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FIFA World Cup countdown: Top 10 Italian footballers of all time

As part of the countdown to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of Italian football.

What the Italian national team doesn't know about the World Cup simply isn't worth knowing.

Only five-time winners Brazil can better the Azzurri's four triumphs, while they have also lifted the European Championships trophy once.

They qualified for this year's instalment with relative ease and will be expected to reach the latter stages, despite having a potentially tricky group that includes England and Uruguay.

Here, to continue our countdown to the 2014 tournament, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of Italy.

10. Fabio Cannavaro (1997-2010, 136 caps, two goals)

Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro lifts the World Cup on July 09, 2006.© Getty Images

Along with Franz Beckenbauer and Matthias Sammer, Cannavaro remains one of only three defenders to have been named FIFA's Player of the Year - that is the sort of company that the Italian centre-back keeps.

The 40-year-old won the coveted award in 2006, the year in which he guided Italy to the World Cup final in Germany. Playing in every minute of every encounter, Cannavaro's performances earned him the nickname 'The Wall of Berlin'. The champions conceded just two goals throughout the tournament, while Cannavaro was included within the Team of the Tournament, although he was pipped to the Golden Ball by Zinedine Zidane.

His displays that summer earned him a move to Real Madrid from Juventus and he went on to win two La Liga titles and the Supercopa de Espana over the course of his three seasons in the Spanish capital.

9. Paolo Rossi (1977-1986, 48 caps, 20 goals)

Italy's Paolo Rossi in action against Germany on July 07, 1982.© Getty Images

Having been suspended for his alleged role in a betting scandal, Rossi returned to action just in time for the 1982 World Cup. However, his inclusion caused controversy, with many journalists at the time writing negatively about the condition that he was in.

The doubters looked to be correct after he struggled throughout the group phase, but the centre-forward suddenly sprung into life by scoring a hat-trick to dispose of pre-tournament favourites Brazil. A brace followed in the semi-finals against Poland, before he added his sixth of the competition during the 3-1 victory in the final over West Germany. For good measure, Rossi won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards.

He won two Serie A titles with Juventus, as well as the Cup Winners' Cup in 1984. In the semi-final against Manchester United, the striker found the net in both legs, including a last-minute winner in Turin.

8. Giacinto Facchetti (1963-1977, 94 caps, three goals)

Many remember the late Facchetti as the man that brought full-backs out of their shells. He was an attack-minded pioneer, who had no hesitation in bombing forward to join in with attacks. Before he made his breakthrough, defenders were often instructed not to cross the halfway line, but Facchetti changed the rules.

The speedy left-back was a four-time Serie A winner with Inter Milan, who he also helped to lift the European Cup in 1964 and 1965. The Nerazzurri have since retired the number three shirt in his honour.

As far as Italy are concerned, he captained them to success in the 1968 European Championships, while they also reached the final of the 1970 World Cup under his stewardship.

7. Gianluigi Buffon (1997-present, 139 caps, no goals)

Juventus's Gianluigi Buffon keeps goal for Italy on September 06, 2011.© Getty Images

Ordinarily, a manager will pick his captain to be a defender or midfielder - someone that can see the game unfolding in front of them, but also possess the ability to make a direct impact on proceedings. However, such are the leadership qualities of Buffon between the posts, he is the skipper of both Juventus and Italy.

In 2001, Juve parted with a still world record fee of £32.6m for a goalkeeper to take the 36-year-old to Turin from Parma, whom he had helped to win the UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia two years earlier. He has gone on to win a stack of trophies and is regarded to be a hero among the Old Lady's faithful, largely because he remained with the club after their demotion to Serie B.

Having made his Italy debut in 1997, Buffon has gone on to make more appearances for the Azzurri than any other player. At the 2006 World Cup, he kept five clean sheets as Italy were crowned world champions for a fourth time.

6. Luigi Riva (1965-1974, 42 caps, 35 goals)

Italy's Luigi Riva jumps to win a header against Haiti on June 15, 1974.© Getty Images

When you consider the quality of strikers that Italy have produced down the years, it's some achievement for Riva that none has scored more at international level than him.

The 69-year-old was one of the stars as Italy won the European Championships on their first outing at the tournament in 1968, scoring in the final against Yugoslavia.

Despite being blighted by a succession of serious injuries, he was still able to help Cagliari to the Serie A title in 1970. It remains the Italian club's only league triumph and because of his service, they recently retired the number 11 shirt that Riva wore with such distinction.

5. Franco Baresi (1982-1994, 82 caps, two goals)

Franco Baresi in action for Italy in the World Cup on June 08, 1990.© Getty Images

As a player, there isn't much that Baresi didn't win. The one-club man lifted the Serie A title with AC Milan on six separate occasions, as well as the European Cup three times. He was a part of the Milan side that dismantled Johan Cruyff's Barcelona in 1994.

Baresi is held in the highest regard at the San Siro, so much so that his number six shirt has been retired. What's more, in 1999, he was voted as the club's Player of the Century.

He was selected for the triumphant 1982 Italian World Cup squad, although he did not feature at the tournament, while he was a key figure in helping his country to finish third on home soil in 1990. There was disaster four years later, though, as he missed during the final shootout against Brazil.

4. Dino Zoff (1968-1983, 112 caps, no goals)

Goalkeeper Dino Zoff in action for Italy on July 01, 1982.© Getty Images

Some 24 years before Buffon kept goal as Italy won the World Cup, Zoff was doing the same thing. At Spain '82, the 72-year-old stood between the posts at the age of 40 as Italy, thanks largely to goals of Rossi, won the trophy. He remains the oldest player to have ever won the competition.

Zoff also holds the record of longest time at international tournaments (1,142 minutes) without conceding a goal between 1972 and 1974.

The similarities with Buffon continues into his club career, having turned out for Juventus with such distinction. During his time in Turin, he won six Serie A titles and would later coach them to success in the Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup.

3. Roberto Baggio (1988-2004, 56 caps, 27 goals)

Italy striker Roberto Baggio rounds the goalkeeper on his way to scoring against Spain on July 09, 1994.© Getty Images

Baggio will forever be remembered for his skied penalty during the World Cup final shootout in 1994, but that does his ability and contribution to the game a real disservice.

Tied with Alessandro Del Piero, Baggio is Italy's fourth-leading goalscorer of all time, five of which came during that tournament in the USA. The centre-forward also scored the Goal of the Tournament against Czechoslovakia four years earlier, which has since been voted by FIFA as the World Cup's seventh-best ever goal.

At club level, the 1993 Ballon d'Or winner was transferred from Fiorentina to Juventus in 1990 for a record fee. He would spend five years in Turin, winning the Serie A title and UEFA Cup in the process. His move to AC Milan then saw him clinch another Italian title in 1996.

2. Paolo Maldini (1988-2002, 126 caps, seven goals)

Defender Paolo Maldini in action for Italy against England on February 28, 2001.© Getty Images

Is there a better defender that has retired without winning a major international trophy than Maldini? Surely not. He spent over half of his 16 years with the Azzurri as captain, but he was unable to guide them to success.

Trophies were much easier to come by for Maldini at club level, though. He spent his entire playing career with AC Milan, where he built up an honours list as long as his arm! Seven Serie A titles, five European Cups, one Coppa Italia, one World Club Cup and five Super Cups - many of which he lifted as skipper.

Individually, no player has represented Milan on more occasions (902), while he was also named in the World Cup Team of the Tournaments in 1990 and 1994. He also finished runner-up to George Weah in the running for the 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year award.

1. Giuseppe Meazza (1930-1939, 53 caps, 33 goals)

Meazza started his international career in 1930 as he meant to go on by scoring a brace on his debut against Switzerland. The centre-forward scored twice as Italy won the World Cup in 1934, before he then captained the defending champions to success four years later. His contribution on that occasion included scoring the winning goal against Brazil in the semi-final.

Rumour has it that as a youngster, Meazza was rejected by AC Milan for being too slight, but their loss was Inter Milan's gain. He was prolific for the Blue and Blacks, firing them to three Serie A titles and one Coppa Italia. He would later sign for AC and the respect that the city has for him resulted in the San Siro being officially named the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

The late Meazza remains Italy's second leading goalscorer of all time, two short of Riva's tally.

Italy will face England, Uruguay and Costa Rica in the group stages of this summer's World Cup, and you can follow every match live with Sports Mole.

Continuing our 50-day countdown to the tournament, we will be looking at the greatest players in the Ivory Coast's history tomorrow. You can also see all of the World Cup top 10 lists so far by clicking here.


Who is the greatest Italian footballer of all time?

Giuseppe Meazza
Paolo Maldini
Roberto Baggio
Dino Zoff
Franco Baresi
Luigi Riva
Gianluigi Buffon
Giacinto Facchetti
Paolo Rossi
Fabio Cannavaro
Giuseppe Meazza
Paolo Maldini
Roberto Baggio
Dino Zoff
Franco Baresi
Luigi Riva
Gianluigi Buffon
Giacinto Facchetti
Paolo Rossi
Fabio Cannavaro
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