Football Features

How Italy’s 1996 U21 Euros-winning side introduced us to some true legends

By Oliver Young-Myles

Published: 11:43, 19 March 2020

For England supporters, 1996 evokes memories (both glorious and painful) of the European Championships where the Three Lions went agonisingly close to ending their tournament drought.

In Italy, though, perhaps the Under-21 European Championships that took place just before the senior competition got underway is more fondly remembered given it acted as a springboard for future Azzurri legends.

Italy won the tournament by beating France in the semis and Spain in the final and a number of their players went on to lift the World Cup just a decade later.

So, with this in mind, what happened to Italy’s key players from the U21 Euros in 1996?

Starting XI

Angelo Pagotto

Clubs played for: Pistoiese, Sampdoria, AC Milan, Perugia, Empoli, Reggiana, Perugia (second spell), Triestina, Arezzo, Torino, Grosseto, Crotone

International caps: 0

Major honours: 1

At 22, Pagotto was significantly more experienced than the 18-year-old backup shot-stopper, Gianluigi Buffon, and he too was well-regarded in the country having spent a solid season with Sampdoria.

A move to AC Milan followed but after struggling to cement his position as Rossoneri’s No.1, Pagotto embarked on a somewhat nomadic career across Italy without ever earning senior international recognition.

His career was effectively ended in 2007 when he was suspended for eight years for using a banned substance.

Christian Panucci

Clubs played for: Genoa, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Monaco, Roma, Parma

International caps: 57

Major honours: 12

At the time, Panucci was a key member of a hugely successful AC Milan team and he was well on his way to enjoying a career at the very top of the game.

Following the conclusion of the Euros, Panucci spent a further six months at Milan before moving on to Real Madrid midway through the 1996-97 season.

Panucci went on to play in the Premier League and Ligue 1, as well as for Italy at three major tournaments before turning his hand to management.

Fabio Cannavaro

Clubs played for: Napoli, Parma, Inter Milan, Juventus, Real Madrid, Juventus (second spell), Al-Ahli

International caps: 136

Major honours: 8

Ten years after winning the U21 European Championships, Fabio Cannavaro was hoisting aloft the most treasured trophy of all, the World Cup, after leading Italy to another penalty shootout win, this time against France.

It goes without saying then that between the two events Cannavaro enjoyed a hugely successful career, initially with Parma and then Juventus with a two-year spell at Inter thrown in for good measure.

He went on to win the Ballon d’Or in 2006, play for Real Madrid and Juventus again before turning to coaching after a stint with Al-Ahli in Dubai. These days, he’s managing Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super League.

Alessandro Nesta

Clubs played for: Lazio, AC Milan, Montreal Impact, Chennaiyin FC

International caps: 78

Major honours: 20

Has there been a better international defensive pairing in recent years than Cannavaro and Nesta? Like his ally at the back, Nesta established himself as the captain of his first club, this time Lazio, before earning a big move elsewhere.

While Cannavaro took a trip to Milan from Parma in 2002, Nesta instead swapped Rome for Milan, joining AC where he would go on to win the Champions League and Serie A.

Nesta also finished his career abroad with spells at Montreal Impact and Chennaiyin in India and is now the Head Coach of Frosinone.

Salvatore Fresi

Clubs played for: Salernitana, Inter Milan, Salernitana (second spell), Napoli, Bologna, Juventus, Perugia, Catania, Salernitana (third spell), Battipagliese

International caps: 0

Major honours: 3

The third member of Italy’s back three, it’s fair to say Salvatore Fresi didn’t quite go on to enjoy the success that Nesta and Cannavaro did despite showing plenty of early promise.

Fresi was so highly-regarded, in fact, he even captained this collection of future stars on a regular basis, although he never made a senior cap despite being called up six times between 1995-99.

Fabio Galante

Clubs played for: Empoli, Genoa, Inter Milan, Torino, Livorno

International caps: 0

Major honours: 3

An elegant defender with a fearsome left foot, Fabio Galante was another player tipped for big things as he joined Inter Milan shortly after the conclusion of Euro 1996.

Despite winning the UEFA Cup in 1998, Galante struggled to force his way into the starting XI on a consistent basis, although he still enjoyed a productive Serie A career with Torino and Livorno.

Damiano Tommasi

Clubs played for: Verona, Roma, Levante, QPR, Tianjin Teda, Sant’Anna d’Alfaedo, La Fiorita

International caps: 25

Major honours: 2

After starring in Hellas Verona’s first-team for three years and then winning the Euros, Damiano Tommasi earned a move to Roma where he spent the next ten years of his career, winning the Scudetto in 2001.

Upon leaving the Eternal City, Tommasi spent two years in La Liga with Levante before briefly turning out for QPR in the Championship and then hanging up his boots in the Italian lower leagues.

Massimo Brambilla

Clubs played for: Monza, Reggiana, Parma, Bologna, Torino, Siena, Cagliari, Mantova, Monza (second spell), Pergocrema

International caps: 0

Major honours: 0

A regular of Italy’s youth teams in the mid-90s, Massimo Brambilla struggled to replicate his international success at club level, falling out of favour at Parma in the 1996-97 season and moving on to Bologna.

By the time Brambilla had retired, he had worn the colours of ten Italian clubs from Serie A down to the lower leagues and the most successful period of his career was between 1997-2002 when he plied his trade with Torino.

Raffaele Ametrano

Clubs played for: Napoli, Ischia, Udinese, Juventus, Verona, Empoli, Genoa, Salernitana, Cagliari, Crotone, Napoli (second spell), Messina, Avellino, Potenza, Juve Stabia

International caps: 0

Major honours: 0

Raffaele Ametrano was another member of Italy’s victorious squad whose performances attracted the attention of one of Italian football’s big boys, as Juventus snapped him up from Udinese. That in spite of the fact he got sent off in the final.

His dream move turned into something of a nightmare, though, as Ametrano made just one league appearance in four years at Stadio delle Alpi, spending five spells away on loan during that time.

Francesco Totti

Clubs played for: AS Roma

International caps: 58

Major honours: 6

Another legend of the game who needs no introduction. It was Francesco Totti’s goal that saw Italy squeak through the semi-finals against a French team containing Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Claude Makelele and Sylvain Wiltord.

In 1996, Totti already had two full seasons in the Roma first-team and, over two decades on, he was still playing for and captaining his boyhood club.

While major honours have largely eluded Totti — one Scudetto, two Coppa Italias and a World Cup are nowhere near enough for someone of his calibre — he will go down as Roma’s greatest-ever player and one of the finest technicians to pull on the Azzurri shirt to boot.

Nicola Amoruso

Clubs played for: Sampdoria, Fidelis Andria, Padova, Juventus, Perugia, Napoli, Perugia (second spell), Como, Modena, Messina, Reggina, Torino, Siena, Parma, Atalanta

International caps: 0

Major honours: 9

Similarly to Ametrano, Nicola Amoruso was signed by Juventus in 1996 despite being sent off in the final in the European Championships.

He would go on to spend six years at Juve (although he spent a season each at Perugia and Napoli during that time) before playing for a number of other clubs in the Italian top-flight, most notably Reggina between 2005-08.

Notable subs

Gianluigi Buffon

Clubs played for: Parma, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus (second spell)

International caps: 168

Major honours: 24

Buffon has had a pretty successful career after only starting on Italy’s bench at the U21 European Championships, back when he was just 18 years old.

The legendary shot-stopper clocked up 176 caps for the senior Italian team and has guarded Juventus’ goal for 16 years, which included captaining them through their recent trophy-laden period, before temporarily leaving for Paris Saint-Germain.

Alessio Tacchinardi

Clubs played for: Atalanta, Juventus, Villarreal, Brescia

International caps: 13

Major honours: 15

An influential member of Juventus’ team for 11 years, Alessio Tacchinardi won Serie A six times and the Champions League once and also starred for Villarreal’s cult 2006 side.

Marco Delvecchio

Clubs played for: Inter Milan, Venezia, Udinese, Inter Milan (second spell), Roma, Brescia, Parma, Ascoli, Pescatori Ostia

International caps: 22

Major honours: 1

Marco Delvecchio is most known for his time at Roma where he won the Scudetto in 2001 and his goal for Italy in the Euro 2000 final against France.