No Italian has topped the FIFA World Cup goalscoring table since Salvatore Schillaci, but the 24-year wait could yet be ended by a striker born in 1990.
At the start of this year few would have predicted Ciro Immobile as the man to lead Italy's line in Brazil, yet after his hat-trick in the 5-3 friendly win against Fluminense FC on Sunday night, he may just be the new 'Totò'. Immobile did not even make his senior Azzurri debut until three months ago, but Schillaci himself was uncapped until March 1990. The comparisons do not end there.
Schillaci came to prominence in 1988/89 as Serie B top goalscorer for AC Messina under Czech coach Zdeněk Zeman. It was while at Zeman's Pescara Calcio – alongside Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne (who also struck against Fluminense) – that Immobile topped the second division scoring charts with 28 goals. He moved to Torino FC last summer and scored 22 Serie A goals in 2013/14, earning himself a move to Borussia Dortmund and an international call-up.
Can Immobile match Schillaci, who managed six goals at Italia '90, earning both the Golden Boot as top scorer and Golden Ball as best player, a double also completed eight years earlier by Paolo Rossi? "This comparison doesn't put pressure on me, it pleases me instead," said Immobile, who still keeps his feet on the ground. "The coach makes his choices, we just have to work hard and give our contribution, also from the bench."
Now running a youth academy in his home town of Palermo, Schillaci thinks Immobile can emulate his feats. "He reminds me of myself, he likes to play from the back, he's fast, he's good at the one-on-ones and he can find the net," said the 49-year-old. "He came to the fore under Zeman, who is a strong supporter of attacking football, and he proved himself in Serie A too; he's the league top scorer and he deserves his place at the World Cup.
"I hope he will start enjoying the World Cup experience with just a little expectation around him, because that's what happened to me, and then play with the same ease, growing up step by step."
Football, of course, is a team sport, and in 1990 Schillaci had Gianluca Vialli alongside him, while this time around Mario Balotelli could turn out to be the ideal partner for Immobile. Schillaci said: "Mario is more physical and strong, just like Gianluca, while Ciro is fast like me. Neither of them is a classic striker; they both like playing outside the box, they are two modern forwards who can become even stronger together; with Immobile it will be even easier, I'm sure."
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