Ricorrenze Azzurre

The biggest unofficial matches in Azzurri history

We look back on a series of peculiar unofficial encounters, from the Great Jubilee in 2000 to our clash with Eusebio's Benfica

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The biggest unofficial matches in Azzurri history

The Italian National Team’s history is full of triumphs, milestones and records, but there have also been plenty of peculiar episodes over the course of our fascinating history.

Alongside the hundreds of matches played by the Azzurri from 1910 to the present day, among our friendly matches, world and European competitions, and qualifying rounds, we have in fact taken part in a total a total of 38 unofficial matches. Our opponents were at times so unorthodox as to afford a considerable historical relevance to these fixtures, not recognised by FIFA.

Our last fixture not recognised by FIFA took place on May 31 2017, when an experimental Azzurri side overseen by Ventura took on San Marino in Empoli, coming out with an 8-0 victory, with Lapadula taking centre-stage and bagging a hat-trick. In matches like these, there are no points up for grabs, and no trophies or qualification for an international tournament on the line. Often, they are merely regarded as “competitive training”, or as exhibition matches, like that which took place in Rome in 2000, the year of the Great Jubilee. On the 29 October, Giovanni Trapattoni’s Italy, captained by Maldini, took on an All-Star side composed of the top-performing non-Italians in Serie A (including Batistuta, Veron, Nedved and Shevchenko), with the match ending goalless. The Stadio Olimpico was packed to the rafters that day, with one very special guest: Pope John Paul II.

The very first of this curious series of matches dates back to 14 April 1912, when the Azzurri came out with a draw against the English Wanderers, who were on tour in Italy that year: this was at a time when the British, the inventors of the beautiful game, seldom played matches against teams from beyond their Isles. Renzo De Vecchi levelled the scoring for Italy with a penalty right at the death. And what of the eventful 4-4 draw against a remarkable mixed Juventus and Torino side that we played against a combined Juventus and Torino outfit in the Piedmontese capital on the 5 January 1913. Pro Vercelli midfielder Pietro Leone, arrived late for the match, which was only his second appearance for Italy, while Attilio Valobra played a half for both sides. These are just some of the remarkable twists and turns that took place in a footballing era that seems almost surreal when we look back on it today.

In 1928, Italy faced Inter Milan in the Lombard capital, in a chaotic match that saw the Azzurri come out with a 6-3 win. Among the goalscorers were Meazza and Baloncieri, who still rank among the Azzurri’s Top 10 Goalscorers. Another memorable encounter was Italy’s clash with Eusébio’s Benfica on 14 March 1962, with Gianni Rivera, José Altafini, Giovanni Trapattoni and Cesare Maldini all featuring and the Azzurri going on to beat the star-studded Portuguese outfit 4-1 (with Benfica’s goal scored by Eusébio himself).

On 13 November 1974, after our disappointing showing at the 1974 World Cup in West Germany that year, the Azzurri faced Bayern Munich at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. The Bavarian side, fresh from three consecutive wins in the European Cup from 1974-1976, and the side was full of stars from the World Cup-winning West German side, with Sepp Maier, Gerd Müller, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, and of course, Franz Beckenbauer. The match saw Ferruccio Valcareggi’s Italy side overcome that Bayern side by a goal to nil thanks to a goal from Boninsenga at the start of the second half, with Anastasi coming within a whisker of doubling the Azzurri lead just before the final whistle, rattling the bar from the penalty spot.

Many of these matches were intended as preparation for major international tournaments or as a warm-up for qualification campaigns.

Italy’s clash against the United States in Rome on 2 April 1975 certainly deserves a mention: the Americans, who were making their first forays into the footballing world in those years, fell to a real trouncing as Italy came away with a 10-0 win. Chinaglia got on the scoresheet that day, and just over a year later would in fact move to the States to join Pelé’s New York Cosmos. Zoff and Albertosi alternated between the sticks for the game, while the only negative for Italy came in an injury to Bettega.

Before the Argentina World Cup in 1978, Italy found themselves engaged in a fixture with Deportivo Italiano in Buenos Aires, the Azzurri coming out as narrow 1-0 victors thanks to a goal from Bettaga himself, one of the key players in Italy’s subsequent tournament as they just missed out on a spot on the podium, despite being tipped to go out at a far earlier stage. In the imminent build-up to Italia ’90, the Azzurri from those “magical nights” were in action in Arezzo for a 3-0 friendly win over AS Cannes, with Vialli grabbing a brace and De Napoli netting the other. The 2014 Brazil World Cup was also preceded by an exhibition match: on 8 June, Prandelli’s Italy faced Fluminense in Volta Redonda. Italy won the goal-filled thriller, with the match finishing 5-3 thanks to an Insigne brace and an Immobile hat-trick.