Don’t let Italy’s absence from the 2018 World Cup fool you. Italy has won four World Cups, with two-second place finishes, a third and fourth place. Known for producing some of the world’s greatest footballing talent and hosting one of the most competitive Leagues, the Azzurri will soon be back at the top of international football. Until then, here’s a list of some of the best Italian footballers to-date.
With 176 appearances, Gianluigi Buffon is Italy’s most capped player of all-time. He recorded a record five clean sheets during Italy’s road to the World Cup trophy in 2006. Buffon also has over 500 appearances in the Juventus kit in which he helped win the team 9 Serie A titles and 5 Coppa Italia titles.
Nearly averaging a goal a game for his club sides Fiorentina, Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter, Roberto Baggio was also a prolific scorer playing for Italy’s national team. While he finished with nearly 30 goals, his most memorable moment in the kit is also the most unfortunate — he missed the penalty kick against Brazil to lose the 1994 World Cup finals.
Alessandro del Piero
The attacker played up front for Juventus for 19 seasons, even sticking with the team through the forced relegation of the Calciopoli scandal. He earned 91 caps and 27 goals with the Italian side, none more precious than his third and final World Cup in 2006 which the Azzurri won.
Nicknamed The Golden Boy, Francesco Totti played for Roma his entire career. Over 25 years, the attacking midfielder/forward played 786 games for this club, scoring 250 goals. In his 58 appearances with the national side, he scored nine goals and played an important role in Italy’s 2006 World Cup victory.
Known for his creative vision and playmaking abilities, Andrea Pirlo helped Italy achieve its 4th World Cup in 2006. Over 13 years with the national side, the midfield maestro earned 116 caps and scored 13 goals. His tenure at Inter, Milan, and Juventus amounted to 2 Champions League, 6 Italian League titles, 2 Italian Cups, and more.
One of the best defenders of all-time, Paolo Maldini made 126 appearances with the national side. And while he’s the third most capped Italian of all-time with over 2,000 minutes played, he never won a World Cup, finishing second in 1994 on a side he captained. With 5 Champions League trophies and seven league titles in 14 historic years with AC Milan, he’s still considered one of the Italian greats.
The center back Alessandro Nesta played over a decade with the Azzurri, participating in 3 World Cups and earning 78 caps. While exiting the 2006 World Cup with an injury in the final group game, Nesta demonstrated his fair share of all-around talent and defensive skill in his ten years with Italy. Nesta finished his career in the Serie A with 2 Champions League trophies, 3 Serie A titles, and 3 Cup victories.
The stalwart defender Franco Baresi played 81 games with the national side, winning the 1982 World Cup and playing in two more. Perhaps more remarkably, he played 719 fixtures with AC Milan where he served as captain for 15 of them. By the end of his career, he won the Scudetto a whopping six times and along with three European Cups.
Although the clinical defenseman Fabio Cannavaro never won a Serie A title, he played an important role in Italy’s five clean sheets on the way to a 2006 World Cup and subsequent Ballon d’Or. With 136 caps and 4 World Cups over 13 years with the Azzurri, Cannavaro cements his legacy in Italian football.
The original “Golden Boy,” Gianni Rivera worked the midfield for Italy in four World Cups from 1962 – 1974. Although he came up short on winning a World Cup, he won the Ballon d’Or in 1969 and snagged plenty of trophies at AC Milan including a pair of European Cups, 3 Italian league titles, 4 Italian Cups, and 2 Cup Winners’ Cups.
Luigi Riva is still the leading scoring for the Azzurri with 35 goals in 42 caps. With his strong left foot and top pace, he helped Italy win its first European Championship in 1968 although he came up short in two World Cups. Playing for Cagliari at the club level, he appeared in over 315 domestic matches, winning one Serie A title, and bagging164 goals.