When Italy were preparing for their 2006 World Cup campaign in Germany, all of the attention was on what Francesco Totti, Andrea Pirlo and Fabio Cannavaro could do to help recover Italian football's reputation following the Calciopoli scandal. Quite simply, no one was expecting a low-profile left-back from Palermo to be their most important player.
However, that's what happened. Prior to the 2006 World Cup, Palermo's Fabio Grosso finished fifth in Serie A and was a relatively unknown quantity outside of Italy - come the end of the tournament, Grosso had netted one of the 2006 World Cup's most iconic goals and scored the decisive penalty in the final shootout to ensure his name goes down in Italian history.
Speaking exclusively to FourFourTwo in the latest issue available to order, Grosso recounts his lasting memories of the tournament, as he played alongside revered defenders such as Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Gianluca Zambrotta.
"For me, the big moments began in the last 16, when I won the late penalty that sealed a 1-0 win against Australia," Gross explains. "I thought it would be impossible to repeat a moment like that, but then came the semi-final against Germany.
"That was described as the game for us: we were in Dortmund, in their home country, and we felt responsible for all of the Italians living in Germany, who gave us so much love. A minute from the end of extra time, the game was still 0-0 when the ball came my way thanks to a brilliant pass by Andrea Pirlo.
"When you play with amazing players like him, you realise they can do things that others can’t. He wasn’t looking at me, but I hoped he’d spotted me. He could do that – he’d see you without looking at you. Thank God he did. When I scored, I just ran."
Of course, Grosso's celebrations earned him comparisons to those of Marco Tardelli's in the 1982 World Cup final, where he simply runs aimlessly, screaming all the while. However, the left-back claims that didn't enter his mind, especially considering the magnitude of the goal and the time of the match.
"It was the 119th minute and I experienced so many emotions," Grosso admits. "All of the years spent preparing for that moment passed in front of my eyes – the goal opened a window into my past.
"When I see it back now, I still feel the same overwhelming sensations – it’s difficult to put them into words. It was just fantastic to win that game – it was incredible to help our nation achieve such a sporting feat, reaching the World Cup final."
Scoring that goal ensured Italy set up a World Cup final game against France in Berlin. With the game tied at 1-1 after 120 minutes of football, a penalty shootout awaited.
"I was down to take Italy’s fifth," Grosso said. "Those are crazy moments in which you think you can do anything. We were facing a France team with several players who’d won the World Cup in 1998, when many of us were playing in the Italian lower leagues.
"In that moment, though, the difference wasn’t there any more. I was happy to take that fifth penalty, but I wasn’t expecting Lippi to ask me. He told me afterwards that because I’d been decisive against Australia and Germany, he felt I could be decisive against France too.
"Luckily, I converted the winning penalty and everything went his way."
Now, Grosso is managing in Serie B with Frosinone, a town southeast of Rome. Despite WhatsApp not being invented when Italy won the World Cup in 2006, the Italian winning squad have a group on the messaging platform to continue their memories from that night in Berlin.
And, with multiple members of the 2006 Italian World Cup winning squad currently in the same division as Grosso, the 44-year-old enjoys bumping into his former teammates across the country.
"Serie B is a difficult division. It’s also a league that contains several of my Azzurri team-mates – this campaign, Serie B began with Pippo Inzaghi coaching Reggina and Gianluigi Buffon playing for Parma.
"Later on, Fabio Cannavaro became boss of Benevento and Daniele De Rossi was appointed at SPAL. We all enjoy catching up, and the 2006 squad still have a WhatsApp group. Our relationship is excellent – we shared the biggest emotions.
"Even if we don’t talk to each other for a while, when we do it feels like time hasn’t gone by. We’re bound by something so big – it’s like an invisible thread. In 2006, we went through unforgettable experiences together. Those memories will never fade away."
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