Heroes, just for one day

  • Fabio Grosso was one of the driving forces behind Italy's 2006 FIFA World Cup™ win

  • He is far from the only player to have been a national team hero for a day

  • We look back at some of the unlikely heroes from previous major tournaments

Fourteen years have passed since Fabio Grosso struck the winning penalty in the shootout that decided the Final of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, securing a fourth world title for La Squadra Azzurra and cementing his status as an Italian footballing legend.

The left-back was a somewhat unlikely hero, however. “[Daniele] De Rossi wanted to take the fourth but changed his mind and said he’d take the third and leave the next one for [Alessandro] Del Piero,” explained Marcello Lippi, Italy’s coach that night. “We needed someone to take the fifth. I looked at Fabio Grosso and told him he was taking it. He replied, ‘Me?’ and I said yes because he won the penalty in the 90th minute against Australia and then scored against Germany in the 118th. I told him he was going to take the last one and he said, ‘OK’.”

And so the spotlight fell on a player who was far from accustomed to it. Yet Grosso was neither the first player nor the last to claim some unexpected glory for himself at a major tournament, as FIFA.com reveals.

Fabio Grosso scores the last penalty of the 2006 World Cup Final

Fabio Grosso – Germany 2006 Final against France

Where did he come from? A vital cog in the Palermo team that qualified for the UEFA Cup in 2006, Grosso got the nod from Lippi for the Germany 2006 squad and was handed a starting place alongside Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta and Alessandro Nesta, who was replaced by Marco Materazzi after aggravating an injury.

Moment of glory Grosso had a flawless tournament. Part of a defence that conceded just two goals, he had not one but two standout moments, putting his side ahead two minutes from the end of extra time in a tight semi-final against the hosts and then stroking a penalty past Fabien Barthez to make the Italians world champions. While the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Francesco Totti, Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon have taken most of the credit for that triumph, there can be no question that Grosso also had a big part to play.

What happened next? Grosso joined Inter Milan the following season, spending a year there before moving to Lyon. Though Italy caps continued to come his way, his moment of glory had come and gone. After taking up coaching in 2017, he had spells with Bari and Hellas Verona before accepting the Brescia job.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Eder after the Euro 2016 final

Eder – UEFA EURO 2016 final against France

Where did he come from? The Portuguese striker ran out for a number of clubs in his home country, playing his best football for Sporting Braga. After a luckless half season with Swansea City, Eder joined French club Lille just ahead of EURO 2016.

Moment of glory The front man was on the bench for the final against France, a match in which nothing seemed to be going right for the Portuguese, with Cristiano Ronaldo picking up an injury before the half-hour mark, prompting the arrival of Ricardo Quaresma. Eder made his entrance in 79th minute, having scored only three goals for his country prior to that night. The fourth came in the 109th minute and gave Portugal their first ever major trophy.

What happened next? In the few international appearances Eder has made since then, he has added just one more strike. He has also found goals hard to come at club level, scoring 20 in the four years since for Lille and then Dynamo Moscow.

Ilhan Mansiz after his goal against Senegal in quarter-final of the 2002 World Cup

Ilhan Mansiz – Quarter-final at Korea/Japan 2002 against Senegal

Where did he come from? Having learned his trade in Germany, the Turkish forward made his name at Besiktas, where he spent three seasons showing what he could do in front of goal, ultimately earning himself a place in the Turkey squad for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan.

Moment of glory Mansiz made his mark in two games in that tournament. In the quarter-final against Senegal, he scored the last golden goal in World Cup history, firing past Tony Sylva in the 94th minute to send Turkey into the semi-finals in only their second appearance in the competition. Then, in the match for third place a few days later, he struck twice to help his side take claim the bronze medal.

What happened next? Injury plagued Mansiz thereafter. Like Eder, he scored just one more goal for his country before retiring from football and taking up pairs figure skating.

Toto Schillaci during the 1990 World Cup

Salvatore Schillaci – 1990 World Cup

Where did he come from? After starting out with Messina, Schillaci made the move to Juventus and enjoyed a superb 1989/90 season to secure himself a call-up to the Italy squad for the World Cup on home soil.

Moment of glory Over the course of one month he became a national idol. A sub in Italy’s opening two games, Schillaci eventually became an undisputed starter and scored six goals to claim the adidas Golden Ball, adidas Golden Boot and a bronze medal. Along with Diego Maradona and Lothar Matthaus, he was the star of the tournament.

What happened next? As Schillaci himself said, “In a way, my career lasted just three weeks.” He won his last cap in 1991 and ended his playing days in Japan after leaving Juventus for Inter Milan.

Henrik Larsen scores against Netherlands during the 1992 Euro

Henrik Larsen – 1992 European Championship semi-final against the Netherlands

Where did he come from? Following an unremarkable start to his club career in his native Denmark, Larsen signed for Pisa, where he found himself playing alongside Diego Simeone. He scored just once in 41 appearances for the Italian club, though it did not prevent him from making the Denmark squad for EURO 1992.

Moment of glory In the semi-final against a Netherlands side containing the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, Larsen put in the perfect performance, scoring a brace to help the Danes hold the reigning champions to 2-2 in normal time. In the resulting shootout, Larsen set the tone for his side by converting their first of their penalties. Four of his team-mates followed suit, and with Van Basten missing his kick, Denmark found themselves in the final.

What happened next? The Danes went on to beat Germany in the showpiece match and lift their one and only major trophy to date. Larsen’s career slowly petered out – he returned to Denmark and never scored again for his country.