Larnaca in Cyprus was the starting point for Italy's journey towards the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, a journey pitted with obstacles in the shape of Republic of Ireland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia and Montenegro. And their status as the team the beat in Group 8 has been underlined by the FIFA World Champions Badge, a symbol recently launched by the sport's governing body to honour the reigning world champions, adorning the famous Azzurra jersey.
Fabio Grosso, a starter for coach Marcello Lippi's side in their opening South Africa 2010 qualifier on Saturday, was indisputably a key figure in the Nazionale squad that lifted the coveted trophy at Germany 2006. The marauding left-back took time out to speak exclusively to FIFA.com about that magical adventure of two years ago, his immediate future, and life at French champions Lyon.
FIFA.com: Fabio, when you look back on the two years prior to Germany 2006, what do you remember most clearly?
Fabio Grosso: Mine is a very special case, because I started my career right at the bottom and ended up scaling the heights that we all know about. It's a journey I shared with magnificent team-mates. The two years that preceded the last World Cup were packed with continual discoveries and new emotions, each one more exciting than the last. I can remember my first day at the [Italian Football Association's] technical centre in Coverciano, my national team debut, my second and third games, my first goal, my call-up for the finals.
With hindsight, the way you scored your first goal in an Italy shirt was a sign of things to come.
I scored it in Scotland, in a qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup. It was a crucial game and we were losing. I came on in the second half and was fortunate enough to score the equaliser, which was to prove vital. I'll never forget it.
Despite having played your part in helping the team reach Germany, your place in the final squad was uncertain right to the last.
I only knew for certain that I'd made the final 23 when the national team squad list was officially announced. But I have to admit that I was always aware of the faith coach Marcello Lippi had in me. What can I say about him? All I can do is say thanks to him for the World Cup, for the two years before that and for everything that awaits us from now on.
Once in Germany, you started Italy's opening game against Ghana, only to watch the game against USA from the bench. How did that feel?I didn't sulk when I wasn't selected for the second match, even after spending a lot of time warming up on the sidelines. The biggest strength of that group was the positive attitude of everybody involved. Every one of us wanted to catch the eye but even when you weren't playing, you put all your enthusiasm into urging on and supporting your team-mates.
We had to wait until the Round of 16 match against Australia for your first truly magical moment.
That was the first really intense thrill I experienced at Germany. With only a few seconds to go, Francesco (Totti) slipped a wonderful ball to me down the left. Instinctively, despite the fatigue, I forced myself to drive into the opposing box and, I swear this is true even though many people don't believe it, the Australian player caught me totally deliberately with his shoulder and I went down. A clear penalty. And Totti made no mistake.
Your second moment of inspiration came in the semi-final against Germany. Being naturally left-footed, how did you find yourself out on the right?
What a match that was! We beat the Germans, who had been so sure of themselves in their pre-match statements, in their favourite stadium in Dortmund. As regards that decisive passage of play, I was out on the right-hand side because I'd ended up there by chance after a corner kick. When the German defence started to push out, I thought I'd move slightly towards the other side of the pitch. The ball landed at the feet of Andrea (Pirlo), a man with eyes in the back of his head, who played me in with a perfect reverse pass. I managed to squeeze the ball in a centimetre from the post and the keeper's hand. After that I just went crazy, a wave of such happiness swept over me that I wouldn't know how to describe it. You have to see the clip to get an idea.
And there was something else very important happening in your life at that time too.That's true. My wife and I were expecting a baby boy, who was born a few months later. He's nearly two years old now and is growing up strong and healthy. His name's Filippo. During that time I experienced the best and biggest things that could happen to a footballer and a man.
You were the one who scored the winning penalty in the final. That must have been incredible...
The fifth penalty in the final of the World Cup when we were a goal ahead. The penalty that we all dream about taking as a boy. These are moments that are so huge that I wish everybody could have the opportunity to experience them some day. I know for certain that, as far as this is concerned, I'm extremely privileged.
Let us come back to the present. Your excellent performances at UEFA EURO 2008 proved that your displays in Germany were no fluke. Do you think that, for you personally, this is the best form of recognition for a job well done?
I'm very grateful for your words and I'm really pleased you see it that way. Whatever the case, I think that I've always been perfectly aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I would have been quite happy to settle for the good fortune I experienced during that month (in Germany), because I'm convinced that I've grown into a well-adjusted person. I don't get too carried away nor do I ever beat myself up too much.
How do you envisage Italy's path towards South Africa 2010? Which of your group opponents do you fear most?
All of them and none of them. The national team that wears the World Champions Badge should respect all their opponents, but should also be aware of their own strength.
Let us talk about football at club level. After a tough time at Inter Milan, things seem to be going very well for you now at Lyon.
It's very possible that the atmosphere at Inter wasn't ideal for me. Despite it all, that year helped me to understand a lot of things and in any case, the results are there for all to see. After that I decided to head to Lyon in France. I'm thoroughly enjoying it here and my team-mates are fantastic. They say that there's less pressure here than in Italy, but when you're a sportsman the real pressure comes from within. We won both the league and the cup, a superb double which after six consecutive league title wins marks another step forward for Lyon.
What objectives have you set for yourself in the immediate future? Are you also aiming to be crowned a world champion at club level?
We'll try to go all the way in the UEFA Champions League just as we try to do in every competition we enter, but we're aware that there are other European teams that have strengthened their squads more than we have. I can only promise you that we'll do everything in our power to do better than them.