25 Best Italian Footballers of All-Time in the World Cup

best italian footballers

In these articles, I look at the greatest athletes from various sports, and today we are inspired by the 25 best Italian footballers of all time!

As many of the choices on this list will demonstrate, Italy has a solid reputation for being very solid defensively, and it is a tactic that appears to have worked well for them. Only Brazil has won the World Cup more times than the Azzurri, with victories in 1934, 1938, 1982, and 2006.

Unsurprisingly, it is a country with a plethora of magnificent players to choose from. Enjoy reading!

#25 Marco Tardelli (1976-1985, 76 caps, 7 goals)

The list of players who narrowly missed the cut is almost as impressive as the final lineup. However, the combative midfielder Marco Tardelli has just beaten Gianfranco Zola, Bruno Conti, Antonio Cabrini, and Valentino Mazzola to the post.

Tardelli represented his country 76 times in nine years, with his most memorable performance coming in the 1982 World Cup final. Tardelli continued his good form in the final after helping the Azzurri to a 3-2 win over a formidable Brazilian team in one of the most famous World Cup matches ever.

He scored a memorable goal to help Italy to a 3-1 win and their third World Cup title, but he will be remembered for his magnificently passionate celebration, which has gone down in World Cup folklore.

#24 Filippo Inzaghi (1997-2007, 57 caps, 25 goals)

Filippo Inzaghi grew up with a strong interest in football. He began his football career with clubs in his hometown and quickly established himself as a prolific striker who had never played for a club outside of his country. 

Inzaghi is one of the players who has received harsh criticism throughout his career. He was a potential goal scorer who was frequently underestimated by others due to his lack of footballing techniques and resemblance to famous football strikers such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. 

Nonetheless, his timely goals and motivating memories made him a well-known and adored player all over the world. 

Inzaghi played professional football for more than two decades. He began his career in Piacenza in 1991 and left after four years with 39 appearances and 15 goals to join Parma. During these four years, he was on loan to AlbinoLeffe from 1992 to 1993 and then to Hellas Verona from 1993 to 1994, where he made 21 and 36 appearances and scored 13 goals, respectively. 

During his one-year stint with Parma, he appeared in 15 games and scored two goals. In 1996, he was transferred to Atlanta, where he made 33 appearances and scored 24 goals in a year. In 1997, he joined The Old Lady, and during his four-years stay, he managed to make 120 appearances and scored 57 goals. 

Inzaghi finished his playing career with AC Milan. He joined Rossoneri in 2001 and left the club in 2011. During his career, he made 300 appearances and scored 126 goals.

#23 Daniele De Rossi (2004-2017, 117 caps, 21 goals)

De Rossi has a long history with the Italian national team, having won the World Cup in 2006. He is also the fourth most capped player in Azzurri history, with 117 caps, and the most prolific midfielder since 1930, with 21 goals. He was named to the Euro 2012 tournament team.

Daniele De Rossi, born July 24, 1983 in Rome, is a former Italian international footballer who played as a midfielder for AS Roma and the Italy national team. He is currently on the coaching staff of the Italian national team. From 2001 to 2019, he played for Roma, becoming the player with the second-highest number of official appearances after Francesco Totti. With the Giallorossi, De Rossi won two Italian Cups and an Italian Super Cup.

He became internationally renowned for his unwavering commitment and loyalty to Roma, similar to the legendary Francesco Totti. In fact, the two men’s careers and fame are inextricably linked, representing two of the most famous symbols of loyalty in sports history. In the 2016-2017 season, both players were in their 25th and 16th professional seasons with the team, and they went through almost everything together. Daniele De Rossi announced his retirement as a player on January 6, 2020.

De Rossi has a long history with the Italian national team, having won the World Cup in 2006. He is also the fourth most capped player in Azzurri history, with 117 caps, and the most prolific midfielder since 1930, with 21 goals. He was named to the Euro 2012 tournament team.

#22 Leonardo Bonucci (2010-, 116 caps, 8 goals)

Leonardo Bonucci a player who has established himself as one of the best defenders in his career and has even become one of Pep Guardiola’s favorite players.

Leonardo Bonucci was a member of Italy’s World Cup squad in South Africa in 2010, but did not play in the tournament and was eliminated from the group stage with the Azzurri. Bonucci was a regular under Cesare Prandelli at the 2012 European Championship, and he also started the final 4-0 loss to Spain.

Bonucci also competed in the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup, both of which were held in Brazil. He was a regular member of Italy’s squad for the 2016 European Football Championship in France. He and Andrea Barzagli were the only players to appear in all five games of the tournament.

#21 Alessandro Nesta (1996-2006, 78 caps)

Alessandro Nesta, another in Italy’s long line of defensive greats, was a modern-day colossus who stood firm at the heart of the Italian defense for a decade. He seemed to dislodge strikers with ease and played with a natural calmness and assurance.

His tournament experience is also impressive, having competed in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 European Championships, as well as 1998, 2002, and 2006 World Cups.

All of his World Cup appearances were cut short due to injury, but he had a happy ending to his international career when Italy won the World Cup in 2006.

#20 Claudio Gentile (1975-1984, 71 caps)

Claudio Gentile never received a red card for a tackle in his career, which is remarkable for a defender with such a bad reputation. He was known as a very physical, even dirty, player, but he did an excellent job.

Few players in football history have had the ability to mark a player out of a game like Gentile. Argentina’s star player Mario Kempes was anonymous when the two met in the 1978 World Cup, and he was at it again four years later against Diego Maradona.

His defensive performances against Argentina, Brazil, and West Germany were critical in Italy’s World Cup victory in 1982.

#19 Giuseppe Bergomi (1982-1998, 81 caps, 6 goals)

Giuseppe Bergomi was a long-serving Inter Milan one-club man who was part of one of the greatest international defenses of all time.

Bergomi thrived alongside Franco Baresi, Antonio Cabrini, Claudio Gentile, and Gaetano Scirea, winning the 1982 World Cup and competing in the 1986 and 1990 tournaments.

Bergomi spent years in the international wilderness after being sent off in a Euro ’92 qualifier but was surprisingly brought back for the 1998 World Cup to have one last swansong for the Azzurri.

Bergomi was named the fifth best right-back of all time in the list “Top 10 Right-Backs of All Time.”

#18 Sandro Mazzola (1963-74, 70 caps, 22 goals)

Sandro Mazzola, like fellow Italian legend Paolo Maldini, had a father who could lay claim to a spot on this list as well. Valentino Mazzola, Sandro’s father, was a brilliant all-round player for the great Torino team of the 1940s before being tragically killed in the Superga disaster.

Sandro Mazzola, on the other hand, carried on the family name with pride, helping Italy win the 1968 European Championships and a crucial role in their progression to the 1970 World Cup final, where only Pele’s Brazilian dream team could stop them.

Mazzola was part of fierce debate in Italy throughout this World Cup as the manager thought he and fellow star Gianni Rivera couldn’t play together. A system was devised in which Mazzola played the first half and Rivera played the second, preventing two outstanding players from fully displaying their abilities.

#17 Giorgio Chiellini (2004-2022, 117 caps, 8 goals)

Giorgio Chiellini is more than just a football genius. Chiellini played in two World Cups for Italy, in 2010 and 2014, but the Azzurri did not advance past the group stage in either tournament – and did not qualify for the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. Chiellini made his national team debut in 2004 but was not a member of Italy’s World Cup-winning squad in 2006, in part because he had transferred to Juventus in 2005 and was still working his way into consistent playing time with one of Serie A’s powerhouses.

Giorgio Chiellini’s trophy cabinet is massive. The defender’s nine consecutive league titles (2011-2019) with Juventus are just the tip of the iceberg. Chiellini won the Italian Cup five times (2014-17 & 2020), the Italian Super Cup five times (2012, ’13, ’15, ’18 & ’20), the U19 Euros (2003), and the 2020 European Championship with Juventus. He has been a winner throughout his career, and that experience will be invaluable to the Los Angeles Football Club.

#16 Francesco Totti (1998-2006, 58 caps, 9 goals)

The Golden Boy of Italian football is a rare example of unwavering loyalty in today’s game. Spending his entire career with a Roma side struggling for trophies has earned him God-like status in the capital, and his performances in the blue of Italy quickly spread to the rest of the country.

In 2000, he helped Italy reach the European Championship final, only to be defeated by a French team led by Zinedine Zidane. When the two met again in the 2006 World Cup final, Totti was smiling as he collected a winner’s medal on his way to being named to the tournament’s All-Star team.

His five Italian Player of the Year awards remain unrivaled, and he currently ranks sixth all-time in Serie A scoring.

#15 Fabio Cannavaro (1997-2010, 136 caps, 2 goals)

Fabio Cannavaro, the most capped Italian footballer of all time, has been a mainstay of the Azzurri defense for over a decade and is still going strong, captaining Italy at the 2010 World Cup.

This is his fourth World Cup appearance, having previously appeared in 1998, 2002, and 2006, when he famously lifted the trophy. He has also played in two European Championships, helping Italy finish second in 2000 and again in 2004.

Cannavaro was the only defender in history to receive the FIFA World Player of the Year award for his outstanding performances in 2006.

In the list of the “Top 10 Central Defenders of All Time,” he was named the eighth-best center-back of all time.

#14 Alessandro Del Piero (1995-2008, 91 caps, 27 goals)

Alessandro Del Piero, like Francesco Totti, is a golden boy of Italian football and is as well-known in Turin as Totti is in Rome. With 27 goals in 91 appearances, he is ranked fourth all-time in goalscoring.

Del Piero has competed in seven major international tournaments, including the 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 European Championships and 1998, 2002, and 2006 World Cups.

The 2006 campaign was particularly memorable for Del Piero, as he secured a passage into the final with Italy’s second goal in the 2-0 semi-final win over Germany. Italy went on to win the tournament and become World Champions for the fourth time in their history.

#13 Silvio Piola (1935-1952, 34 caps, 30 goals)

Silvio Piola is just ahead of Del Piero in the all-time Italian goalscoring lists, with 30 goals in 34 caps, demonstrating his prolific finishing and the inventiveness with which he scored many of those goals.

Piola, for example, is widely regarded as the first person to score or even attempt a bicycle kick. It was his willingness to score at any cost that allowed him to score 274 goals in Serie A, a record that still stands today.

His international career could have been even more successful had it not been cut short by World War II, but with a 1938 World Cup winner’s medal in his trophy case, I’m sure you won’t hear many complaints about his accomplishments.

#12 Luigi Riva (1965-1974, 42 caps, 35 goals)

If injuries had not hampered Luigi Riva’s career, he would have surely added to his incredible strike rate of 35 international goals in only 42 games. Despite having two broken legs during his playing career, Riva remains Italy’s all-time leading scorer.

He helped Italy win the European Championships in 1968. Two years later scored a crucial goal against Franz Beckenbauer’s West Germany to send Italy to the World Cup final, where only Pele’s Brazil could stop them.

His unwavering devotion to Cagliari was recognized in 2005, when he became the club’s first player to have his shirt number retired, having scored 169 goals in 337 games for the Sardinian club.

#11 Gaetano Scirea (1974-1986, 78 caps, 2 goals)

The catenaccio system is synonymous with Italian football, and the Azzurri had the perfect architect in Gaetano Scirea. Scirea, a defender with tremendous skill, poise, and, of course, ability, was a key member of Italy’s team for over a decade.

Scirea represented the Azzurri in three World Cups and the 1980 European Championships during this period. His most memorable moment in these tournaments was Italy’s victory in 1982, which was largely made possible by Scirea’s performances against Brazil and West Germany.

Scirea excelled in the sweeper role made famous by Franz Beckenbauer for much of his career and is arguably the best exponent of this position since “Der Kaiser.”

Scirea was named the seventh best center-back of all time in the list “Top 10 Central Defenders of All Time.”

#10 Andrea Pirlo (2002-2015, 116 caps, 13 goals)

Andrea Pirlo is an Italian footballer who currently plays for the American club New York City FC as well as the Italian national team.

Pirlo and Italy won the World Cup in Berlin in 2006.

He won two UEFA Champions Leagues (2003 and 2007) and two UEFA Super Cups (2003 and 2007) with AC Milan, as well as two Serie A titles (2004 and 2011), a FIFA Club World Cup (2007), a Supercoppa Italiana (2004), and a Coppa Italia (2004). (2003). Following his move to Juventus in 2011, he won four more Serie A titles (2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015), as well as two Supercoppe Italiane (2012 and 2013) and a Coppa Italia (2015).

Pirlo was also named Serie A Footballer of the Year in 2012, 2013, and 2014, as well as a member of the Serie A team of the Year. After assisting Juventus to the 2015 UEFA Champions League Final, he was named to the season’s squad. The Guardian named Pirlo the eighth best footballer in the world in 2012, and Bloomberg named him the fifth best player in Europe in 2013. In 2015, France Football named him one of the world’s top ten footballers over the age of 36.

#9 Giacinto Facchetti (1963-1977, 94 caps, 3 goals)

Giacinto Facchetti, widely regarded as one of the first great attacking full-backs, was instrumental in the evolution of the position. He was also an important player for Italy and Inter Milan for a decade and a half.

His 94 caps, 70 of which were as captain, were a record at the time of his retirement, spanning three World Cups and Italy’s successful European Championships campaign in 1968.

He led the Azzurri to the 1970 World Cup final, where they faced an unstoppable Brazil side led by Pele and Jairzinho, and was considered such an icon for Inter Milan that his shirt number was retired after his death.

Facchetti was ranked fourth on the list of the “Top Ten Left-Backs of All Time.”

#8 Dino Zoff (1968-1983, 112 caps)

Dino Zoff, named the third greatest goalkeeper of the twentieth century, is the oldest player to have ever won the World Cup, doing so at the age of 40 in 1982.

In 1968, after only four appearances for the Azzurri, Zoff won a gold medal at the European Championships. He holds the record for the longest period without conceding an international goal (1142 minutes), which was broken by an unlikely source—Haiti player Manno Sanon.

In 2003, the Italian Football Federation named him the greatest Italian player of the previous 50 years, and he was recently ranked fifth in the list of the “Top 10 Goalkeepers of All Time.”

#7 Gianluigi Buffon (1997-2018, 176 caps)

Few modern goalkeepers have come close to Gianluigi Buffon, and the fact that he does not make the top ten in this list speaks volumes about the players above him.

After gaining tournament experience as a reserve in the 1998 World Cup, Buffon was heartbroken when a broken hand forced him to miss Euro 2000, where Italy finished runners-up.

He made up for it in 2006, when he put in some spectacular performances to help the Azzurri win the trophy and Buffon finish second in the FIFA World Player of the Year poll.

Buffon has also won the World Goalkeeper of the Year award four times and was named the eighth best keeper of all time in the list of the “Top 10 Goalkeepers of All Time.”

#6 Franco Baresi (1982-1994, 82 caps, 1 goal)

Surprisingly, for a player so revered in Italian football today, Franco Baresi didn’t make his World Cup debut until 1990, owing largely to the presence of Gaetano Scirea in Baresi’s preferred position.

Baresi was a member of the 1982 winning squad, though he did not play in the tournament, as well as the 1990 and 1994 squads, the latter of which reached the final before being defeated by Brazil on penalties.

With 628 appearances for Milan in a 20-year career, Baresi has had more domestic success than international success. His status as a Milan legend was cemented when his jersey number was retired.

Baresi was ranked third on the list of the “Top 10 Central Defenders of All Time.”

#5 Roberto Baggio (1988-2004, 56 caps, 27 goals)

Roberto Baggio, also known as the “Divine Ponytail,” is a player who is as well known for his penalty misses as he is for his immense talent. However, that penalty miss was significant because it cost Italy the World Cup in 1994.

It blemishes an otherwise magnificent career in which he scored over 300 club goals, the first Italian to do so in over 50 years, 27 international goals, the fourth highest tally in Italian football history, and won the Ballon d’Or and World Footballer of the Year awards in 1993.

Baggio is also the only Italian to have scored in three World Cups (1990, 1994, and 1998), and he has been named to Italy’s, Juventus’, and Brescia’s All-Time XIs.

#4 Paolo Maldini (1988-2002, 126 caps, 7 goals)

The word “legend” barely suffices to describe Paolo Maldini. He was a Milan stalwart for 25 years, and he carried that form to the international level for 14 years. When he retired, his tally of 126 caps was a record, and his tally of 74 as captain remains a record to this day.

Maldini played in four World Cups (1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002), as well as three European Championships (1988, 1996, and 2000), where he led Italy to the final, only to be defeated by Zinedine Zidane’s France.

He has played more games in Serie A, the Champions League, and for Milan than any other player in history, and his number three shirt has been retired by the club where he spent his entire career.

Maldini was named the best left-back of all time in the list “Top 10 Left-Backs of All Time.”

#3 Gianni Rivera (1962-1974, 60 caps, 14 goals)

In recent years, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero have been able to lay claim to the title of “Golden Boy” of Italian football. Still, Gianni Rivera held that title throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.

Rivera represented Italy at four World Cups, including an appearance in the final in 1970, and also helped them to victory at the 1968 European Championships. He spent 19 years with AC Milan after signing for the club at the age of 16 for £200,000 in 1960, a huge sum for someone so young.

Rivera went on to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or award in 1969 after finishing second to Lev Yashin in 1963.

#2 Paolo Rossi (1977-1986, 48 caps, 20 goals)

Few players have ever elicited such a range of emotions as Paolo Rossi. His alleged involvement in the infamous Totonero betting scandal resulted in national disgrace and a two-year ban from football.

However, his return to the 1982 World Cup turned that disgrace into delight, as he won the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot, assisting Italy to their third World Cup title. His six goals included a hat-trick against a great Brazil team in one of the best World Cup matches ever, two in the semi-finals, and one in the final.

Rossi’s year was 1982. He was awarded the Ballon d’Or and named World Player of the Year after dominating the latter stages of the World Cup, solidifying his place in football history.

#1 Giuseppe Meazza (1930-1939, 53 caps, 33 goals)

Some may be surprised that their greatest ever player is an attacking player from a country known for its defensive football, but Giuseppe Meazza is more than deserving of the honor.

Because of his impact on Italian football, particularly on Inter Milan, the stadium shared by Inter and AC Milan, better known as the San Siro, is now officially known as the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. Many people in Italy have compared him to Pele.

Meazza was a key member of Italy’s World Cup-winning teams in 1934 and 1938, becoming a member of a very exclusive club, having won football’s most prestigious prize twice. His 33 international goals are the second-most in Italian football history.

Giuseppe Meazza is regarded as the greatest Italian player of all time.

25 Best Italian Footballers of All-Time in the World Cup
Scroll to top