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Fabio Grosso's 50 days as a phenomenon during Italy's 2006 World Cup win

9:00 AM WAT 23/11/2022
Fabio Grosso Italy Cult Hero HIC 16:9
Few people are lucky enough to enjoy one iconic moment at a World Cup - Fabio Grosso still can't believe he had two.

Berlin, 2006, the World Cup final, and Italy coach Marcello Lippi must select five men for the penalty shootout.

Andrea Pirlo, Marco Materazzi, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Del Piero and one other...

Strikers Luca Toni and Vincenzo Iaquinta are the obvious options, while there's also captain Fabio Cannavaro, a centre-back, but a man having the year of his life.

Lippi, though, chose Fabio Grosso. Even the left-back was surprised. Lippi still remembers the stunned look on Grosso's face as he exclaimed, "But why me?!"

Lippi was certain, though.

It was Grosso who had won the late penalty that secured victory over Australia in the last 16.

It was Grosso who had broken the deadlock in the 119th minute of the game of the tournament, the semi-final win over Germany.

And so it would be Grosso who would take Italy's fifth spot-kick in the shootout.

No matter that he hadn't taken a penalty since his time plying his trade in Serie C2 with Chieti; Grosso had come a long way since then.

Indeed, the mere fact that he was playing in a World Cup final was astounding.

He had left Chieti for Perugia in 2001, securing him a first taste of top-flight football, but despite impressing sufficiently at club level to earn a first Italy cap in April 2003, he was sold to Serie B side Palermo the following January.

However, that mid-season move to Sicily proved the making of Grosso.

He helped Palermo secure promotion and became one of Serie A's best left-backs during the two seasons leading up to the 2006 World Cup.

Still, Grosso wasn't expected to feature much in Germany. He had essentially travelled as Gianluca Zambrotta's understudy.

However, he started Italy's tournament opener against Ghana after the Juventus man had been sidelined by a thigh strain.

He was relegated to the bench for the subsequent meeting with the USA but after Cristiano Zaccardo had a nightmare at right-back, Lippi decided to change things.

Grosso was recalled at left-back for the Azzurri's final fixture in the group stage and the fantastically versatile Zambrotta was moved to the right-hand side to fill the void left by the axed Zaccardo.

Italy kept another clean sheet with Grosso in the backline and he remained there for the rest of the tournament.

Of course, his first major contribution from an attacking perspective remains a touchy subject among Australian fans, who still maintain he dived to win the penalty that Totti converted to send Italy into the quarters.

Grosso, for his part, said that while he may have "accentuated" the contact a little, he had been clearly checked by Lucas Neill.

There was nothing controversial, though, about his crucial strike against Germany in the last four.

It was a goal worthy of one of the greatest games the World Cup has ever seen, and the celebrations weren't bad either.

Indeed, in Italy, the moments before and after Grosso bent the ball past Jens Lehmann have since taken on iconic status.

Firstly, there's commentator Fabio Caressa perfectly capturing the way in which pass master Andrea Pirlo picks up possession on the edge of the German penalty area and waits and waits and waits before deciding to play a no-look ball into Grosso's path.

"There's Pirlo.... Pirlo... Pirlo... Still Pirlo...."

Grosso, for his part, was sure that his team-mate would notice him unmarked on the right-hand side of the box.

"When I saw that Andrea had the ball at his feet, the chances of it coming to me increased," he explained to La Repubblica. "At times he doesn’t look at you but he often finds the perfect moment to pass to you.

“So, I had a feeling it would come to me – and it did. I aimed for the corner without looking at the goal, imagining where the corner was. Luckily, I pictured it correctly, in the right place.”

He was still stunned that it went in, of course, and famously set off running and screaming, "I don't believe it! I don't believe it! I don't believe it!"

"Everything that I had inside me came out at that moment," he later told La Repubblica. "Never could I have dreamed that I would play in such an important game."

However, his goal – which was almost immediately followed by another iconic strike, this time from Del Piero – meant that Grosso would play in an even more important game just a few days later... the biggest game in football, in fact.

Remarkably, once again, the Palermo left-back would prove decisive.

Zidane's red card may have dominated the headlines but Grosso was the match-winner. Just as Lippi suspected he might be, at least when it came around to penalties.

When Grosso himself asked why he had been selected to go fifth, his coach replied, "Because you are the man of the last minute."

After what had happened against Australia and Germany, it felt like fate to Lippi. And while Grosso may have been surprised by Lippi's decision, he felt no fear.

On the contrary, he welcomed the responsibility.

"On the walk towards the spot," he revealed, "there was this desire to go there and, with that shot, take something that we deserved."

And so he did just that, confidently finding the top corner of the net with a penalty that sent Fabien Barthez the wrong way.

Once again, he set off running; to where, he had no idea. He couldn't even stop himself.

Indeed, he says his one regret was that he didn't run directly to embrace his good friend Gigi Buffon, with whom he had spent most of what he called his "50 days as a phenomenon" in the summer of 2016.

"I have tried to describe, and will continue trying to describe, what I felt," he recently mused, "but nobody will ever understand what the reality was like."

Even now, Fabio Grosso still can't believe it.