Dino Zoff celebrates his 70th birthday today, three decades since lifting the FIFA World Cup and 44 years after helping Italy win the 1968 UEFA European Championship. Known as 'Il monumento del calcio italiano' (the Monument of Italian Football), the goalkeeper is one of his country's most respected football figures. Capped 112 times, Zoff also led the Azzurri to the UEFA EURO 2000 final as coach – and says, "I have always preferred deeds to words."
From the eight raw eggs a day his grandmother made him drink to boost his growth when he was only 160cm tall at 14, to the famous cards game he played with Italian President Sandro Pertini, coach Enzo Bearzot and team-mate Franco Causio on the return flight from Madrid to Rome after winning the World Cup, Zoff's exploits earned him cult status in Italy. UEFA.com marks the former Udinese Calcio, AC Mantova, SSC Napoli and Juventus No1's birthday with five seminal moments from his 22-year career.
10 June 1968: Italy 2-0 Yugoslavia, 1968 UEFA European Championship final replay
Zoff had a spectacular start to his Italy career. Aged 26, he debuted in the quarter-final second leg against Bulgaria as Italy recovered from a 3-2 away loss in Sofia to win 2-0. Confirmed as first choice for the four-team finals in Italy, Zoff was unbeaten again in the semi-final against the Soviet Union, in which the hosts prevailed on a coin toss.
If Yugoslavia dominated the final in Rome, Zoff helped Italy draw 1-1 after extra time to ensure a replay two days later – and on his fourth appearance kept his third clean sheet to become a European champion with a 2-0 victory. "We had enormous problems against Yugoslavia," Zoff recalled. "To be honest, we didn't deserve to draw the first game. But we produced a perfect performance in the replay."
14 November 1973: England 0-1 Italy, friendly
Future England manager Fabio Capello may have scored the best-remembered goal of his playing career, but Italy's first Wembley triumph would not have been possible without a series of superb saves by Zoff. Two came in the first half from Tony Currie, before an even more spectacular stop after the break to deny Emlyn Hughes.
The match came in the middle of Zoff's international world record spell of 1,142 consecutive minutes without conceding. Second behind Johan Cruyff in the vote for the 1973 Ballon d'Or, on the eve of the 1974 World Cup Zoff's picture made the cover of Newsweek magazine with the headline: "The world's best."
18 May 1977: Athletic Club 2-1 Juventus (agg 2-2, Juve win on away goals), UEFA Cup final second leg
Juventus went to Bilbao after edging the first leg 1-0 in Turin and immediately got an away goal through Roberto Bettega. Athletic, however, surged forward at San Mamés and Javier Irureta and Carlos Ruiz took them to within a goal of the overall lead. Only another superlative showing by Zoff made sure it was Juve that lifted the trophy.
"After their second goal, Zoff kicked the ball away from the net," Juve's then coach Giovanni Trapattoni said. "He asked me how long to go. I told him there were 12 minutes left and he didn't hide his disappointment. It was hard to resist until the final whistle. Only then was the greatest goalkeeper in the world smiling again."
15 March 1978: Juventus 1-1 AFC Ajax (agg 2-2, Juve win 3-0 on pens), European Champion Clubs' Cup quarter-final second leg
Perhaps Zoff's best display in the European Cup ended with every team-mate hugging him in celebration and the fans chanting "Dino, Dino" after the Bianconeri booked their semi-final place. Ajax converted none of their three penalties, with Zoff saving from Ruud Geels and Pim van Dord.
Juventus would eventually lose in the semis and Zoff was never to collect the trophy, being defeated in two finals, including the surprise 1983 loss to a Felix Magath goal for Hamburger SV in Athens. "The biggest disappointment of my career," Zoff said. "We had a team of champions, most of the players who had won the World Cup the previous year plus Michel Platini and Zbigniew Boniek. We reached the final unbeaten, then that Magath shot."
5 July 1982: Italy 3-2 Brazil, 1982 FIFA World Cup second round
Favourites Brazil needed just a draw to get to the semi-finals from the second group stage and, with Italy ahead 3-2 in Barcelona courtesy of Paolo Rossi's hat-trick, the South Americans attacked in force until centre-back Oscar sent a rocket header towards the Italy goal from a free-kick. Zoff dived to his left and blocked the ball on the line.
"It was not my best save but probably the most important," Zoff said. "I knew the ball never went in, but it was terrible waiting for the referee's decision while the Brazilians were screaming, asking for a goal." That stop allowed Italy to set up a semi-final with Poland, who were beaten before a 3-1 success over West Germany enabled the 40-year-old Zoff to lift the World Cup, the oldest man ever to do so.
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