Italy has produced a huge number of world-class players in every position of the field to ensure the nation has competed at major tournaments throughout the modern era. However, one area in particular where the Azzurri have enjoyed dominance over their rivals has been their development of truly outstanding defenders. Here we are talking about these best Italian defenders who have dominated the Italian team.
At almost every World Cup and European Championship, they reel out a formidable line up of center-backs which provide a stable foundation to make a surge into the latter stages of the competition.
In this feature, we’ll take a look at three players from the previous generation that were part of the Azzurri’s triumph in Germany in the 2006 World Cup.
Top 3 Best Italian Defenders
Fabio Cannavaro – Greatest Italian Defender of All Time
Where else to start but with Italy’s inspirational leader in their World Cup triumph in 2006? He was outstanding throughout the competition and was the driving force behind his side’s success. Cannavaro’s organizational skills at the back along with his talent at the position allowed his forward players to play with freedom, knowing that he was in the line up to sweep up any danger. The Azzurri conceded just two goals in their seven matches at the tournament, including the final against France.
Cannavaro’s quality was on display, especially in the latter stages when he and his team-mates thwarted the potent attacks of the host nation Germany, keeping a clean sheet to knock Die Mannschaft out. In the final he was equally as brilliant, holding off the threats of Thierry Henry, Franck Ribery and the great Zinedine Zidane before the latter was dismissed for a ‘headbutt’ on Marco Materazzi.
As a result of his performances, he won the Ballon d’Or as well as the FIFA World Player of the Year award and the Silver Ball at the World Cup. He was an excellent player throughout his career, but that tournament was his crowning moment.
Alessandro Nesta – Greatest Italian Defender And Best Center Backs
Nesta missed the majority of the 2006 World Cup due to injury, leaving Materazzi to fill the void alongside Cannavaro. However, he was a mainstay of the side that advanced to the final of Euro 2000 conceding only two goals in the process, with the Azzurri only defeated by France in extra-time in the final.
The centre-back was notorious for his stout performances in the domestic game for both Lazio and AC Milan. Nesta was one of the most successful defenders in the histories of the respective sides, winning three Serie A titles and two Champions League crowns as well as three Coppa Italia crowns.
He was a model of consistency throughout his career and Milan would love to have his services now, with the club backed at 100/1 in the latest Serie A betting odds to win the crown following their 2-2 draw with Torino. The result has left them eight points off the pace of leaders Juventus, who are eyeing their sixth crown on the spin.
Andrea Barzagli – Best Center Back And Most Consistent Defender
One Among the best Italian defenders and perhaps one of the most unheralded players in the Italian squad over the last decade, but he was vital to the transition from Nesta and Cannavaro to the backline of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. Barzagli played a limited role in the Azzurri’s triumph in the 2006 World Cup, starting just one match, although it was an important quarter-final contest against Ukraine. They kept a clean sheet in that contest and he proved his worth to his side to win a medal.
His move to Wolfsburg began a poor patch in his career as he lost his place in the Italy squad for the 2010 World Cup; coincidentally, the Azzurri made an embarrassing exit at the group stage in South Africa – their worst performance at the competition for 36 years. Barzagli’s move back to Serie A prompted a dramatic improvement in his form and he became a lynchpin of Juventus’ dominance of the league under Antonio Conte.
He translated his displays to the national side, although the Azzurri failed to progress from the group stage again at the 2014 World Cup, but he was outstanding as part of a back three with Bonucci and Chiellini at Euro 2016, with Conte’s men only defeated on penalties by Germany in the quarters.Barzagli has not claimed the headlines but has ensured that the Azzurri have remained competitive for the long term.
Do you agree with our best Italian defenders picks? Is there someone you think we missed? Let us know in the comments.