A look back at Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning squad reveals an incredible surplus of strikers and how Marcello Lippi found a use for all of them on the road to victory, writes Tom Dean.
The resolute Azzurri defence and creative genius of Andrea Pirlo were both undoubtedly significant factors in the team’s success but the balance struck between the attacking options may well have been where the tournament was won.
Each of Lippi’s six strikers had their own part to play as Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Luca Toni, Filippo Inzaghi, Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta all contributed goals throughout.
Such an abundance of attacking options could easily have posed as much of a problem as a luxury but the rotation and decision making of the former Juventus and Inter Milan boss was perfect.
Since 2006, Italy have struggled to replicate the same balance or success they enjoyed in Germany flopping at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups before failing to qualify for France 2018.
Attacking options have been a persistent problem during that time and specifically the lack of a consistent and reliable goalscorer to lead the line.
After Lippi’s second departure in 2010, Cesare Prandelli, Antonio Conte and Gian Piero Ventura have all tried and failed with the likes of Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano, Graziano Pellè and many others in between.
Now it looks as though current Italy manager Roberto Mancini might have uncovered a winning formula once with Andrea Belotti, Ciro Immobile and Fabio Quagliarella as his side qualified for EURO 2020 with ten wins from ten.
However a major tournament will be the ultimate measure of success for Mancini, who has no doubt already taken the time capsule back to 2006 to study Lippi’s work.
Here’s a more in-depth look at of those strikers who wrote their names in history and the role each of them played.
Despite the long list of legends included in the squad, the mountainous centre forward was Lippi’s first choice starting all but one of Italy’s seven games.
Toni had just completed his debut season with Fiorentina and finished as Serie A top scorer with 31 goals as La Viola trapped to a disappointing ninth-placed finish.
It wasn’t until the quarter-final against Ukraine that he scored his only two goals of the tournament – a pair of close-range second-half strikes in the space of ten minutes put his team comfortably in the semi-finals.
The target man would’ve had the ball in the back of the net once more, and on the biggest stage of all, but his powerful header in the final was ruled out for offside having previously headed onto the crossbar too.
Toni’s two goals were enough to see him named in the team of the tournament but it was his movement, prowess and ability to bring others into the game that truly made Italy’s most valuable attacking asset.
The Golden Boy was a doubt altogether but recovered from a broken leg just in time to earn selection for the competition he’d earmarked as his swansong with the national team.
Still just 29 years old, it was to be a much-debated early retirement but one that was ultimately justified as he went on to earn his first and only European Golden Shoe the following season with AS Roma.
Sent off and banned for spitting at the last two major tournaments respectively, this was the King of Rome’s last chance to put a shine on his international career.
Despite being short of full fitness and playing on a surgically-repaired ankle Totti featured in every game, starting six of them.
It was however in the one game he didn’t start that he’ll be remembered for scoring his only goal of the competition – an ice-cool 95th minute penalty to beat Australia 1-0 and progress to the last eight.
Totti never managed to replicate his club goalscoring record for his country but did finish the tournament as the top assist provider, laying on the goals that enabled Italy to reach the latter stages.
Alessandro Del Piero
For all intents and purposes Del Piero was Totti’s older, wiser and more successful sibling in the national team and there could only be room for one of them at a time.
Where Totti had chosen Rome, Del Piero had opted for the splendours of Turin winning five Serie A titles and a Champions League, all with Lippi at the helm, but it would be latter that was to be somewhat overlooked in Germany.
The then 31-year-old hadn’t been quite at his brilliant best for Juventus for a couple of seasons and had just endured the embarrassment of relegation and the Calciopoli scandal as club captain.
Del Piero was used a substitute for the opening two group games before starting in the last 16 against Australia in favour of Totti – but his moment in the sun would come against the hosts in the semi-final.
After 119 minutes of goalless action defender Fabio Grosso put Italy ahead before substitute Del Piero put the tie to bed with a stunning strike into Jens Lehmann’s top right corner.
“It’s not easy to come on for the last 20 minutes and to score the decisive goal, as well as to go close three times, as I did,” he said after the game in the hope that he’d done enough to start the final.
But that was not he view of Lippi, who introduced him in the 86th minute.
Nevertheless Del Piero buried his shootout spot kick and realised his childhood dream of lifting the Jules Rimet trophy.
The youngest of all the attacking options, Gilardino was the rising star of Italian football having just spent his first campaign with AC Milan after putting together staggering numbers in back-to-back seasons for Parma.
Lippi took an immediate shine to him handing him his international debut in the qualifying campaign before starting him in all three group games in Germany.
The first, a 2-0 win over Ghana, saw him replaced after just over an hour but the 1-1 draw against USA yielded what would be his only international goal at a major tournament.
A pinpoint Pirlo free-kick was met with a diving Gilardino header to beat Kasey Keller – cue the trademark imaginary violin celebration.
He would be brought off prematurely in the following two games against Czech Republic and Australia with his other notable contribution coming from the bench as he laid on Del Piero for his goal in the semi-final – his final contribution of the tournament.
Perhaps the surprise inclusion, Iaquinta was already an established Serie A striker with Udinese, although never prolific, and had so far failed to score in his dozen appearances for the Azzurri.
That changed after the first game of the tournament however as he entered the fold for Gilardino and scored in the 83rd minute to double the lead over Ghana.
The striker pounced on a mistake by Samuel Kuffour and rounded Richard Kingson in the Black Stars’ net before wheeling away in disbelief.
Like all of his fellow strikers, bar Toni, this would be his only goal of the competition although he did appear as a substitute four further times including in the semi-final and final.
Not quite the veteran he would go on to become, a 32-year-old Inzaghi was still the oldest outfield player selected in the squad.
Well into his AC Milan tenure and still scoring regularly, Inzaghi had lost a yard of pace but held onto every shred of his natural striker’s instinct and clinical finishing.
So when he opportunity arose its unsurprising he grabbed it with both hands and made it a clean sweep for Lippi’s strikers.
On for the last 30 minutes of the final group game against Czech Republic, Pippo beat the offside trap courtesy of perfect pass from Simone Perotta and carried the ball 50 yards to Petr Cech’s penalty area.
Simone Barone was with him all the way and would’ve had an open goal had Inzaghi squared it but the goal-hungry striker ignored him and instead rounded Cech to ensure he netted on his only appearance of the tournament.
Follow Tom on Twitter @tombendean