As the clock inside Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion ticked towards 11:15pm in the July night, the watchful eyes of some 65,000 people are witnessing a frantic World Cup semi-final. The 0-0 draw between the hosts Germany and Italy has been a breathless match, featuring chances galore between two of the world’s best teams. For all the talent on the pitch, however, it appears, in the 28th minute of extra-time, that there will only one thing capable of concluding the contest.
Penalties are on the mind, although for the Italians’ sake, the heroics of Gianluigi Buffon are not needed. A corner from Alessandro Del Piero is partially cleared, only for the masterful eye of Andrea Pirlo to thread a no-look pass between Bastian Schweinsteiger and Christoph Metzelder. It falls at the feet of left-back Fabio Grosso, with the Palermo man hitting it first time. His left-footed strike curls around Michael Ballack and into Jens Lehmann’s far post, sending Italy to the World Cup final.
Up until this point, Grosso had enjoyed an unspectacular career. Unlike many of his World Cup teammates he had to work his way up the calcio ladder, born in Rome in 1977 and starting out at fifth tier Renato Curi. An attacking midfielder at the time, he recorded a commendable 17 goals across three seasons, prior to making the switch up to fourth division Chieti in 1998. Another series of impressive displays, including assisting in promotion in his final season, caught the attention of Serie A side Perugia.
During these early stages of his career, Grosso featured further forward than for what he would later be remembered as, utilised either as an attacking midfielder or left winger. Upon his arrival at Perugia in 2001, however, head coach Serse Cosmi quickly decided his talents would best be suited further back. This resulted in a switch to left-back, a role that he would play for the rest of his career.
His debut for Perugia went the worst possible way, as he hit the post before being sent off in a 4-1 loss to Inter. The distinct change in quality meant Grosso was gradually eased into proceedings, vying for the role with Mauro Milanese. He was used mainly as a substitute in these opening months, only really forcing his way into contention owing to a suspension for Milanese. Starting against Fiorentina, Grosso would play the full 90 minutes and score in a 3-1 win.
Milanese returned to the starting line-up after his suspension, but two heavy losses to Lazio and Inter prompted Cosmi to throw Grosso in for the late January fixture with Hellas Verona. He impressed in a 3-1 win, going on to play every remaining minute of the season, bar missing the match with Juventus in early April 2002 for his own yellow card ban.
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The following season saw Grosso now firmly employed as a regular, with 28 league starts and a further two off the bench. In 2002/03 he hit four goals, although none contributed to a winning result. Regardless of this, the form he had shown throughout the season had piqued the interest of Giovanni Trapattoni, prompting the Azzurri boss to hand Grosso his first Italy cap in the April 2003 friendly with Switzerland.
Another solid first half of the season came in 2003/04, so it was a surprise when Grosso dropped down to Palermo of Serie B at the end of the January transfer window. It was to prove a move of great foresight, though, with the Sicilian side going on to achieve promotion as Perugia were relegated. Grosso made 21 appearances during the second part of that campaign, playing as a more conventional full-back in a flat back four as opposed to the more marauding wing-back role he was tasked with in Umbria.
A stellar return to Serie A was to greet Grosso, who featured in all but two games as a stalwart of a defence featuring fellow international Andrea Barzagli. He only scored one goal during this campaign, however it was a wonderfully taken free-kick at the Stadio Olimpico as he drove past Carlo Zotti to earn a point against Roma. Meanwhile, it was also a thoroughly successful season for his new club, with Palermo exceeding all expectations to finish in sixth place and qualify for Europe for the first time in their history.
On the back of another consistent campaign in 2005/06, Marcello Lippi included Grosso in his 23-man squad for the World Cup in Germany. It was a decision that would prove to elevate the defender to new heights. Throughout 2005 he had become a mainstay at left-back for Italy, scoring his first international goal with a well-taken volley at Hampden Park to salvage a crucial 1-1 draw in Scotland.
In the opening game of the tournament, a 2-0 win over Ghana, Grosso unexpectedly played the full 90 minutes after first choice left-back Gianluca Zambrotta strained his thigh in training. The next match with the USA saw Zambrotta return in Grosso’s place, although right-back Cristian Zaccardo played poorly and scored an own goal. In response, Lippi decided the versatile Zambrotta should switch flanks, with Grosso returning at left-back for the final group match with the Czech Republic.
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A 2-0 victory saw the Italians progress as Group E winners, being drawn against Australia in the round of 16. Grosso was to prove instrumental in sealing the 1-0 win. Receiving an arching pass from Francesco Totti deep into stoppage time, he took the ball on his chest and drove at Mark Bresciano. He cut inside to leave the Australian on the floor before advancing into the area.
In his way was Lucas Neill, with Grosso using all his defensive knowledge in the opposition box. Instead of attempting to cut back, he slowed to walking pace, awaiting the next move of his adversary like a high stakes game of chess. Neill decided to go in for the challenge, spreading his legs in a scissor motion. In response, Grosso fell to the floor, anticipating the contact, and in controversial circumstances, Luis Medina Cantalejo awarded a penalty.
Grosso fell to his knees as Vincenzo Iaquinta comes across to congratulate him, grabbing him in celebration prior to Totti converting the spot kick. A fairly routine 3-0 dispatching of Ukraine in the quarters was to prove a dress rehearsal for the next two games, which would change Grosso’s life.
Italian football expert John Foot mentions that before the tournament, most Italians didn’t even know what Grosso looked like. How that month in the German sun would change that. As if his goal to take against Germany was memorable enough, it would be in the final where his legendary status would be truly attained. Unlike in the semi-final, there was to be no dramatic ending in extra time, and the match was to be decided on penalties. All those that stepped up scored, apart from the unfortunate David Trezeguet.
As the fifth and final taker, this presented Grosso with both a boyhood dream and nerve-shredding moment. He chose to go for a run up involving small steps, slowly advancing to the ball before placing it high into the left side of the goal. France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez went the wrong way and that was it: Italy were world champions, and Fabio Grosso was the man who’d sealed it.
Shortly after the conclusion of the tournament he moved on to Inter, a club who had been tracking his progress for a number of years. Unfortunately it was to prove a missed opportunity for Grosso, who vied with and ultimately lost out to Maxwell for the left-back spot. Either way, he picked up his first club honours, winning both the Scudetto and Supercoppa Italiana during his sole season at San Siro.
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Following this disappointing year, Grosso opted to move abroad for the first time in his career, joining French champions Lyon in a £7.5m transfer. Initially this was a success, with Grosso rediscovering his form to help Les Gones win both Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France. A particularly memorable match came away to Strasbourg in April 2008, where Grosso got Gabon international Éric Mouloungui sent off before heading home the winner from Abdul-Kader Keïta’s corner.
The 2008/09 season, however, was more of a struggle, with injuries and inconsistent form leading to him losing his place to a combination of John Mensah and Lamine Gassama. Despite this Lippi continued to show faith, with Grosso playing both the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup qualifying campaigns as first choice. Despite that, the situation in France was less than ideal, and with Lyon signing Porto’s Aly Cissokho in the summer, Grosso returned home on the final day of the summer transfer window.
Signing on at a rebuilding Juventus, once again it was to be a mixed three-year spell for the World Cup hero. The first season saw Grosso playing regularly, with winning goals against both Udinese and Fiorentina and a string of impressive performances. Unfortunately this wasn’t enough for Lippi, who surprisingly omitted Grosso from the 2010 World Cup squad as Italy were about to embark on their disastrous defence of their crown.
Back at club level, Grosso was omitted from the 25-man Europa League squad and only reinstated to the team following an injury to Paolo De Ceglie. Upon the appointment of Antonio Conte in the summer of 2011, several older players were moved on, and while Grosso remained in Turin, the situation deteriorated even further. Frozen out of the squad entirely, he made just two appearances in his final year of football.
Upon the expiry of his contract in the summer of 2012 he chose to retire, pursuing his coaching badges prior to returning to Juventus as youth team boss in 2013. He spent four seasons in charge of the under-19s prior to flying the nest and transferring to Bari in the summer of 2017. His first season in Serie B has been a successful one, as Grosso steered the Cockerels into sixth place. Whilst losing out to Cittadella in the playoff quarter-finals, it is a promising start, and from all accounts it would appear he has a bright future in management.
Regardless of what the future holds, it is fairly certain any other achievements will not match the defining image of Fabio Grosso. Running away from that penalty spot in Berlin, arms outstretched amidst a commentating backdrop of “Italia, Campioni del mondo!”, his place in history is secure as the man who sealed the 2006 World Cup.
By James Kelly @jkell403