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Giuseppe Meazza

Giuseppe "Peppino" Meazza (23 August 1910–21 August 1979) also known as il "Balilla", Peppin, and sometimes Pepp, was an Italian footballer playing mainly for Inter in the 1930s, scoring 243 goals in 361 games for the club. He is still considered by many to be one of the greatest Italian players of all-time as well as the greatest Italian forward of all time. He was a great leader with superb shooting, unreal dribbling and an eye for the pass. Gianni Brera called him "The Gust" of the Italian people.

Meazza was born in Porta Vittoria. Having lost his father at the age of seven during the tragic fighting of World War I, young Peppe grew up in Milan with his mother, Ersilia who came from Mediglia in Lodi, Italy, helping her sell fruit at the market. However, it was football that was his true calling.

Meazza was the first Italian football player who became famous worldwide, and was the first player with personal sponsors. He was famous for humiliating the best defenders of the era and for sleeping at a brothel the night before a match. He was a superb dribbler who despite his speed, never had a single hair out of place, and although he was not tall, was remarkably good in the air. "Goals à la Meazza" has become a popular saying by Italian football fans to describe a truly inspiring goal off the dribble.

His trademark goals were ones where he would collect the ball at the half-line, dribble through several opponents with a series of twinkle-toed shuffles, and turns, until arriving in front of the goal, faking a shot, then dribbling past a beaten goalkeeper to slot home easily. Legend has it that during the 1933 season, Meazza made a bet with Giampiero Combi, the mythic goalkeeper of Juventus and captain of the 1934 World Champion Italian National Team. Combi challenged Meazza, claiming that nobody, not even Meazza, could sidestep him to score a goal. Meazza accepted the challenge. The next game between Ambrosiana Inter and Juventus was played in the Arena di Milano and Meazza managed to score a stupendous goal. He dribbled through a series of defenders, amongst them the Italo-Argentine Luis Monti another 1934 World Champion, before faking out Combi, dribbled past him, and scored a tap-in goal. Combi immediately got up and shook Meazza's hand.

Bruno Acari, once said that "Peppino never wanted to hear about tactics. He was a simple person who became a king when he entered the goal box, with a technical ability that was comparable to Pelé."

San Siro, the principal stadium in his native city of Milan, which is today shared by Internazionale and crosstown rivals AC Milan, is now officially called Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

Career at Inter Milan

At the age of 13, Meazza admired AC Milan, but was rejected by them. However, he was received with open arms by Inter Milan. At first he was used to fill a gap in defense instead of being allowed to follow his attacking instinct, but luckily Inter's junior coach later corrected the mistake. When Ambrosiana beat Bari in the 1937/38 championship, he scored five goals in a 9-2 smashing. The very next week he scored a hat-trick against Lucchese. Goalkeeper Gaviorno from Novara once proclaimed after an 8-0 thrashing by Inter: "He is no centre forward, this Meazza is a demon".

Meazza still holds the record for the most goals scored in a debut season in Serie A, with 31 goals in his first season (1929-30). The year before, when Serie A didn't exist, and the Italian Championship was composed of 2 leagues (North and Central-South) with playoffs, Meazza played 29 matches, scoring 38 goals at the age of 18 years. He scored 5 goals in a single game, twice in one season: 6 January 1929 Inter v Pistoiese 9-1 and 17 March 1929 Inter v Verona 9-0. That same season (1928/29) on 12 May 1929, he scored six goals as Inter v Venezia beat 10-2.

He won 3 national championships with Inter (re-christened Ambrosiana under Fascist law) in 1930, 1938 and 1940, and was runner-up in 1933, 1934 and 1935; the Italian Cup in 1939; and was top-scorer of Serie A 3 times (1930, 1936, 1938). He was also top-scorer in the pre-Serie A year of 1929. Later in his career he also played with A.C. Milan, Juventus and Atalanta Bergamo.

National team career

Meazza, with his "demon-like" skills, played for Italy in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups, both of which Italy won. Apart from being on and captaining the first team to win a World Cup when not the host in 1938, Meazza, along with Giovanni Ferrari and Eraldo Monzeglio, also set a record for being the first player to win two World Cups (consecutive ones). Up until today, they are still the only Europeans to have achieved this record.

On February 9, 1930, his debut with the Azzurri, still only nineteen years old, Meazza scored twice against Switzerland (in the 37th and 39th minutes) to help Italy to a 4-2 victory after they had been down by two goals in only 19 minutes. A few months later, May 11, 1930, he scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 game as Italy beat Hungary for the first time in Budapest. Meazza scored also helped Italy win the Dr Gero Cup (the forerunner to the European Championship) later that year. His first fifteen caps were at center-forward, but in 1933, he showed his versatility during a 3-1 victory over Germany in Bologna, when he was moved to an inside-right position by the Italian coach Vittorio Pozzo, the mastermind coach behind both Italian World Cup victories to accommodate teammate Angelo Schiavio, a switch that would help Italy win the World Cup the next year as the goals flowed in. During the tournament,Meazza once again demonstrated his adaptability when he was switched to an inside-left, when needed.

In the 1934 World Cup, which was hosted by Italy, Meazza appeared in every game for Italy, scoring once in the opening match, a 7-1 victory over the United States. In the game against Spain, Giovanni Ferrari scored a goal against "Il Divino" Ricardo Zamora after a supposed foul on the keeper by il "Balilla". Meazza then scored a diving header from a cross sent in by Enrique Guaita to beat Spain in the replay, after the first game had ended in a tie. There were claims that the replacement Spanish goalie, Juan José Nogués, who was replacing Zamora after he was injured in a clash with Schiavio in the first game, was fouled by Meazza in order to score the goal. However, footage exists that exonerates the Italian of any wrong doing. In the semi-final against Austria, then dubbed the "Wunderteam", Meazza was said to have pushed the grounded Austrian keeper, Peter Platzer, enabling Guaita to score the only game of the match. However what is indisputable was that Meazza out-played an Austrian forward to set up the goal before the alleged incident. Further cries of a conspiracy were heard, as sources cite that in the 54th minute against Czechoslovakia, Meazza, who was playing in the final though carrying an injury, punched Rudolf Krcil in the back without being disciplined by the ref. It was Meazza's slicing pass that unlocked the Czech defense and sent Schiavio through to beat Frantisek Planicka, another legendary goalkeeper of the era, and win the World Cup in the 96th minute. Meazza was elected into the All-Star Team of the tournament.

After the World Cup victory, Meazza represented Italy against "The Old Masters", England in the infamous "Battle of Highbury", the Azzurri's first game since winning the World Cup five months earlier. England and Italy had drawn, 1-1, 18 months earlier in Rome in their only previous meeting. The return game was being called the "true" World Championship match for world supremacy because Italy were reigning World Champions at the time. England did not take part in the World Cup at the time, considering themselves the inventors of football and the tournament itself not worthy of their participation. To prove their point, the English went after the Italians, resulting in 3 goals in the first twelve minutes and the Italians being reduced to ten men after Luis Monti, Italy's defensive center-half, had a bone broken in his foot by Ted Drake, the English center forward after only two minutes. Convinced the injury on Monti was deliberately inflicted, Italy retaliated, and the first half became marked by violent fouls. Stanley Matthews remembered this as the most violent match of his career, and Eddie Hapgood, who had his nose broken by an Italian elbow, said it was the dirtiest match he’d ever played in. Even though Italy lost, Meazza salvaged some pride by scoring two incredible goals four minutes apart in the 58th and 62nd minutes, in very heavy rain. The first was the result from a skillful move by Guaita, the second on a header from Attilio Ferraris' free kick. He was only denied an equalizer by the woodwork and by some fine saves by England's goalkeeper, Frank Moss who playing in what was to be his last international. Because of the courage they showed in fighting back after being down to ten men for the majority of the match, that Italian team was dubbed "The Lions of Highbury".

In the 1938 World Cup hosted by France, Meazza captained Italy to another victory, again playing in every match. After a very difficult opening game against Norway, he petitioned Vittorio Pozzo, to allow the team a night off to relax. In his wisdom, Pozzo saw that his players needed to unwind after having trained for so long in preparation of the tournament and allowed the players a night of indulgence. Meazza was reported to have spent the night with two beautiful French girls. Another of his memorable moments is a goal he scored in the 1938 tournament against Brazil in the semi-final. Italy were awarded a penalty. The Brazilian goalkeeper Walter, arrogantly claimed he was certain he would save the penalty, which he was famous for doing so back in Brazil. As Meazza stepped up to take it, his shorts fell down because the elastic around the waist had earlier been pulled and ripped by a defender. Meazza, without letting this stress him, pulled up his shorts with one hand and shot past the confused Walter, who was still busy laughing. His celebrating team-mates surrounded him until a new pair of shorts were produced. The goal sent Italy into their second consecutive World Cup final. He set up two of Italy's efforts in the 4-2 win over Hungary in the final. This was a vindication for the Azzurri, who were believed to have benefited from favoritism in 1934. But winning it again in France proved that there was something special about the Italian soccer of the era. After the tournament, Silvio Piola, the team's new centre forward, who scored five goals in France, paid his colleague the compliment of being responsible for his own good performance: "At the FIFA World Cup, I mainly lived off Meazza and Ferrari".

Meazza won 2 Central European International Cup titles, in the 1930 and 1935. That cup was a 3 year international tournament between the strongest national teams of central and eastern Europe.

He played 53 times with Italy and lost just 6 matches.

Career records

Serie A record

|- |1927-28||rowspan="13"|Internazionale Milano||rowspan="13"|Serie A||33||12|||||||||||||||| |- |1928-29||29||38|||||||||||||||| |- |1929-30||33||31|||||||||||||||| |- |1930-31||34||24|||||||||||||||| |- |1931-32||28||21|||||||||||||||| |- |1932-33||32||20|||||||||||||||| |- |1933-34||32||21|||||||||||||||| |- |1934-35||30||18|||||||||||||||| |- |1935-36||29||25|||||||||||||||| |- |1936-37||26||11|||||||||||||||| |- |1937-38||26||20|||||||||||||||| |- |1938-39||16||4|||||||||||||||| |- |1939-40||0||0|||||||||||||||| |- |1940-41||rowspan="2"|Milan||rowspan="2"|Serie A||14||6|||||||||||||||| |- |1941-42||23||3|||||||||||||||| |- |1942-43||Juventus||Serie A||27||10|||||||||||||||| |- |1945-46||Atalanta||Serie A||14||2|||||||||||||||| |- |1946-47||Internazionale Milano||Serie A||17||2||||||||||||||||443||268||||||||||||||||443||268|||||||||||||||| |}

Meazza is still today the third top-scorer ever in the Italian Championship.

National team record

Cap Goals Total
goals
Date Venue Opponent Score Competition
1 2 2 9 February 1930 Rome Switzerland 4-2 Friendly
2 1 3 2 March 1930 Frankfurt Germany 2-0 Friendly
3 3 6 April 1930 Amsterdam Netherlands 1-1 Friendly
4 3 6 11 May 1930 Budapest Hungary 5-0 Central European International Cup
5 6 22 June 1930 Bologna Spain 2-3 Friendly
6 3 9 25 January 1931 Bologna France 5-0 Friendly
7 1 10 22 February 1931 Milan Austria 2-1 Central European International Cup
8 10 29 March 1931 Bern Switzerland 1-1 Central European International Cup
9 10 19 April 1931 Bilbao Spain 0-0 Friendly
10 1 11 20 May 1931 Rome Scotland 3-0 Friendly
11 11 15 November 1931 Rome Czechoslovakia 2-2 Central European International Cup
12 1 12 20 March 1932 Vienna Austria 1-2 Central European International Cup
13 12 8 May 1932 Budapest Hungary 1-1 Central European International Cup
14 12 28 October 1932 Prague Czechoslovakia 1-2 Central European International Cup
15 1 13 27 November 1932 Milan Hungary 4-2 Friendly
16 1 14 1 January 1933 Bologna Germany 3-1 Friendly
17 2 16 12 February 1933 Brussels Belgium 3-2 Friendly
18 1 17 2 April 1933 Geneva Switzerland 3-0 Central European International Cup
19 17 13 May 1933 Rome England 1-1 Friendly
20 1 18 3 December 1933 Florence Switzerland 5-2 Central European International Cup
21 18 11 February 1934 Turin Austria 2-4 Central European International Cup
22 2 20 25 March 1934 Milan Greece 4-0 World Cup Qualifier
23 1 21 27 May 1934 Rome United States 7-1 World Cup
24 21 31 May 1934 Florence Spain 1-1 World Cup
25 1 22 1 June 1934 Florence Spain 1-0 World Cup
26 22 3 June 1934 Milan Austria 1-0 World Cup
27 22 10 June 1934 Rome Czechoslovakia 2-1 World Cup
28 2 24 14 November 1934 London England 2-3 Friendly
29 1 25 9 December 1934 Milan Hungary 4-2 Friendly
30 2 27 17 February 1935

Rome France 2-1 Friendly
31 27 28 October 1935

Prague Czechoslovakia 1-2 Central European International Cup
32 27 24 November 1935

Milan Hungary 2-2 Central European International Cup
33 27 5 April 1936

Zürich Switzerland 2-1 Friendly
34 27 17 May 1936

Rome Austria 2-2 Friendly
35 1 28 31 May 1936

Budapest Hungary 2-1 Friendly
36 1 29 25 October 1936

Milan Switzerland 4-2 Central European International Cup
37 29 25 April 1937

Turin Hungary 2-0 Central European International Cup
38 29 23 May 1937

Prague Czechoslovakia 1-0 Central European International Cup
39 1 30 27 May 1937

Oslo Norway 3-1 Friendly
40 30 31 October 1937

Geneva Switzerland 2-2 Central European International Cup
41 30 5 February 1937

Paris France 0-0 Friendly
42 1 31 15 May 1938

Milan Belgium 6-1 Friendly
43 1 32 22 May 1938

Geneva Yugoslavia 4-0 Friendly
44 32 5 June 1938

Marseille Norway 2-1 World Cup
45 32 12 June 1938

Paris France 3-1 World Cup
46 1 33 16 June 1938

Marseille Brazil 2-1 World Cup
47 33 19 June 1938

Paris Hungary 4-2 World Cup
48 33 26 March 1939

Florence Germany 3-2 Friendly
49 33 13 May 1939

Milan England 2-2 Friendly
50 33 4 June 1939

Belgrade Yugoslavia 2-1 Friendly
51 33 8 June 1939

Budapest Hungary 3-1 Friendly
52 33 11 June 1939

Bucharest Romania 1-0 Friendly
53 33 20 July 1939

Helsinki Finland 3-2 Friendly
(Italy's score shown first)

Meazza is a FIFA Hall of Champions Inductee and Italian Hall of Fame Entrant. He was selected by IFFHS/FIFA as the 2nd Best Italian player as one of the best 25 World Players of the 20th Century.

With 33 goals, Meazza is still the the Italian national team's second highest scorer, behind only Luigi Riva. He died in 1979 aged 68.

See also

In Italy is nicknamed "La Scala of football".

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