World Cup One-Hit Wonders: Schillaci, Crownless King of Italia 90

During the Notti Magiche (“Magic Nights”) of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Salvatore Schillaci seemed capable of doing anything. Literally anything. But he was not even meant to be there. At least, not until, as the World Cup at home approached, Italian coach Azeglio Vicini from Cesenatico realized that there were no players from Juventus in his squad list.

The Bianconeri were indeed not going through their best days. Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan, Diego Maradona’s Napoli, Inter coached by Giovanni Trapattoni, and Sampdoria with their golden twins Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini, were the major contributors to the Azzurri’s lineup.

But there was this Sicilian striker playing for Juventus, who had scored 15 goals in 30 matches in the season that had just ended. Vicini knew that in such a short and fast-paced event as the World Cup, a player in a good shape could make a difference. His regular strikers were Gianluca Vialli, Andrea Carnevale, and Aldo Serena. Roberto Baggio and Roberto Mancini were the creative ones. But at the very last minute, Vicini still decided to add that Schillaci.

The Azzurri debuted in their home-hosted World Cup playing against a tough Austria side. With 15 minutes to go, and the score still set to 0-0, Vicini sent him in. All the Austrian defenders were more than 190cm tall, but Schillaci managed to score with a header, converting a perfect cross from Vialli. From that moment on, World Cup Italia ’90 became Salvatore Schillaci’s World Cup.

Totò scored again with Czechoslovakia during the Group Stage, then against Uruguay in the Round of 16, and then again with Ireland in the Quarter Finals. The Azzurri’s Number 19 seemed unstoppable. Argentina were his next victim, but Maradona and his teammates eventually managed to equalize, and advance on penalties.

Schillaci’s last goal came against England in a Third Place Playoff, and earned him the top scorer title. He didn’t win the World Cup, but the Notti Magiche changed his life. Totò became a role model for thousands of children from the South of Italy who dreamed of making it to the Nazionale.

He played a few more seasons with Juventus, then with Inter, and eventually moved to Japan, where he closed his career. But those wide open eyes of his, as he run to celebrate a goal, where not seen around for much longer. He ended up collecting only 16 caps with Italy, and scoring 7 goals – 6 of which came during that World Cup.

When Italian football fans rethink about those days, they cannot but remember Italia ’90 and Schillaci’s exploit as a fairy tale that only missed a happy ending. But maybe winning the World Cup would have been too much for him, who was not even meant to play it. Or maybe not. Who knows?

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

9) Stephan Guivarc’h, the Goalless World Champion
8) The 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
2) Fabio Grosso, the Man of the Last Minute