Saturday 30 June 2018

Luca Toni Arrives, Zambrotta Shines, and Pessottino Siamo Con Te

Zambrotta celebrates after opening the scoring against Ukraine
Luca Toni had not yet arrived in Germany.  He was hard to miss at 6'5".  He was there to be sure.  But he had not yet really justified his position as the forward of choice yet.

There was that shot that he had thumped against the crossbar against Ghana in Italy's opening game of the 2006 World Cup, but precious little else.

It was time.  The press was hoping that he would now break out as Paolo Rossi had in 1982.  The quarter-finals of the World Cup seemed like the perfect opportunity.

It was June 30, 2006.  Italy were facing Andriy Shevchenko's Ukraine.  Gianluca Zambrotta's rasping low shot had given them an early lead. 

But things were tense.

Somehow Ukraine had failed to score after a scramble in front of Italy's goal.  Their coach Oleh Blokhin stood on the sidelines dumbfounded. 

Italy had to put the game beyond reach, and what better person to do that than the tallest man on the team?

Toni struck twice in ten minutes.  First,  in the 59th minute, he headed home a sumptuously weighted cross from Francesco Totti, and secondly, in the 69th minute, he tapped in a pass by Zambrotta, who had done excellently to get past Ukraine's defenders in the box.

It was 3-0.  Everyone raved about Toni, but it was also Zambrotta's shining moment in the World Cup.  His performance was remarkable.  He scored only his second goal for the Azzurri and provided the assist to seal the victory.

For a moment, just for a moment, you forgot the football scandal, Calciopoli,  raging on back in Italy.  The proposed penalties, the cost, so far had been administrative. Rumours of relegation for the teams involved.  Points deduction.

It wasn't until former Juventus player Gianluca Pessotto jumped from a window in an apparent suicide attempt that the devastating impact of the scandal came into focus.  Pessotto survived.  On that miserable day, Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro was told to cut a press conference short after the news had began to filter in.  It was perhaps the most poignant moment of the World Cup up until that point.

Cannavaro and Zambrotta, who had both been Pessotto's teammates at Juventus during the season that had just ended, held up an Italy flag at the end of the victory against Ukraine with the words Pessottino siamo con te (Pessotto we are with you) written across it.

On this day, twelve years ago.

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