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Dino Zoff - the Footballer

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Dino Zoff, the footballer

Anyone who captains a team that wins the World Cup is obviously a very special kind of footballer. But when the Italian captain Dino Zoff was presented with the famous trophy at the end of the 1982 World Cup, two things made his personal achievement all the more remarkable.

Firstly, this World Cup-winning captain was his team's goalkeeper. Secondly, he was 40 years old, and thus the oldest player ever to win a World Cup winner's medal.

The International Flying Start

Dino Zoff was born on 28 February, 1942, in Mariano del Friuli, Italy. He began his professional football career with Udinese, making his debut for them on 24 September, 1961. He played just four Serie A1 games for Udinese before moving on to Mantova, where his reputation began to grow. He played 93 games for Mantova before joining Napoli.

Dino made his debut for Italy at the age of 26, and his career as Italy's goalkeeper began triumphantly. He kept a clean sheet2 as Italy beat Bulgaria 2-0 in Naples on 20 April, 1968, in the European Championship quarter-final.

He then helped Italy to a 0-0 draw against the Soviet Union in the semi-final of the same tournament. Penalty shoot-outs had yet to be introduced in international football, and the game was decided by the toss of a coin. Italy were the lucky winners, and so Zoff's third international appearance came in the European Championship Final in Rome on 8 June, 1968.

Italy drew 1-1 with Yugoslavia in the final, but that didn't mean a toss-up for the trophy. The competition rules provided for a replay, which took place two days after the drawn final. This time, first-half goals from Pietro Anastasi and Luigi Riva saw Italy home to a 2-0 win.

Zoff made three appearances for Italy in the qualifying tournament for the 1970 World Cup, but the finals brought disappointment for Dino. By the time the Italian squad travelled to Mexico, Zoff had lost his place in the team to Enrico Albertosi. Zoff ended up watching from the substitutes' bench as Italy progressed to the final, only to lose 4-1 to Brazil.

In 1972, Zoff played for Napoli in the Coppa Italia3 final, and made the last of his 143 Serie A appearances for that club. He then joined Juventus, the world-famous Turin based club, with whom he would spend the rest of his playing career.

1,142 Minutes of Fame

Dino won back his place in the Italian national team, and he was in goal when Italy beat Yugoslavia 3-1 on 20 September, 1972, in their final warm-up match before the qualifying competition for the 1974 World Cup. What no one could possibly have foreseen at the time was that Yugoslavia's consolation goal in that match would mark the beginning of the greatest run of unbeaten goalkeeping in international football history.

On 7 October, 1972, Italy won 4-0 in Luxembourg in a World Cup qualifying match. It was the first game in an amazing run of 12 consecutive internationals during which Dino Zoff and the Italian defence conceded not a single goal. The run included a 2-0 win over the world champions Brazil, home and away wins over England (2-0 in Turin and 1-0 at Wembley) and all six of Italy's games in the qualifying tournament for the 1974 World Cup. Zoff remained unbeaten for a total playing time of 19 hours and two minutes, or 1,142 minutes - an international football record that has never been broken. Dino enjoyed his first major success at club level during the same period, when Juventus won the Italian league championship in his first season at the club.

Dino had denied some of the most famous strikers in the world during his long unbeaten run. It was therefore rather ironic that the player who finally ended the run was a relative unknown from one of the least renowned teams competing in the 1974 World Cup finals.

It was Emmanuel Sanon of Haiti who finally found a way past Zoff in Italy's first match in the 1974 finals in Germany. Sanon's goal just after half-time put Haiti ahead, and it set the tone for Italy's tournament. They fought back to beat Haiti 3-1, but that was to be their only victory in the 1974 finals. Italy went on to draw 1-1 with Argentina and lose 2-1 to Poland, coming third in their first-round group and thus being eliminated from the tournament.

Joy with Juventus

During the mid-1970s, the Italian national team suffered from something of a goal drought. Zoff was by now a virtually automatic choice as goalkeeper, and he and his defence continued to deliver the goods. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the team's strikers. During 1975, Italy played five European Championship qualifying matches without conceding a goal. Unfortunately they only scored two, managing two 1-0 wins and three goalless draws.

However, during this period Zoff was enjoying great success at club level with Juventus. The club dominated Serie A, winning the league title in 1975, 1977 and 1978. In 1977, Zoff won his only winners' medal in a European club competition, when Juventus won the UEFA Cup by beating Atletico Bilbao 3-2 on aggregate in the two-legged final.

Sorrow in South America

The 1978 World Cup in Argentina began superbly for team captain Dino and Italy. They won all three games in their first-round group, beating the hosts (and eventual winners) Argentina 1-0, France 2-1 and Hungary 3-1. But disappointment came in the second phase. Needing to beat Holland to reach the final, Italy lost 2-1. To make matters worse for Zoff, the winning goal came when Arie Haan managed to beat him with a 40-yard shot. However, the following year Dino added another winner's medal to his collection, as Juventus beat Palermo 2-1 to win the 1979 Coppa Italia.

But more disappointment was to follow in the 1980 European Championship. Italy were the host nation, and were strongly fancied to take the title. Unfortunately, a lack of firepower up front once again caused their downfall. The eight qualifiers were organised into two groups, with the winners of each group contesting the final. Zoff was unbeaten in the Italians' three group matches. But both Spain and Belgium held Italy to goalless draws. They managed to overcome England 1-0, but were edged out of the final on goal difference by Belgium.

Magic in Madrid

Italy were nothing if not consistent in the four World Cup qualifying games they played during the last three months of 1980. Luxembourg, Denmark, Yugoslavia and Greece were all beaten by the same scoreline, 2-0. But the second half of Italy's qualifying campaign was far less convincing. They lost 3-1 to Denmark, and were held to 1-1 draws by Yugoslavia and Greece. When they finally managed another win, it came in embarrassing style, with tiny Luxembourg restricting the Italians to a 1-0 scoreline in Naples.

While all that was going on, Zoff was enjoying another purple patch at domestic level, as Juventus were crowned champions of Italy in 1981 and 1982. But as Dino turned 40, the portents weren't looking too promising for what would inevitably be his last World Cup finals: the 1982 tournament in Spain.

Italy scraped through the group stage of the tournament by the narrowest of margins, drawing all three of their group games against Poland, Peru and Cameroon. They progressed to the quarter-finals on goals scored: Cameroon had also drawn all their group games, but they had managed only one goal, scored against Zoff and Italy in an edgy final group game. The Italians had managed to score twice, and that was just enough to see them through to the second round.

The format for the second round saw the 12 surviving teams divided into four groups of three teams, with the top team from each group going on to the semi-finals. Italy's group also contained Brazil and Argentina. Further progress for Zoff and his team looked unlikely.

But Italy suddenly found their best form just when it was most needed, and beat Argentina 2-1 in the first game in their second-round group. Then Brazil also beat Argentina - but, crucially, the Brazilians won 3-1. Everything rested on the final group game between Italy and Brazil - and with Brazil having the better goal difference, only a win would see Italy through.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man named Paolo Rossi. In a thrilling game, Rossi put Italy ahead three times. Twice the Brazilians levelled - but at the third time of asking, Zoff and the Italian defence held firm, and Italy won 3-2. The semi-final was almost an anti-climax, as Italy comfortably overcame Poland. They won 2-0, Rossi proving that his exploits against Brazil had been no fluke by scoring both goals.

Italy faced West Germany in the final, played in Madrid on 11 July, 1982. After a goalless first half, Italy dominated the second half. Predictably, it was Rossi who finally broke the deadlock, when he scored in the 57th minute. Marco Tardelli added another 12 minutes later, and Alessandro Altobelli made sure with Italy's third nine minutes from the end. Paul Breitner scored a consolation goal for the Germans, but it was Italy's day. King Juan Carlos made the presentation, and Dino Zoff held the World Cup aloft.

Given the impossibility of topping a World Cup win, this might have seemed like an ideal moment for Dino to hang up his boots. But following Juventus' triumph in the 1982 Italian championship, he decided to carry on for one more season in the hope of succeeding in the one competition that always eluded him: the European Cup. 4 Sadly, he narrowly failed to achieve that ambition, as Juventus were beaten 1-0 in the 1983 European Cup Final by SV Hamburg. Zoff did, however, collect one more winner's medal in his last season as a player, as Juventus overcame a 2-0 first-leg deficit to beat Verona 3-2 in the final of the Coppa Italia5.

Dino Zoff retired from playing football with 112 appearances for Italy to his credit. He had captained the team in 59 of those matches. He made 330 Serie A appearances for Juventus, and helped the club to six Italian championships, two Coppa Italia triumphs and one UEFA Cup win.

Dino Zoff - the Coach

Dino didn't stay away from football for long. After a few months' rest at the end of his long playing career, he returned to Juventus as a coach. In 1986 he coached the Italian Olympic soccer squad, and three years later he became head coach at Juventus. In 1990, he led them to two trophies. Juventus beat Fiorentina 3-1 on aggregate in an all-Italian UEFA Cup final, and won the Coppa Italia by scoring the only goal in the two-legged final against AC Milan.

Zoff then became head coach at Lazio from 1990-94. In 1994 he was appointed President of the club, but he returned to coaching to during the 1996-7 season, managing the team for 16 matches when Lazio found themselves temporarily between 'permanent' head coaches.

Then, in July 1998, Zoff was appointed head coach of the Italian national team. Under his guidance, they did far better than had been expected in the Euro 2000 tournament. They reached the final, and Marco Delvecchio's 55th minute goal put them ahead against France. Dino Zoff was within seconds of becoming the first man ever to win the European Championship both as a player and as a coach when Sylvain Wiltord scored a last-minute equaliser to send the match into 'golden goal' extra time. 6 In the 13th minute of extra time, French substitute David Trézéguet scored the winner, and Dino was denied the unique double.

Most commentators agreed that Zoff had done well to take Italy so close to success. But AC Milan president and politician Silvio Berlusconi7 publicly criticised Zoff's tactics in the final. Stung by the criticism, Dino resigned as Italy's coach.

In September 2000, Zoff returned to Lazio as vice-president. Then, in January 2001, Lazio's coach Sven-Göran Eriksson left the club to take over as England manager, and Dino once again became a club manager, signing an 18-month contract.

Lazio's form had been erratic at the times of Eriksson's departure. But under Zoff's guidance, they steadily climbed up the Serie A table, and eventually finished third. They thus qualified for the Champions' League, and gave Zoff the opportunity for another adventure in European club football in the 2001-02 season. However, he resigned as Lazio coach in September 2001 when the club made a poor start to their campaign in the Champions' League.

In October 2001, at the age of 59, Dino Zoff expressed a keen ambition to return to football management. It remains to be seen if he'll get another chance to shine in that line of work. But even if he never again plays a prominent role in the game, Dino Zoff's achievements will remain unique and astonishing.

Dino Zoff's Honours

As a Player

World Cup winner (1982)

European Championship winner (1968)

UEFA Cup winner (1977)

6 Italian League championships (1973, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1982)

2 Coppa Italias (1979, 1983)

As a Coach

UEFA Cup winner (1990)

Coppa Italia winner (1990)

Further Reading

The 'Classic Players' section of the official FIFA World Cup 2002 website contains an overview of Dino Zoff's career, and an interview with Dino.

1The top division of Italy's national football league.2A goalkeeper is said to have 'kept a clean sheet' if he gets through a match without conceding a goal.3 The Italian equivalent of the FA Cup.4 The forerunner of the Champions' League - a knock-out competition in which only bona fide national champions took part. 5Coppa Italia finals began to be played on a two-legged basis in 1981.6 In 'golden goal' extra time, the first team to score wins the match.7Berlusconi was then the leader of the opposition in the Italian parliament. He became Italy's Prime Minister in June 2001.

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