Grosso strikes gold for Italy

  • Italy defeated France to win the World Cup on this day in 2006

  • Lippi stunne​d Grosso by asking him to take a penalty in the Final shootout

  • Italy had a penalty-shootout curse hanging over them

Why me?

This, Fabio Grosso remembers, was his reaction to being asked to take the famous spot-kick captured in this photograph. The left-back knew that he had not been among Italy’s five selected penalty takers before the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ Final, with Pirlo, Materazzi, De Rossi, Del Piero and Totti the names Marcello Lippi had in mind. Even though Totti had been substituted, there seemed more obvious candidates – Luca Toni, Vincenzo Iaquinta or captain Fabio Cannavaro to name but three – for such an almighty responsibility.

Grosso later spoke of being “astonished” to be asked, reflecting that his last penalty before Berlin had come five years earlier in Serie C2 – Italy’s fourth tier. This experience was typical of the humble pre-2006 career of a defender who had played for Chieti in the lower leagues before slowly rising through the ranks with Perugia and Palermo.

Lippi, though, had an immediate response to Grosso’s ‘Why me?’ query. “Because you’re the man for the last minute,” he replied decisively, referring to the fullback’s late goal in the semi-final win over Germany and the injury-time spot-kick he earned against Australia.

And while it might have been all over before the fifth round of penalties were required, fate decreed that Grosso would once again be Italy’s man of the moment. All four of the Azzurri players preceding him had kept their cool, while David Trezeguet – whose shootout miss had cost Lippi’s Juventus the 2003 UEFA Champions League final – struck the crossbar. “When it came to Trezeguet, I thought he owed me something,” the Italy coach would later reflect with a smile.

But Totti’s stand-in still had to score and, given Italy’s dreadful run of shoot-out defeats at the time, that was far from inevitable. So, with the world watching and the weight of a nation’s hopes and dreams on his shoulders, how did Grosso – a player with such scant experience from 12 yards – manage to slot away a perfect penalty, high and hard to the left of the wrong-footed Fabien Barthez?

“I forced myself to remain calm inside,” he recalled. “Experience counts for nothing in moments like that. Of course, you have to have the technique, but above all, it’s about reaching a very specific mental state in the seconds preceding the shot.

“I will always remember that I ended a curse, the curse on Italy for penalty shootouts and extra time: there was the 1994 World Cup Final, the 1998 quarter-final, EURO 2000. The same thing worried us before the [2006] final, but this time, we had the resources to stay calm. Lippi helped transcend us with confidence.”

Did you know? The glasses worn by Lippi in that Final - then taken off following Grosso’s penalty – are among several unique and fascinating items in the FIFA World Football Museum’s Germany 2006 showcase.