In 2006, the Italian national team lifted the World Cup in Germany, thanks to some heroic performances along the way – especially in the quarter finals against Ukraine.
In the week when 38-year old Italy hero Luca Toni retired from the beautiful game, it is worth looking back at one of these performances, in a game where Toni really grew in to the Azzurri shirt. The big number nine’s international career was fleeting, having scored his first goal for them in 2004, and his last in a friendly just four years later.
In the quarter-finals of Germany 2006, Toni started up top with Francesco Totti to face a talented Ukrainian side; a side that included Anatoliy Tymoschuk and AC Milan legend Andriy Shevchenko, and a side that certainly had their chances.
Italy had started this clash in great style, as Mauro Camoranesi went close early on, before Gianluca Zambrotta fired in a left-footed shot. That did not stop their rivals having chances, with Maxim Kalinichenko twice hitting the woodwork for the Eastern Europeans. Gianluigi Buffon was superb between the sticks, and when diving for one of Kalinichenko’s efforts with the game still in the balance, Buffon connected with the woodwork himself.
Italy’s second goal would see Toni step up to be at the right place at the right time, whilst his teammates put the ball on a plate for the former Bayern Munich man to do what he does best. The goal, Toni’s first at a World Cup, saw the striker ghost in to the middle of the six-yard box, while Totti, who would also be instrumental later on, provided an inch-perfect cross for a stooping Toni to head into the net with 30 minutes to go.
It still wasn’t game over for Marcello Lippi’s side, as Kalinichenko nodded a looping header against the crossbar before the shot was cleared. But it would only take the soon-to-be world champions a few more minutes to wrap the game up, as Toni was to double his World Cup goal tally.
Totti, once again integral, found a rampaging Zambrotta with a back heel down the left, and the full-back then beat his defender near the by-line, finding his way into the box. Toni was lurking – as he does best – and poked home a superb team goal; the big man’s finest in the blue of his country.
It would be the hosts that fell next as Italy took their game against Germany to extra time before scoring twice, before going on to beat France on penalties in the final, which would also be Zinedine Zidane’s final international game.
For a short while, Luca Toni was a goal scoring hero for Italy, and he rounded off his career in style with a panenka penalty to end Juventus’ 26-game unbeaten record.
There have been big moments and big goals scored throughout the Verona striker’s career, and as he held back the tears in the fair city on Sunday night, Toni’s quote, which FIFA.com used, seemed apt – “Running after a ball, scoring goals, celebrating and suffering in a stadium has been my whole life.”
For his whole life, he will be remembered for giving Ukraine the blues en route to lifting the highest honour in football.
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