WORDS: PAOLO BRUSCHI
Helenio Herrera’s ‘Grande Inter’ may be know for perfecting the catenaccio system, but in Giacinto Facchetti they also boasted one of the game’s greatest-ever attacking full-backs, who downed Bill Shankly’s Liverpool when he finished a breathtaking counterattack in a European Cup semi-final…
Two defenders calmly exchange passes in the heart of the opposition penalty area. The World Cup is at stake and, although he has a severe moustache decorating his face, the youngest of the pair is still a teenager. Yet, seeming unfazed by their fierce rivals or by the ear-splitting scream of nearly 100,000 people inside the stadium, the pair keep their composure to set up one of the most famous goals in history.
You might reasonably assume that the two are Nilton Santos and Djalma Santos, or Cafu and Roberto Carlos, wearing the golden jersey of the mighty Brazilian Seleçao, but you would be wrong. What happened next is well known by anyone who has seen a montage of great World Cup moments: the ball is rolled back outside of the area where a powerful left-footed strike sends it into the net.
Marco Tardelli’s goal against West Germany sealed a third World Cup triumph for the Italian national team and his impassioned running celebration became one of the defining moments of the 1982 tournament. It is perhaps less well known that the man who assisted the goal were the graceful libero Gaetano Scirea and fellow defender Giuseppe Bergomi.
If Scirea and Bergomi shocked their opponents and millions of spectators around the world with their skills as additional forwards at the Santiago Bernabeu that day, the people gazing in awe would have done well to remember the man who had inspired such attacking confidence in Italian defenders: Giacinto Facchetti.
The elegant Facchetti emerged from the era of catenaccio, a defensive tactic that characterised Italian football for much of the 1960s and 1970s, and yet he could be classed as one of the earliest great attacking full-backs. Standing at 6ft 2in, Facchetti could reportedly run the 100 metres in Olympic-standard time and actually wavered as to whether to pursue a track and field career or play football as a centre-forward…until Helenio Herrera discovered him.
The great Inter coach settled Facchetti’s destiny forever when he transformed him into the keystone of his largely defensive Nerazzurri team, who mastered Italian, European and World club football in the mid-1960s. Facchetti’s refined technique, an outstanding feature for a player of his size, allied with his positional sense and his ability to read the game, proved to be his passport for crossing the halfway line, previously a border that full-backs had always shied away from traversing. As John Foot put it in Calcio, “Herrera moved Facchetti from centre-back to left-back, and gave him a licence to attack, thirty years before the advent of overlappings fullbacks in the 1990s”.
Facchetti revolutionised football by managing to combine defending with a penchant for striding forward and scoring goals. For years he held the record for most goals in a single Serie A season by a defender after scoring 10 times during the 1965/66 campaign (bettered only 20 years later by Argentinian Daniel Passarella, whose total of 11 goals was bolstered by five penalties, and then surpassed again by Marco Materazzi, who netted seven penalties to reach 12 goals in 2000/01).
One of Facchetti’s most celebrated displays of attacking full-back play came 50 years ago, on 12 May 1965, during the return leg of Inter’s European Cup semi-final against Liverpool. A game that is remembered bitterly by Liverpool fans for a couple of decisions by the Spanish official Jose Maria Ortiz de Mendebil is hailed by Inter supporters as the highest point in the counter-attacking catenaccio system of Herrera’s Grande Inter.
A week earlier, Liverpool had beaten Inter 3-1 at Anfield in the first leg when goals from Roger Hunt, Ian Callaghan and Ian St. John nourished expectations that Bill Shankly’s boys would become the first British side to reach the final of the European Cup, especially as Herrera’s team were known for their impregnable defence and not for a particularly prolific attack.
The Reds, then, headed hopefully to Milan only to be blown away resoundingly in a 3-0 defeat. The game became known among Liverpool fans for two decisions by the Iberian referee. Firstly, after whistling for an indirect free-kick, he allowed Mario Corso to convert it directly with his trademark “dead leaf” technique, and almost immediately afterwards he saw no foul when Joachim Peirò crept in behind goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence and stole the ball from him while he was still bouncing it before rolling it into the net.
Thanks to those two early goals, Inter had erased the deficit and shifted the momentum of the tie, but there was still a moment of pure footballing bliss to come.
On 62 minutes, defender Armando Picchi served the ball to Luisito Suarez and he promptly moved it to Sandro Mazzola, who helped it on smoothly to Facchetti. The full-back had run about 60 metres before arriving to hit a cyclonic right-footed strike that swished under Lawrence’s body and crashed into the net at the speed of light.
That classic counterattack, which took just eight seconds, booked the holders a second consecutive European Cup final place, this time at the San Siro, where they made the most of their home advantage to defeat Benfica with a single goal from Brazilian forward Jair. That same year, Facchetti just missed out on becoming the first defender to win the Ballon d’Or, finishing second to Eusébio. That silver ball was the only individual recognition he received for his pioneering role in the tradition of attacking Italian full-backs.