I was born in Italy and I’ve endured many heartbreaking losses by my beloved Azzurri over the course of my life. The fact that they won the 2020 (2021) EuroCup by Penalty Kicks in back-to-back matches is stunning to say the least!
I want to share some of the most excruciating defeats by Italy in other major tournaments just to explain why winning this way means so much to Italians. I think it will put things in proper perspective. It should also give some hope to all the heartbroken English football fans out there too. If Italy can overcome its penalty kick curse, then so can England and anyone else!
1934 World Cup Champions — Italy 1934
I might as well begin with the first great team for Italy. The 1934 team would win back to back World Cups and the Olympic gold medal! If not for WWII who knows how many more Italy would’ve won!
1938 World Cup Champions — France 1938
France would host the 1938 World Cup and defending champions Italy would win it again this time vs Hungary 4–2 in the finals.
The Long Drought Years — 1950 to 1968
The horrors of World War II interrupted the World Cup from 1938 until 1950 which meant an end to the Italian dynasty. By the way football resumed, Italy had a whole different team and they struggled mightily throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Italy couldn’t get out of the group stage in World Cup 1950 or 1954 and failed to even qualify for the 1958 World Cup that Brazil would win.
The 1960s were not much better for the Azzurri which couldn’t escape the group stages yet again in the 1962 and 1966 World Cups that Brazil and England would win respectively.
1968 EuroCup Champions — Italy 1968
Italy finally won the EuroCup in 1968 when it hosted the tournament which only featured 4 teams! Italy, Soviet Union, England and Yogoslavia. Get this, Italy only managed to make the final when they won a coin flip over the Soviet Union after they tied 0–0! A coin flip! Not a PK but the flip of a coin. How ironic is that? I’ve always said the PK shootout was like tossing a coin.
Italy would tie 1–1 with Yugoslavia and then defeat them 2–0 in the replay match. They didn’t do extra time or penalty kicks back then.
1970 World Cup — Heartbreaking Loss in the final to Brazil
After the inspiring EuroCup championship of 1968, Italy headed to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico on a high. They would reach the final vs arch nemesis Brazil which had won 1958 & 1962 World Cups with Pele… and Brazil would thump Italy 4–1 for the title.
More Lean Years — 1970 to 1982
Italy would fail to even qualify for the EuroCups of 1972 & 1976 but they would have a great showing at the 1978 World Cup finishing 4th. Argentina would win the 1978 World cup.
Italy would make the 1980 EuroCup semifinal and finish 4th as it suffered its first defeat in penalty kick shootout 8–9 to Czechoslavakia.
1982 World Cup Champions — Spain 1982
Before I delve into the nightmares of the World Cup PK losses, I wanted to share this dream from 1982 when I was a very young man spending the summer in my home country. I had no idea what the World Cup even was when everyone started celebrating Italy victories over Argentina and Brazil. I had no choice by to get swept up in the emotions of the global event. It would stay with me the rest of my life.
World Cup 1982 was held in Spain so it was not far from Italy. The favorites were Brazil and Argentina so it was a major upset when Italy beat them both thanks to the star of the tournament, Paolo Rossi who scored a hat trick vs Brazil and would score 6 total goals including the first one in the finals vs Germany. Italy would win 3–1 to claim its 3rd World Cup.
Missing 1984 EuroCup
Somehow, the 1982 World Cup champions didn’t even qualify for the 1984 EuroCup in France who would beat Spain to win it.
1986 World Cup — Mexico 1986
Italy would lose to France in the knockout round 2–0. Maradona would lead Argentina to the World Cup title thanks to his hand of God cheat vs England. Argentina defeated Germany and would have a rematch in Italia 1990.
1988 EuroCup — Germany
Italy had a good showing in the 1988 EuroCup by beating Spain before losing in the semifinal to the Soviet Union 2–0. The Netherlands would beat the Soviets in the final for their first and only EuroCup title.
The First PK Death — Italia ’90 World Cup
After a disappointing 1986 World Cup where Italy got knocked out early only to watch Maradona and Argentina win it all (with his dirty hand of God play). Italy would go on to experienced its first bitter sting of being eliminated by penalty kicks during the 1990 World Cup hosted by Italy! Yes, they lost at home in the semifinals to Maradona and Argentina after not conceding a goal the first 5 matches! I will never forget this game because we were magnificent and clearly the best team at Italia ‘90!
Salvatore Scilacci was the star of the World Cup much like Pallo Rossi was for Italy in the 1982 World Cup. When Toto scored to give the host country a 1–0 lead we all thought it was all over and we would be set for the finals but Argentina scored on a fluke play late in the match and I just knew it was a bad sign. It was the first goal they allowed and it would lead to its demise when Italy would lose in the first of many PK shootouts. I still have never watched that PK shootout. I never will. P.S. I enjoyed watching Germany beat Argentina in the finals on a late PK which made Maradona cry. LOL.
Missing the 1992 EuroCup
Somehow, after the powerful showing in Italia ’90, Italy failed to qualify for the 1992 EuroCup! Denmark would go on to win their first and only cup.
The Second PK Death — USA 1994 World Cup
Four years later and the pain was still there for me from Italia 1990 but at least this time it was in my country of America! USA 1994! I couldn’t believe the luck that the World Cup would be hosted by my adopted country of USA! Italy once again had one of the best teams in the world lead by Roberto Baggio! Unfortunately, Brazil was experiencing one of its greatest eras ever with what would turn out to be a record 35 game unbeaten streak (1993–1996).
Italy breezed through the tournament once again and made it to the World Cup final vs Brazil. Neither team could score and finished 0–0 but Italy had more chances with Baggio almost winning it all a couple of times.
The nightmare came in penalty kicks once again. It was worse for me because I was involved in a new relationship with the woman that would become my wife of 23 years and I was at a big party with her and her family who insisted on watching it. I tried to avoid the TV but could hear everything. When Baggio missed his infamous penalty kick to lose it for my beloved Italy, it truly felt like a devastating event for me. I had to hide my anguish and pretend it was just a game but it was so much more than that to me. I knew it meant another four years of dealing with an embarrassing loss by PK, this time in the finals and to the team I hated most in the world, Brazil! Italy could’ve had four titles to Brazil’s 3 but now it was Brazil ahead 4 to 3 (it would become 5–3 in 2002, but Italy would win in 2006 to make it 5–4)
1996 EuroCup in England
Italy just missed making it out of the group stage at the 1996 EuroCup, going 1–1–1 and tying eventual champions Germany 0–0. This was the heartbreaking EuroCup where Gareth Southgate, current coach of England in 2021, would miss the final PK to lose it for England.
The 3rd PK Death — 1998 World Cup in France
Fast forward another 4 years to the 1998 World Cup in France and this time Italy would lose in the Quarterfinals on penalty kicks, not the finals. They would tie with eventual champions, the host country France, 0–0 before losing on kicks! We were just as good or better and we could’ve been champs again. France would destroy Brazil in the finals 3–0, which made me happy because I didn’t want to see Brazil win again. Still, it hurt knowing just how close we were to being in the finals instead of lucky France.
To this day, I have not watched any videos of the World Cups from 1990, 1994 or 1998 because Italy was illiminated all three times by penalty kicks! I just can’t bring myself to watching any of it. I especially can’t watch the penalty kicks they missed, especially the one by Baggio. He was such a legend and deserved a much better fate than that.
2000 EuroCup Heartbreak vs France
The 2000 EuroCup is another epic disaster for Italian soccer fans. We never want to talk about this one that we let slip away. We lead 1–0 deep into injury time when France tied the game in the 4th minute of injury time and then they won it with the golden goal in extra time. There’s nothing much to say about this one. Moving on.
2002 World Cup — Korea/Japan
I’m adding the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan not because we lost on Penalty kicks, but because we got eliminated in extra time yet again by a golden goal as two years earlier in the EuroCup by France, this time by a golden goal by the host country Korea which was very controversial because of what went on during the match. Italy lead late and blew the lead and lost in heartbreaking style. Yes, it wasn’t in PK thank God, but it still hurt very much.
2004 EuroCup Disaster
Italy never made it out of the group stage in the 2004 EuroCup in Portugal even though they were tied with Denmark and Sweden in points. Host Portugal and Ronaldo would lose in a shocker in the final to Greece!
2006 World Cup champions — Germany 2006
Where do I begin with the 2006 World Cup? So much has been written about this amazing squad lead by Italian coach Lippi. They went on a long unbeaten streak years before the World Cup in Germany and shocked the world. By the time Italy won the World Cup they would reach 25 matches in a row without a defeat.
Fabio Grosso was the hero of the 2006 World Cup but his captain got most of the praise. Grosso got the penalty kick call in the Quarterfinals vs Australia that lead to the 1–0 victory and scored the extra time goal vs Germany in the semifinals to send Italy to the finals and of course he scored the 5th and final PK in the finals to defeat France to win the World Cup!
When Italy won, I tossed my boy into the air to celebrate! I didn’t know my wife was taking photos of me celebrating like a mad man! It had been 24 long years since the last time I watched Italy win the World Cup. I just thought of all the painful losses including 3 straight PK losses in 1990, 1994 & 1998.
2008 EuroCup PK Nightmare
Italy had most of its 2006 World Cup winning team still in tact when they faced the great Spain team in the quarterfinals and they tied 0–0 and headed to the dreaded penalty kicks. I remember knowing in my bones that they would revert to its losing ways on PKs for some reason and sure enough they did. 4–2 as two Italians missed from the spot. Spain would go on to beat Germany in the final to win what would become 3 majors in a row as they would win the 2008 EuroCup, 2010 World Cup and 2012 EuroCup (vs Italy!) Needless to say, I have always hated Spain because I knew our team was as good or better. Just like the 1998 World Cup French team that we tied 0–0 and loss on PKs, and the 2000 EuroCup French squad we had beaten until that late goal. But I digress! I still haven’t let it go as you can see. LOL.
2010 World Cup Disaster
Italy did not defend its 2006 World Cup well at all because it couldn’t even make it out of its group stage! It was such a terrible
2012 EuroCup Destruction
I HATE this EuroCup with a passion for a few reasons. First, because my beloved Italy lost the final. Second, because the team I hate more than anything, Spain, won its third major tournament in a row. I don’t think any loss hurt as much as this one. We had a really good team. We had tied Spain just recently, so losing 4–0 was inexcusable. All I remember was seeing Mario crying. Till this day, I’ve never watched any footage of that final.
By the way, I will state an unpopular opinion here. I do not believe the Spain team from 2008 to 2012 was as great as their results make them appear. I know it’s still an incredible achievement winning a EuroCup, WorldCup and EuroCup all in a row, but if you looked at the scores they were mostly 1–0 and penalty kick victories. I was never a fan of their tiki tok style of play. My 2006 World Cup team should’ve won the 2008 EuroCup but lost on PKs to this Spain team. Anyway, there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just glad they lost in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup!
Side note: Italy would get some revenge by beating Spain 2–0 in the 2016 EuroCup and in the semifinal of the 2020 EuroCup on PKs no less!!!!
2013 Confederation Cup — Brazil
I’ve included this rather new tournament just because it features elite teams from the bigger events like the World Cup, EuroCup and Copa America. Italy made the 2013 tournament dubbed the ConfedCup because they made the finals of the 2012 EuroCup. They got eliminated again by Spain as they were beaten in the 2012 EuroCup final but this time it wasn’t a 4–0 drubbing but Italy’s old form of torture, death by PK!
Here is the breakdown of the PKs. Take note of who missed the last kick to lose it for Italy. Yes, that’s right, Bonucci!!!! The hero of the 2021 EuroCup who scored the tying goal vs England and who scored a critical PK that lead to the Cup!
The only silver lining to this tournament for me? Spain would lose in the finals to Brazil 3–0!!! I thoroughly enjoyed watching the end of the Reign of Spain! I was so sick of them. There was talk of them winning the 2014 World Cup which would’ve been a nightmare for me. Thankfully, Spain would not make it out of their group stage and even Brazil would lose in the semifinals to Germany 7–1 at home in Brazil! I was also happy to see Messi and Argentina lose in the finals to Germany 1–0 late.
2014 World Cup Collapse
This was another disaster for Italy. They would win its first match vs England but played terribly in its next two matches and failed to emerge from its group stage.
2016 EuroCup PK Heartbreak — France 2016
Italy had a nice run at the 2016 EuroCup and even defeated arch nemesis Spain in the knockout stage which felt amazing for us Italians. Then we encountered the Germany juggernaut in the quarterfinals and we lost in penalty kicks!
France, the host country, would beat Germany and lose to Portugal in the finals 1–0.
2018 World Cup Embarrassment
Italy failed to make the 2018 World Cup for the first time since 1958 which was like 60 years! It was a total embarrassment for Italy and no one could believe it. I mean, it was one thing to lose on PKs or fail to make it out of the group stage, but to not even qualify for the World Cup was an epic new low for Italy. We all knew that drastic changes had to be made and sure enough they were made as Italy hired Roberto Mancini who would turn everything around.
France atoned for its devastating loss as hosts of the 2016 EuroCup by beating Croatia in the finals 4–2. England made a great run to the semifinals before blowing 1–0 lead over Croatia (eerily similar to what would happen in EuroCup 2020 vs Italy).
2020/2021 EuroCup Champions
This brings us to the present. Italy would go on a magical run at EuroCup 2020 (2021) and ultimately shock the world much as it did 15 years earlier at the 2006 World Cup. France was the heavy favorite as defending World Cup champs followed by host England and FIFA number one ranked Belgium and even Spain. Italy would beat Belgium, Spain and England! Switzerland eliminated France in the biggest shocker of all after the french blew a late 3–1 lead and lost in PKs to the Swiss when MBappe, its biggest star, missed the 5th and final penalty kick!
Italy’s EuroCup History — 1960 to present
Italy has competed in 10 of the 16 EuroCup competitions since 1960 but they’ve made the finals in 4 of those 10 competitions and at least the quarterfinals in 8 of those 10 competitions and won it all twice.
Note: Just for the record, Italy was eliminated on PKs in the EuroCup in the following years:
1980 vs Checkoslovakia 9–8! After 16 straight penalties were made in a row!
2008 vs Spain in Quarterfinals 2–4. Spain would win the title
2016 vs Germany in Quarterfinals 5–6
On the bright side:
2000 Italy beat Netherlands on PKs 3–1 but lost title vs France on golden goal!
2012 Italy beat England on PKs 4–2 but lost title vs Spain in finals
2021 Italy beat Spain on PKs 4–2 in SemiFinals
2021 Italy beat England on PKs 3–2 in the finals
Italy’s World Cup History — 1930 to present
It has competed in 18 of the 21 World Cups that began in 1930. They have only missed 3 competitions: 1930, 1958 & 2018.
They’ve won 4 World Cups, 1934, 1938, 1982 & 2006. Only Brazil with 5 titles have won more. Germany also has 4 titles. Italy has lost twice in the finals to Brazil.
The Italian teams that won back to back World Cups in 1934 & 1938 also won the Olympic gold medal and could’ve won more World Cups if not for World War II that suspended play for 12 years.
Bonus: Penalty Kick Histories for England & Italy
I know that England fans are sad and devastated about losing the EuroCup and especially how they lost it on penalty kicks. They’ve had a terrible history with PKs, which is something we Italian fans can totally sympathize with. Until the 2000 EuroCup, Italy had lost every single PK they competed in which included the 1980 EuroCup and 3 straight World Cups in 1990 (at home!), 1994 (in USA) and 1998 to eventual champs France)! We were 0–4 until we finally won a PK at the 2000 EuroCup and again in the 2006 World Cup final vs France. Since 2000, Italy has gone 6–3 in PKs so its overall mark is 6–7.
England, on the other hand, are currently 3–7 in PKs at major tournaments. They have won 2 of its last 3 PK shootouts so perhaps England are going to continue to do better like Italy has done.