qualification. After the 2012 walk (+10 over Estonia), in 2016 it is Eder, El Shaarawy and Darmian who set Baku’s 3-1 again against the Azeris that takes us to France. Finally, the last triumphal edition, that of Wembley penalties, to which Italy arrived by carriage, with 12 points ahead of Finland. And now with Switzerland, to get on the flight to Qatar and find new players to add to this long list.

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From Boniperti and Riva to Balotelli and Darmian: the blue heroes of the “inside or outside” challenges

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