He was a World Cup winner at Espana '82 and runner-up at USA '94. Daniele Massaro won't be playing in Brazil this summer but he tells Gary Koh that adverse weather conditions and long travel distances will make it difficult for the Azzurri.
Pasadena, California, 17 July 1994. Daniele Massaro was part of the Italy starting line-up that took on eventual champions Brazil in the hottest FIFA World Cup final played in history.
For the then 33-year-old A.C. Milan forward, the most striking memory was not how his strike partner Roberto Baggio squandered the last penalty in the shootout – he had missed Italy’s fourth – to hand the Selecao their fourth World Cup that day, but the intensity of the heat and humidity at the Rose Bowl.
“I remember that final,” quips the 15-cap former Italy striker, who is in town for the official launch of the Milan Soccer School Singapore. “It was roughly around 40 degrees and a hundred percent humid.
“It was almost impossible to play football under such conditions. I ran for 25 metres in one moment and spent the next 20 minutes recovering from that run!
“When I watch the replay of the final on television, I need lemonade and a lot of ice on my back!”
The weather was among the physical challenges Massaro and his international colleagues experienced in a ground-breaking USA '94 where matches kicked off in the hot afternoon.
“The problem for pushing the tournament to kick off at these times was players had to perform under such conditions even when they were not fit, for the media, sponsors and big corporations,” the now club public relations manager recounts animatedly.
“For our earlier games, it was still alright for us. But in the final, there was no gasoline left in our tanks after a while and Baggio had to play despite having only one percent condition.”
Two decades on, it will be the turn of Cesare Prandelli’s Gli Azzurri to take on similarly challenging terrain and weather conditions in Brazil.
While Arrigo Sacchi’s Italy had the good fortune of playing many of their matches at venues in close proximity to one another in the eastern part of the States, they had to make the long trek to the west for the one that mattered.
Not even rigorous physical conditioning and mental preparation could totally prepare the team for what was to come at Pasadena.
“Under Sacchi, we had a system and worked intensity to stimulate the conditions we would be facing in America,” Massaro recalled.
“However, when we arrived, we thought we were all ready. Mentally we were prepared for the tournament, but our legs didn’t simply catch up with our thoughts until later due to the travel distance and fatigue.”
With all three group matches this summer (in Manaus, Recife and Natal) played far away from Italy's base at Mangaratiba in the Rio de Janeiro province, we asked Massaro if the class of 2014 would be able to adapt physically to the rigours of long periods of travel before and after games.
"We should probably wait for Qatar 2022 in winter!" Massaro joked. "Their weather is much more similar to Singapore's!"
On a more serious note, the 52-year-old would not be drawn on whether Italy could win it all this July.
“Under Prandelli, Italy do not really play the real Italian system, or more so the real Saachi tactical technique that I learnt,” observed the former World Cup and European Champions League winner.
“It is really dependent on his choice of players and whether they, particularly the brilliant ones, are in perfect condition. Giuseppe Rossi has just recovered from injury while Stephan El Shaarawy has not played much.
“For 40 days together as a team, you have a chance of entering history or otherwise. While Uruguay and England will not be easy group opponents, they are still a good possibility for a quarter or semi-final appearance if they approach match-by-match with confidence.”
Massaro was more bullish of another country that could potentially make an impact in Brazil as the dark horses of the tournament though.
“Let me tell you this, look out for Japan. They will surprise everyone in this World Cup in Brazil,” he declared, going on to predict that current Milan player Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and the rest of the Blue Samurais would prosper at the World Cup.
“They have learnt well and evolved (from his brief stint in the country in the mid-1990s) and now have excellent players in the leading European clubs.
“With (former Milan head coach Alberto) Zaccheroni in charge, these national players possess excellent technical and tactical discipline and are capable of achieving great results in the tournament.”