At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

José João Altafini - footballer who made history

Forward tamed Eusebio to give Italy first European Cup


Photo of Jose Jaoa Altafini
José João Altafini
Supporters of AC Milan took to the streets to celebrate on this day in 1963 after José João Altafini's goals secured an historic victory in the European Cup.

Milan beat Benfica at Wembley Stadium in London to become the first Italian team to win the trophy.

Until then the European Cup had been dominated by Real Madrid, who were champions for five years in a row after the competition was launched in 1955-56, with the great Eusebio's Benfica winning in 1961 and 1962.

At half-time at Wembley in 1963, Milan looked set to provide another near-miss story for Italy, trailing to a Eusebio goal as Benfica closed on a third successive title.

The Rossoneri had lost to Real Madrid five years earlier, 12 months after the Spanish giants brushed aside Fiorentina in the final.

But 24-year-old Altafini, who became one of Serie A’s most prolific all-time goalscorers, refused to be cowed.

He netted in the 58th and 66th minutes, sparking joyous scenes in Milan and starting a period of European dominance for the city, with AC’s rivals Internazionale winning the next two tournaments.

The Milan team that night in London boasted two future Italy managers in Cesare Maldini and Giovanni Trapattoni, as well as the great Gianni Rivera, but Altafini was the star.

His goals had propelled Milan past England’s Ipswich Town and Scotland’s Dundee in earlier rounds and his competition tally of 14 was a record that stood for 51 years until, perhaps fittingly, it was smashed by old foes Real Madrid and their superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

His five goals against l’Union Luxembourg earlier in the tournament represent a European Cup match record equalled by a mere handful of stars, among them Barcelona's Lionel Messi.

Photo of Jose Joao Altafini
Jose Joao Altafini in his present role as
TV football pundit
Altafini, now 77, is a Brazilian-Italian whose family hailed from Trentino Alto-Adige. European Cup glory earned Milan an Intercontinental Cup clash with Pele’s legendary Santos team, in which Altafini scored again. He was later nominated for two Ballon D'Or awards.

Nowadays, he is Italy’s answer to Sky TV’s Chris Kamara. Just as the British pundit is known for his catchphrase ‘Unbelievable, Jeff’ when describing a dramatic piece of action on the Soccer Saturday show, Altafini typically reacts with “incredible, amici” or “incredible, friends”.

It was Altafini who coined the “Golazzo” goal reaction which was used on Football Italia on Channel 4 in the UK during the 1990s.

Altafini, brought up in a large Italian community in Sao Paulo, is notable for having played for two different nations at the World Cup.

He gained Italian citizenship as a teenager but launched his career at Sao Paulo side Palmeiras. He made his debut for Brazil aged 18 and scored alongside a young Pele as Brazil beat Argentina in winning the Copa Roca in 1957.

Altafini then starred for the South Americans in the following year’s World Cup, but was left out of the team in the final. Four years on, he was barred from playing for Brazil as they refused to pick players based outside the country.

Instead, Altafini played for his adopted home, and that of his antecedents, Italy. He scored five goals in six games for the Azzurri, but was not picked again after the 1962 World Cup in Chile.

During a glittering club career that spanned 24 years and also took in Napoli and Juventus after he left the San Siro, Altafini scored 334 league goals in 653 appearances.

Altafini was revered in Naples, where he scored 97 goals in little more than 200 matches in all competitions, but it is in Milan where Italy’s adopted son had his best days.

He won two Scudetti for the Rossoneri in addition to the European Cup triumph at Wembley.  A.C Milan have gone on to be Italy’s most successful side in Europe, winning the elite competition six more times.

Their tally of seven is yet another record bettered only by Altafini’s old enemy Real Madrid, who have won 10.

Travel tip:

San Siro is easily reached by the new purple M5 metro line. The nearest stations are San Siro Ippodromo and San Siro Stadio, both a short walk from the stadium. From the city centre, take Linea M1 and change at Lotto or Linea M2 and change at Garibaldi.  It takes a little under 20 minutes to get from Piazza Duomo to the stadium.  Travelling to the stadium by tram is still a popular option.  Route number 16 passes close to Piazza Duomo and terminates at the stadium. The journey takes about half an hour.

Photo of Lago di Caldonazzo
Lago di Caldonazzo
Travel tip:

Jose Joao Altafini's mother was born in the town of Caldonazzo in Trentino-Alto Adige, about 20 kilometres from Trento and close to Lago di Caldonazzo, which is the largest lake in the region. A popular centre for watersports such as windsurfing, sailing, diving, swimming and rowing, and also popular with fishermen, the lake is the source of the Brenta river.

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