20 March 2016

Azeglio Vicini - 1990 World Cup coach

Semi-final heartbreak ended dream of victory on home soil

Azeglio Vicini was Italy's coach at the 1990 World Cup finals
Azeglio Vicini
Azeglio Vicini, the coach who led Italy to the semi-finals when the nation hosted the 1990 World Cup finals, celebrates his 83rd birthday today.

Born in the city of Cesena in Emilia-Romagna, on this day in 1934, Vicini worked for the Italian Football Federation for an unbroken 23 years in various roles, having joined their technical staff in 1968 after less than one season as a coach at club level.

He was head coach of the Italy Under-23 and Italy Under-21 teams before being succeeding World Cup winner Enzo Bearzot as coach of the senior Italy side in 1986.

Vicini's brief with the senior team was an onerous one.  When Italy won the right to host the 1990 World Cup finals there was an expectation among Italian football's hierarchy that a nation with such a proud history should be capable of winning the tournament on home soil.

Responsibility for producing a team good enough rested squarely on Vicini's shoulders but he was well prepared, having guided his under-21 team to the later stages of the European Championships consistently and brought through the likes of Roberto Mancini, Giuseppe Giannini, Roberto Donadoni, Walter Zenga and Gianluca Vialli, all of whom played in the 1986 European Under-21 Championships final.

Vicini is credited with helping Bearzot devise the defensive strategy behind Italy's triumph at the 1982 World Cup in Spain and his plans for the 1990 finals were built around one of the best defences in the history of the tournament, comprising the AC Milan players Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, and the Internazionale duo Giuseppe Bergomi and Riccardo Ferri.

He brought through some fine creative talent, too. Roberto Baggio, the brilliant playmaker from Fiorentina, scored one of the goals of the tournament against Czechoslovakia in the group stages, while Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci, an inspired choice with only one international appearance before the finals, famously scored within two minutes of being sent on as a substitute in Italy's opening group match against Austria and went on to win the Golden Boot as the tournament's leading goalscorer.

Roberto Baggio starred at Italia '90
Roberto Baggio, one of Italy's
stars at Italia '90
Yet Italy ultimately failed, going out at the semi-final stage to Argentina after a penalty shoot-out at the Sao Paolo Stadium in Naples.

Italy had reached the last four without conceding a goal and when Schillaci gave them the lead after only 17 minutes in the semi-final it seemed their destiny was to reach the final at least.

But, in classic Italian style, the team's instinct was to defend their lead rather than go all out for a second goal and ultimately Argentina found a way back. When Claudio Caniggia levelled the scores midway through the second half, it mattered little that Italy's 517 minutes without conceding a goal was a record for the finals.

The match went into extra time, during which Argentina's Ricardo Giusti was sent off, but neither side could score again and when it came down to the pressure of taking penalties to determine the winner, the South Americans kept their nerve.

After Baresi, Baggio and Luigi de Agostini had scored, Roberto Donadoni and Aldo Serena both saw their kicks saved.  In between, Diego Maradona - then playing his club football in the same stadium for Napoli - scored what would be the winning penalty.

Vicini's team finished third, beating England in the play-off match after England had similarly been eliminated in the semi-finals on penalties, and Vicini initially remained in the job. He was sacked after failing to qualify for the 1992 European Championship finals, giving way to Arrigo Sacchi.

Subsequently, he spent two seasons in Serie A as manager of Cesena and then Udinese before returning to the Italian Federation as head of the technical sector until his retirement in 2010.

Piazza del Popolo in the centre of Cesena
Photo: Lorenzo Gaudenzi (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Cesena, where Azeglio Vicini was born, is an historic city in Emilia-Romagna, south of Ravenna and north west of Rimini. It is famous as the site of the ‘Cesena bloodbath’ in 1377 when Pope Gregory’s legate ordered the murder of thousands of citizens for revolting against the papal troops. The city recovered and prospered under the rule of the Malatesta family in the 14th and 15th centuries, who rebuilt the castle, Rocca Malatestiana, and founded a beautiful library, Biblioteca Malatestiana, which has been preserved in its 15th century condition and still holds valuable manuscripts.

Cesena hotels by Booking.com

The Stadio San Paolo in Naples hosted the 1990
World Cup semi-final between Italy and Argentina 
Photo: Gaetano Capaldo (CC BY 4.0)
Travel tip:

Stadio San Paolo in Naples has become famous for hosting the 1990 World Cup semi-final between Italy and Argentina. Situated in Piazzale Vincenzo Tecchio in the suburb of Fuorigrotta, it is the home of the Serie A club Napoli and is the third largest football stadium in Italy. The stadium takes its name from St Paul, who is said to have landed on Italian soil in the area of Fuorigrotta.

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