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Football in Italy

Undoubtedly, soccer is considered to be the most popular sport in Italy. The number of Italians playing soccer represents approximately 5 million and over 1.5 of them are registered in 17,000 soccer clubs. As a whole, Italy estimates 5,000 professional soccer players and up to 500,000 matches are held annually within different soccer leagues.

In the ancient times, Italians played various forms of soccer. The most popular one was Harpastum, which was widespread in the Roman Empire. Another type of soccer that appeared in Florence in the Middle Ages is known as Calcio, which is translated as a “shot”. It is known that representatives of the Medici family played it with great pleasure, what is more, Pope Clement VII, Pope Leo XI and Pope Urban VIII participated in Calcio games in the Vatican. It is reasonable to assume that this Italian game was brought to other European countries by Roman Legions. At that time, there were no compulsory rules and the game resembled modern-day rugby. Each team had 27 players. The development of sport received state support during the leadership of Mussolini, and this soccer game was recognized as a national sport. This mixture of rugby, football and fistball got the name of Volta-flyball.

The modern version of soccer came to Italy in the 1880’s. Genoa Cricket and Football Club is considered to be the first club in Italy. It was founded in 1883 as a representation of England abroad. But there is a reason to believe, that the first Italian soccer club was founded in Turin. In 1887, a trader Edoardo Bosio returned back to Italy from England and decided to contribute to the development of soccer. At first, he established the Turin Football Cricket Club, Nobili Torino was founded afterwards. Both the teams were united into Internazionale F.C. Torino in 1891.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) was established in 1898. FIGC is one of the three co-founders of the UEFA. Soccer leagues and Italian cup competitions are held under the control of the organization’s departments. What is more, the national soccer team of Italy is also in the competence of the Federation. In 1898, FICG organized the first Italian Football Championship which four clubs took part in — Genoa, FBC Torinese, Ginnastica Torino and Internazionale Torino. All the matches were held in one day. Genoa became the first Italian champion. Fairly soon the tournament was renamed to Prima Categoria and divided into regional groups, the winners of which fought for the champion’s title in play-off matches. Genoa won this tournament six times before 1904. In 1905-1908 teams did not only compete for the champion’s title, but for the Coppa Spensley as well. Juventus won both the tiles in 1905, Milan won the title in the following two years.

The so-called Italianization began in 1901 when FIF (the previous name of the Football Union) decided to organize a tournament which only local players could participate in. The winner received the Coppa Buni at the end of the season. Those players who were not Italian citizens could participate in the federal championship and fight for the Coppa Spensley. Winners of both the tournaments played against each other so that the champion of Italy could be determined. This system was active till 1910.

FIGC joined FIFA in 1995 and since then the league structural changes began. But the championship was interrupted by the First World War. Then the organization that competed with the FIGC, Confederazione Calcistica Italiana (CCI), emerged. The Confederation was founded in connection with the disputes about the format of leagues for large and small clubs. Since 1922 only regional leagues’ winners could take part in the struggle for the championship title. The Italian league is also called Scudetto, as since 1924/1925 the reigning champion is allowed to wear a small badge in the colors of the national flag on the uniform. The regulations were subjected to radical changes in 1929. 18 teams took part in the first unified league season in 1929/1930. Inter was the winner of that Championship. Soon due to the military actions the tournament was suspended. Torino became the first postwar champion and afterwards also took the title three times in succession. Then Juventus, AC Milan and Inter took the lead, winning 57 out of 72 seasons. The number of participants varied from 16 to 21, since 2004 only 20 best teams of the country take part in the tournament.

Serie A and Serie B, the first and the second division, have emerged in Italy since 1947. Lega Pro was transformed into a professional league in 1978, Lega Pro Prima Divisione (Serie C1) and Lega Pro Seconda Divisione (Serie C2) were created. Thus, professional leagues in Italy appeared 14 years earlier than in England. Lega Pro emerged to replace Serie C1 and Serie C2 in 2014, three years later it was renamed Serie C.

Foreign referees were allowed to judge the Italian matches in the 1950s. In the 1956/1957 season, the first live broadcast of the match was carried. Soccer betting became widespread in the country at this time. In the mid-1960s, there were significant changes in the system of the Italian football. The number of participants was reduced, moreover, a ban on the foreign players’ partaking was introduced. The unexpected defeat of the Italian national team against North Korea at the 1966 World Cup was the reason for such measures. Limitations were expected to help improve the achievements of the Italian footballers. But some clubs still continued to accept foreign players, who for this reason received Italian citizenship. The ban was lifted in 1980 and two years later Italy became the world champion for the third time.

The North Italian clubs dominated the league until the 1980/1981 season, the moment when Lazio and AC Milan were forced to leave the top division due to arrears. The Milanese returned after only a year in Serie B, but failed to remain in Serie A. So, other clubs stood a chance to win the championship. AS Roma won the league for the first time in 40 years in 1983, in 1985 Hellas Verona celebrated its first championship. SSC Napoli with Diego Maradona in the team also managed to climb to the top of the standings. At the end of the previous century, Lazio, AS Roma, Juventus and AC Milan held the title of champion.

The teams were facing financial difficulties that led to the forced termination of some licenses made by the FIGC in 2005. Moreover, the same decision was rendered in relation to FC Messina and AC Turin. The latter was able to stand upon their rights in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Rome and to save your license for the second league. Lega Calcio, i.e. the football association, was even stricter towards the first champion CFC Genoa. For the treaty match character against FC Venezia, the club was moved down to the last line in Serie B, which meant the relegation to Serie C. In addition, the team was charged with 3 points for the next season. The presidents of both clubs were forbidden to hold any posts in the teams. Ascoli Calcio and FBC Treviso were given the opportunity to occupy the higher positions in the standings and qualify for Serie A.

The biggest soccer scandal took place a year after when the systematic deals between the judges and sporting officials were exposed. ACF Fiorentina, AC Milan, Reggina Calcio, Lazio, Juventus and AC Arezzo were fined with a number of points. Moreover, two titles which had been earlier awarded to Juventus, were annulated and the club involuntarily left Serie A.

The next shock was the fans clashes in 2006/2007 during Catania Calcio – US Palermo match, which became the culmination as hundreds of people were injured at the stadium and after the match. In the response to these disorders, all the matches of the next round in the Italian leagues were canceled together with the friendly match against Romania in February 2007.

The strongest clubs in Serie A are the teams from the northern part of Italy which can be confirmed by the list of champions. Juventus became the champion of Italy for 33 times, both AC Milan and Inter – 18 times. But there are exceptions: ACF Fiorentina became the champions in 1956 and 1969, US Cagliari in 1970, SSC Napoli in 1987 and 1990, Lazio in 1974 and 2000, AS Roma in 1983 and 2001. Almost ten years ago only three clubs represented the south of Italy, but in the 2017/2018 season, there were five of them. The most successful is SSC Napoli.

The derbies between Lazio and AS Roma in Rome, Juventus and FC Torino in Turin, AS Milan and Inter in Milano are considered to be the traditional duels. The odds on this matches are in a constant and dynamic change during the season. The less significant matchups are the matches in Genoa between Sampdoria and CFC Genoa and in Verona between Hellas and Chievo.

Such southern regions as Calabria, Puglia, Abruzzo, and Marche have not appeared in Serie A for decades. The clubs from Molise, Basilicata, Valle d'Aosta and Südtirol have never made it to the major league.

Juventus has headed the Serie A standings for all the seasons. This club skipped only one out of 85 seasons and became the champion for 33 times. Moreover, Juventus is the most successful team in Italy according to the number of goals scored and points gained. Inter has not missed any season and heads the list of top leaders along with AC Milan. AS Roma, ACF Fiorentina, Lazio, SSC Napoli, FC Torino, FC Bologna, Sampdoria Genoa, Atalanta Bergamo, CFC Genoa and Udinese Calcio also established at the top of the standings.

Having won the championship eight times, Giovanni Ferrari and Giuseppe Furino are the record holders of Serie A. In the Juventus lineup Furino won all his Scudetti and no one has managed to overcome his achievement yet. Ciro Ferrara was awarded the same number of titles but the championship of 2004/2005 was nullified as a penalty measure. Alessandro Costacurta, Roberto Bettega, Paolo Maldini and Gaetano Scirea won 7 titles each. The legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon also has seven championships but two of them has been revoked.

The coach Giovanni Trapattoni became the holder of seven titles: six with Juventus and one with Inter. Fabio Capello and Marcello Lippi have a record of five championships. Carlo Carcano set a record having won four seasons in a row from 1931 to 1934.

Silvio Piola (Lazio) became the top goalscorer with his 247 goals in 537 matches. Francesco Totti and AS Romа are the runners-up with 250 goals scored. Then follow Gunnar Nordahl and AC Milan (225 goals), Giuseppe Meazza from Inter and Jose Altafini and AC Milan (both scored 216 goals). Among the footballers who played the most games in a Serie A are Paolo Maldini from AC Milan (647 matches), Francesco Totti from AS Romа (619 matches), Javier Zanetti from Inter (615 matches) and Gianluca Pagliuca from FC Bologna (592 matches). Gianluigi Buffon, who is currently in Juventus, has already played in more than 600 matches.

There are 38 rounds are held within one season in Serie A from August - September till May, where the teams meet each other twice. They use a three-point system in Italy according to which 3 points go to a winner and both teams get 1 point in case of a draw. There are no points awarded to the losing team as well. Тhe number of earned points determines the place in the standings. If two teams have an equal score, the direct method of comparison is applied. The final places 1-4 guarantee the participation in the Champions League. Online betting on the potential participants is available during the whole season. The 5th and the 6th places allow the teams to play in the Europa League. Three teams from the last positions of the standings have to go down to Serie B.

Serie B is the second league in Italy that obeys Lega Nazionale Professionisti. The first round starts in August-September and once it is completed, there is a winter break. Traditionally, the second round begins on January 6. In total, there are 20 teams involved in the tournament and, during the season, they participate in 42 rounds. The three-point system is also applied in Serie B. All clubs are placed in the standings in accordance with the number of points. The teams who end the season with the 1st and 2nd places move directly to the Serie A. Places from 3 to 6 struggle in the play-off to participate in the Premier League. If the difference between the 3rd and the 4th places is 10 or more points, the playoffs are not held and the 3rd team becomes a member of the Series A.

CFC Genоa is a record holder of Serie B. This club took part in 33 seasons and won 6 titles. FC Torino, Atalanta Bergamo, and US Palermo became champions four times. The most number of relegations have AC Prato, Taranto Sport, and Reggiana, who left Serie B eight times, and US Cremonese and AC Monza Brianza seven times. The history of Serie B comprises 77 playing years, about 133 clubs have taken part in the tournament since its foundation. The first three places in the standings for all seasons belong to Brescia, Hellas Verona and FC Modena.

The lower level of the Italian football is represented by Serie C, Serie D and by other amateur leagues. Serie C is the third and the last professional league in Italy. It consists of three groups: Girone A, B, and C. The teams are divided by the geographical principle. Each group has 20 teams under the rules. The number of players may vary due to forced separation from the League or in case of revocation of the license. The season that is divided into the 1st and 2nd round begins in September and finishes in May. As in other Italian leagues, the struggle of Serie C is not only for a championship but for qualification to the highest league. One club from each group moves to Serie B. The teams, who finished the season in the places from 2nd to 5th are to participate in playoff matches. The last two to four teams in the standings leave the groups.

After three professional leagues follows Serie D – the highest grade of amateur football in Italy. In spite of its status, it is represented in live betting. The league includes regional groups from A to I, and there are 18 teams competing in each of them. The club division depends on their geographic location. The 1st team from each group moves to the Serie C. Teams with places from 2nd to 5th struggle for a chance to be qualified to the playoff, but it happens when the teams from the higher-ranking leagues can’t play even in Serie C for any reason. The participants from the 13th to 16th lines of the standings play for the right to stay in the league as two more clubs are determined to leave Serie D.

Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia Lega Pro also relate to the most important tournaments. Coppa Italia is a national cup tournament which has been held each year since 1992. There are 78 clubs from Serie A, Serie B, Serie C and Serie D in the Сup. The first phase consists of four rounds. 27 teams from Serie C and 9 amateur clubs from Serie D play in the first round. Then teams from Serie D join the tournament in the second round. The last 12 clubs of Serie A take part in the third round. New participants are not accepted in the fourth round. The best 16 teams of the previous phase beat for the places in the second round where the winners will play against eight best clubs of the highest Italian league. The second phase includes last 16, quarter-final, semi-final and final. There is only one match in each phase except for semi-final where the losing team is eliminated. The list of candidates in the bets on the winner of the Cup is updated after each round. Two matches are held in the semi-finals. The winner of Coppa Italia become a member of the group stage of the Europa League. Since 2007, the final is held at the Olympic stadium in Roma. The Italian president awards the trophy to a winner in person. Juventus won the Cup 12 times, AS Roma – 9, ACF Fiorentina and Lazio became the cup holders 6 times.

Supercoppa Italiana has taken place since 1988/1989 season. At the beginning of each subsequent year, the champion of Italy and Coppa Italia holder have a cup tie. If one team wins both titles, then the finalist of the cup will become the second participant. The final is often held abroad, for example, in the USA or China. Otherwise, the stadium of the country champion hosts the match. Juventus FC and AC Milan are the Supercoppa record holders, they have already won this trophy 7 times.

In 2008 Coppa Italia Serie C changed its name to Coppa Italia Lega Pro. The first cup tournament in the third professional league took place in 1972. The participants are fighting not only for the cup but also for the opportunity to be in the playoff and to qualify for Serie B afterward. The overall number of teams participating in the tournament is 60. Only 33 teams which did not make it to Coppa Italia play in the first stage. The teams are divided into 11 groups, and the winners of group stage qualify for the next stage. The second stage includes 38 teams: 11 winners of the first stage and the rest 27 clubs from Serie C. The first stage presupposes the participation of the 12 teams, thus the number of participants reduces to 32. 6 winners of the first round and the rest 26 meet in the next round. Last 16 and quarterfinals also act as the knock-out phases. The outcome of the seminal and final is determined after two matches.

Women’s soccer in Italy is an amateur sport and is subordinated to one of the FIGC organizations Lega Nazionale Dilettanti, the national amateur soccer association. The women’s soccer association was established in 1968. About 11,000 women in total play soccer, approximately 2.300 participate in the three country leagues. Serie A is a top league which consists of 12 teams. It is followed by Serie A2, which is divided into Groups A and B with 12 teams each. The third league Serie B is divided into five divisions.

School and youth soccer is organized according to the age principle in groups from A to E. The national youth championship takes place under the guidance of Lega Calcio and Lega Calcio Serie C. Campionato Primavera, Campionato Berretti, and Coppa Italia Primavera are the most significant tournaments.

The first match of the Italian national team, also called Azzurri, was played against France in Milan on May 15, 1910. The friendly match ended in 6:2 in favor of the hosts. The Italian national team belongs to the top teams not only in Europe but also in the world and is on the 14th place in the FIFA ratings. Azzurri took part in 18 World Championships and won four of them. To participate in the European Championship, the Italians qualified nine times and won the tournament in 1968.

Italy did not participate in the first European Championship in 1960, and the next year the national team failed to qualify. In 1968, Azzurri won their one and only European champion title, having defeated Yugoslavia in the second final match. That year the Championship was held in Italy. In 1980, Italy again emerged as the tournament hostess and eventually took the 4th place. In 1988, Azzurri received bronze medals in the tournament. In 1996 and 2004 the Italians left the championship after the group stage, in 2008 and 2016 they reached the quarterfinals. In 2000 and 2012 Italy qualified for the finals but lost both times.

Italy did not participate in the first 1930 World Cup in Uruguay. In 1934 the Italian team became the world champion in the home tournament, having defeated Czechoslovakia 2:1 in final. Having beaten Hungary 4:2, Azzurri again became the winners of the next championship four years later. Later the Italians won the championship twice: in 1982 and 2006. Italy lost two final matches to Brazil: 4:1 in 1970 and 0:0 (3:2 on penalties) in 1994. In 1990 the Italian national team won the 3rd place and the 4th in 1978. Italy reached quarterfinals in 1998 and the last 16 in 1986 and 2002. 7 times Azzurri left the tournament after the group stage.

It is hard to overestimate the significance of soccer for the Italians. It is not just a sport but a part of country’s history and culture. The stadiums are built not only for the major clubs but also for the minor ones. Millions of people follow the events in the national leagues and cup tournaments to support their national teams. It is difficult to imagine Italy without soccer.