World Cup One-Hit Wonders: Grosso, the Man of the Last Minute

“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 the 2006 World Cup 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 the 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. That turned out to be the exact moment when Italy won the World Cup.

For the final Group Stage match with Czech Republic, Lippi indeed decided to lineup Fabio Grosso instead on Zaccardo at left bank. He would not regret it. The Italian defender had just moved to Inter, after a few lackluster seasons with Palermo. From the Round of 16 on, Grosso turned into an unexpected sensation for Italy, just like Paolo Rossi had done in 1982.

In the last minute of a goalless Australia vs 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 from Andrea Pirlo, and bended the ball with a stellar trajectory 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 Frosinone, who are battling for a promotion back to the top-flight. Will the Man of the Last Minute have more surprises for us in the future?

We don’t know, but we Italians will always love him, no matter what.


Check out the other World Cup Meteors in our countdown:
10) Ahn Jung-Hwan, the Korean Killer of Italy

9) Stephan Guivarc’h, the Goalless World Champion
8) The Asamoah Gyan 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 the Notti Magiche