In Italy, we call “meteora” (meteor) a football player who lives a short period of glory before fading away, back into anonymity. The World Cup is full of such stories, of players who in some way managed to find their edge right during those 30 days, once in four years, when the whole world revolves around a foot ball. They shone on the most important stage, and then quickly turned back into regular journeymen, or even worse disappeared from the calcio che conta (“football that matters”). Like a broken spell. Like a dream from which they suddenly woke up.
Antonio Guarini takes us through a journey among the Top 10 “one-hit-wonders” in the recent history of the World Cup. Some of them helped Italy climb to the top of the world, some others recall painful memories for the Azzurri. But all share the same fascinating meteora status, all found the magic formula to sparkle and shine just when it mattered most.
They may not have been Ballon d’Or winning champions, but we are sure that these names will ring a bell or two to all football lovers.
2) Fabio Grosso, the Last Minute Man
“You will take the last penalty, because you have always been decisive so far.” This is what coach Marcello Lippi told Fabio Grosso before the penalty shootouts that determined the outcome of World Cup 2006 Final between Italy and France. Lippi’s choice to bet on a player who was not even part of his original starting lineup proved to be a winning one.
The Azzurri had had a good start in Germany, beating Ghana 2-0 in their opening match. But in the second game against the U.S.A. trained by paisà Bruce Arena, the unexpected happened. First, Daniele De Rossi was sent off. Then, Christian Zaccardo put the ball into his own net, realizing an absurd and incredible own goal. One could say that that was exactly the moment in which Italy won the World Cup.
For the final Group Stage match with Czech Republic, Lippi indeed decided to lineup Fabio Grosso instead on Zaccardo on the left flank. He would not regret about that. The Italian left back had just moved to Inter, after few average seasons with Palermo. From the Round of 16 on, Grosso will suddenly turn into an unexpected sensation for Italy – just like Paolo Rossi did in 1982.
In the last minute of a goalless Australia-Italy game, he somehow led the referee to see a foul on him in the box: Francesco Totti converted the subsequent penalty, and pushed the Azzurri to the Quarter Finals. In the last extra time minute of a legendary Semi Final against host team Germany, he received a spectacular assist by Andrea Pirlo, and bended the ball with a trajectory better than the one of the Halley Comet to put it past Jens Lehmann.
In the Final, Lippi gave Fabio Grosso the task of shooting the last penalty, the one that made all Italians cry and hug each other tight, very tight. From average defender to World Cup hero, all in the space of a few days.
Grosso eventually played for Inter, then for Olympique Lyon, and then again for Juventus. But after his German exploits, it was difficult to ask him for more. Literally impossible. Nowadays, he is coaching Serie B club Bari – which narrowly missed a promotion to the top tier. In a few days, it will be the 12th anniversary of that incredible World Cup. Will the Last Minute Man have more surprises for us in the future?
We don’t know, but we will always love him, no matter what.
Translated by Matteo Carnevale
Check out the other World Cup Meteors in our countdown:
10) Ahn Jung-Hwan, Italy’s Korean Killer
9) Stephan Guivarc’h, the Goalless World Champion
8) Asamoah Gyan’s Penalty Nightmare
7) Yordan Letchkov, the Bulgarian Who Made Germany Cry
6) Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the Mexican Juggler of France 1998
5) Oleg Salenko, a Day of Football Insanity
4) Mario Gotze, Hero for One Night Only
3) Sergio Goycochea, the Killer of Notti Magiche