Once considered the best goalkeeper in the world, Walter Zenga can talk about football just as well as he once played the game.
Unlike some retired footballers, the former Italy keeper continues to live and breathe the beautiful game long after the end of his playing career something he remembers as though it were only yesterday. FIFAworldcup.com caught up with Zenga after training at Red Star Belgrade, the Serbian team he now coaches following successful spells at New England Revolution in the United States and at National Bucharest and Steaua Bucharest in Romania.
Mention the FIFA World Cup to Zenga, who earned the nickname Spiderman for his acrobatic prowess, and the conversation immediately turns to Claudio Caniggia's goal in the semi-final against the Azzurri at Italia 90. The general feeling is that an error by the then Inter Milan player led to the goal, although this did not stop Zenga from being voted Best Goalkeeper at the tournament.
Like all great custodians Zenga learnt from his mistakes, in particular that one. Looking back he says that only those who are in the right position in the first place have the chance to make mistakes. And the cross in question was not as easy to deal with as some have made out...
Read on as Zenga recalls his experiences of playing at the FIFA World Cup and gives his thoughts on Italy and Serbia and Montenegro's prospects at Germany 2006.
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FIFAworldcup.com: The 2006 FIFA World Cup is nearly upon us, and it is now 20 years since you first appeared in the finals.
Walter Zenga: That's right, my experience at Mexico 86 as the third-choice goalkeeper was amazing. Unfortunately the Italian team was already in decline. We played France in the second round and came up against an outstanding midfield.
That was the finals where Giovanni Galli and Franco Tancredi competed for the No.1 jersey, wasn't?
Yes and now that I'm a coach, I can apply the lesson that I learnt during that period. Two goalkeepers should never have to compete for a place in the team. In Mexico, Galli and Tancredi were overcome by stress. Few people know that before the match against France, Enzo Bearzot was considering giving me a game. Not a bad idea in my opinion!
After the finals in Mexico, Azeglio Vicini became Italy coach, promoting many players from the U-21 team he had formerly been in charge of.
In Italy everyone fondly remembers that team which lost the 1986 European U-21 Championship final on penalties to Spain. Virtually the entire side went on to play for the senior team that lost in the semi-final of the 1988 European Championship. Of course, we were then one of the favourites at Italia 90. In that team there was me, (Roberto) Donadoni, (Riccardo) Ferri, (Nando) De Napoli, (Giuseppe) Giannini, (Gianluca) Vialli, (Roberto) Mancini.
For Italian football fans Italia 90 was a memorable event, wasn't it?
We arrived at the World Cup in great form. Our only defeat in a long run of matches had come against Brazil in Bologna where Andre Cruz scored a free-kick. Prior to the tournament we did have a few problems at the Italian Football Federation's training centre in Coverciano near Florence. However this was manly due to the fall-out from Roberto Baggio's transfer from Fiorentina to Juventus. Nevertheless, once we moved to Marino near Rome the spirit in the camp was unbelievable. It was like someone had cast a magic spell on us, and this was only broken during the semi-final.
Yes, that semi-final.
Unbelievable. We won six games out of seven and never lost, yet Argentina qualified for the Final in a tournament in which they'd won only two matches over 120 minutes. We missed so many chances that evening, but we also missed the Olympic Stadium. The people of Naples supported us but they also supported (Diego) Maradona, a fact which cannot be overlooked.
What do you remember of Caniggia's goal?
As a keeper, you're caught either way when it comes to near-post balls. Whatever you do, there is always the risk of a mistake. I not only made a mistake, but was also unlucky. These things happen.
Tell us about the penalties.
Italy are always unlucky with penalties and I don't know why. At the time, the Argentine goalkeeper (Sergio) Goychochea saved everything. I was unlucky with (Julio) Olarticoechea's penalty, which he hit straight down the middle. It was very sad to go out like that.
Relive Italia 90 in our Classic Football section
Back to the present day then. Living in Belgrade how do you feel Serbia and Montenegro will perform at Germany 2006?
They qualified for the World Cup by winning a very difficult group, conceding just one goal, which followed a corner. Group C (against Argentina, Côte d'Ivoire and Netherlands) is undoubtedly a very difficult one. However, my three years in the Balkans have shown me that the harder the task, the more the region's players focus and get results. I can't really say any more than that.
What about Italy and the other contenders?
A vital factor will be player fitness come June. Everything is possible with people like (Gianluigi) Buffon and (Francesco) Totti, but the right physical condition and psychological frame of mind will be decisive. Other countries with a chance of winning include all the major football powers, but my favourites are Brazil, as long as they don't have an off-day during the knockout stages.
Would you like to coach a national team one day? Perhaps Italy?
Why not! It would certainly be a thrilling experience, very different from coaching a club, but just as exciting. The World Cup holds a unique fascination. For now I am happy here in Belgrade at a club with a great history and secure future, the latter down in no small part to the group of very promising youngsters we have, like our defensive midfielder Dusan Basta.
Finally, could there a Zenga leading the Azzurri attack in the near future? (A reference to his 19-year-old son Jacopo, who plays up front for the Red Star youth team)
Let him grow up in peace! We'll see...
With that, Zenga says goodbye. The reference to his son, who cut his teeth at Monza and Genoa in Italy, was unexpected but brought a smile to his face. As a thoughtful father he does not want to raise expectations and put too much pressure on the shoulders of a young man showing great promise for the future of Italian football.