The Italian national football team has a long and storied history. They have been in existence since the early 1900s; the first official match was against the French national team in 1910, a 6-2 victory for the Italians It was the first of many successes for one of the defining sports teams of Europe. The Italian football team has since won four World Cup championships, second most in the world behind Brazil. These tournament victories came in 1934, 1938,1982, and most recently 2006.
The traditional color of the national team is light blue, or “azzurro” in Italian. This is the longstanding color of united Italy and the royal dynasty. Over the years, the team became affectionately known as the Azzurri. The 1930s were a golden age for Italy, as the football team won two World Cups and a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics. In 1949, the Italian football team saw one of the most tragic disasters in sports history, as 10 of the 11 national players were killed in the Superga plane crash. After this disheartening blow, the Azzurri struggled in international play for quite awhile. Despite being the favorites in the 1966 World Cup, the Italians were knocked out of the tournament by the semi-professional North Korean team. This is viewed as one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history.
In 1968, the Italian football team won the European Championship, their greatest accomplishment since the 1938 World Cup. Entering the 1970 World Cup, the Azzurri were once again seen as serious contenders. The semifinals featured a 4-3 victory over traditional rival West Germany in what is known as the “Game of the Century”. This was followed by a loss in the final match to the Brazilians. It wasn’t until the 1982 World Cup that Italy once again returned to prominence, led by a group of gritty veterans. Finally, Italy regained the championship. The Azzurri remained a prominent force in international football throughout the following decades, culminating in a dominating performance at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and their fourth such trophy. In the 2010 World Cup, Italy shocked the world by getting knocked out in the first round by Slovakia.
After the disappointing 2010 performance, new coach Cesare Prandelli took over. The Italians began the qualifying campaign for the 2012 European Championship with a 0-1 loss, but have since won a number of key matches. Some of the top players include goal keeper Gianluigi Buffon and outstanding forward Alberto Gilardino, who leads the team with 17 goals. The Azzurri are expected to be a top challenger once again in 2012.