On This Day: February 12, 1997 – Zola and the Azzurri Conquest of Wembley

On February 12, 1997, the Azzurri caught one of their most thrilling wins ever thanks to “Magic Box” Gianfranco Zola, who had joined Chelsea only a few month earlier after being sidelined by Parma and having to leave the Serie A looking for some playing time.

Italy, who were then coached by Cesare Maldini, beat England at their football temple in Wembley with a lone goal from the pocket sized Sardinian during a 1998 World Cup Qualifiers game.

It was a symbolic win for a number of reasons, including the fact that it marked the day of Fabio Cannavaro’s debut from the start for Italy. Moreover, it was Italy’s first prestigious success after two disappointing years that culminated with a Group Stage elimination at Euro 1996, due to Zola himself missing a key penalty conversion against Germany.

But the game is also remembered for sparking a national psychodrama as state TV RAI shockingly lost the rights to broadcast the match to private network TMC, which was not visible across the whole country. In an age when a game of the Nazionale was still an unmissable event, hordes of Italian supporters scrambled to find a restaurant, a pub, a bar, or simply a friend whose TV could catch the TMC signal.

After 20 minutes of play, they were repaid by Zola’s magic, which re-established some confidence in the Azzurri and put them in the right direction on the way to the World Cup.

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