Italy is a country where football is religion and players who win the World Cup are treated as gods. Italy won consecutive World Cups in the 1930’s but they had to wait for 44 years to register their third victory. Then they had to wait for another 24 years to get their hands on the sacred trophy again. This means three different generations of Italian footballers have got a World Cup winners’ medal. In this article, we will take a look at a few unlucky Italian legends who failed to win the World Cup.
#5 Alessandro Costacurta
Costacurta deserves his place on the list of Italian legends who failed to win the World Cup. Costacurta represented Italy in two World Cup tournaments and one European Championship. Italy finished as runners-up in the 1994 World Cup while they were knocked out in the quarter-final in the 1998 edition. Costacurta played 58 games for Italy but it could have easily been 100 if not for frequent injuries.
#4 Gigi Riva
Riva’s place is significant among Italian legends who failed to win the World Cup. He was the world ‘s best striker in his prime and scored for fun while representing Italy. In 42 appearances for Italy, he scored 35 goals. He still holds the record of most goals for Italy despite playing much lesser games than the names following him in the list.
In his first World Cup in 1970, Riva formed a superb partnership with playmaker Gianni Rivera. He scored a decisive goal in Italy’s 4-3 victory against West Germany in the semi-final. But Brazil comfortably won the final and Riva’s last World Cup in 1974 also ended in disappointment.
#3 Giorgio Chiellini
Chiellini will retire from national duty after the game against Argentina at Wembley in June. Chiellini made his Italy debut in 2004 but he was not selected for the 2006 World Cup. The reason was the presence of so many great center-backs such as Nesta and Cannavaro. Chiellini featured in the 2010 World Cup where Italy endured a horrible campaign. They finished last in their group, arguably their worst World Cup performance.
In the 2014 World Cup, he was infamously bitten by Suarez as Uruguay knocked out Italy in Round-of-16. Italy did not even qualify for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups but Chiellini bowed out as European champion.
#2 Roberto Baggio
The 1994 World Cup cemented Baggio’s legacy, both in a positive and negative way. Four years back in the World Cup at home, Baggio had scored one of the greatest goals in the tournament’s history. Italy reached the semi-finals but were knocked out by Argentina. Baggio was at the peak of his powers when the 1994 World Cup began in USA.
But he had struggled with a lot of injuries and was not at his best during the group stage games. Italy finished third in the group phase and Baggio was widely criticized. In the knockouts, he revived himself and scored 5 goals in 3 games. The final was 0-0 after extra time and the game went to penalties. Baggio missed the last penalty of the shootout and Brazil won their fourth World Cup. Baggio’s last World Cup in 1998 also ended in a penalty shootout defeat but he managed to convert his spot-kick.
#1 Paolo Maldini
Maldini will rank very high on anybody’s list of Italy’s greatest ever defenders. Maldini’s World Cup debut was in 1990 and he was part of the defense that kept five consecutive clean sheets. In the 1994 World Cup, he played both as a full-back and center-back but Italy lost the final by an inch. Maldini captained Italy in the 1998 World Cup and his team played exceptionally well in all the games. But for the third consecutive time, they were knocked out on penalties. Maldini retired after the 2002 World Cup defeat to South Korea. He was still representing AC Milan when Italy won the World Cup in 2006.