For many people, fashion is one of the first things that springs to mind when discussing Italy. The Italian appreciation of style, the way things look, is unique; time spent in any of the country’s major cities confirms as much. This aspect of the culture is sometimes seen in club football on the peninsula, though it’s often proved a more difficult assignment to incorporate at international level.

Italian Style Injected into the National Kit

The Italy national team, like all national teams, have a set look, at least when it comes to colours involved, which generally limits their stylistic options. However, in the first tournament of the new millennium, Euro 2000 in Belgium and
Holland, the Azzurri took to the field in one of the most eye-catching kits seen in recent times.

There were several reasons behind the kit’s appeal. Firstly, it utilised a slightly different hue of blue to the traditional Italy kit. Secondly, the shirts were much tighter than the norm at that time. In many ways, this was an effortlessly simple look, with nothing but shirt numbers and the national team crest on the front, but it nonetheless managed to earn a special place in the hearts of many a football fan thanks to its sheer unwillingness to adhere to convention.

Exactly why Italy went to Euro 2000 in a lighter shade of blue isn’t clear. But while the new colour looked nice for a change, this slight modification quickly paled into insignificance. What was more intriguing was that the shirts were figure-hugging. This was a bold call – no other top team in the club or international game had committed to such material.

Figure Hugging Fabric

Kappa were the manufacturer responsible. This meant the kit had the added benefit of featuring the brand’s iconic ‘Omini’ logo – a silhouette of a man and woman sitting back to back – on each of the shirt sleeves. This particular range of shirt was titled ‘Kombat’, and the name made a great deal of sense. In a way, the design readied the team for, well, combat.

The decision-making process behind the figure-hugging shirt wasn’t just about accentuating the player’s physiques. Some classically Italian tactical thinking went into the design. In a country that has always placed great emphasis on finding ways to win football matches, preferring reason and practicality over emotion and passion, this is not surprising. The shirts were so tight so as to discourage, or entirely disable, any attempt at shirt-pulling from overly aggressive opposition. Ironically, given Italy introduced Catenaccio and its rigorous man marking to the world, their Euro 2000 kit was designed with the intention of making their own players harder to mark.

While innovative, it also clashed with the Italian sense of style. The great fantasisti and liberos of the past would often wear their shirts loose and untucked – the idea of seeing every muscle through the shirt would not have sat particularly well with them. And it didn’t sit well with the Italy of Euro 2000, as players chose to wear shirts that were one size too large for them, allowing for an acceptable amount of bagginess.

Star Studded Line-Up to Model the Italy 2000 Kit

Great kits stand alone, but it always helps when great players are the models. This Italian outfit had plenty of heroes to show off the look, including the irrepressible Paulo Maldini, the cultured Alessandro Nesta, the relentless Gianluca Zambrotta, playmaking supremo Demetrio Albertini, and poaching extraordinaire Filippo Inzaghi. This Azzurri squad was not only packed with talent, but included two legendary individuals at their aesthetic pomp in the headband-toting duo of Fabio Cannavaro and Francesco Totti.

Expectations were understandably high going into the tournament, though there were setbacks along the way. Having topped their qualification group without too much trouble, two key players were ruled out for the main event through injury. Gianluigi Buffon, the first-choice goalkeeper, broke his hand in the build-up to the tournament, and was thus forced to join Christian Vieri on the absentee list.

Substance Over Style

The 1998 World Cup had been disappointing for Italy. They were eliminated at the quarter-final stage after playing some stodgy, defensive football, and the country needed something more positive two years on. Head coach Dino Zoff was charged not only with a rejuvenation of results, but a tactical turnaround. And, for true calcio fans, the kit would not be enough to satiate their stylistic desires.

Zoff’s side couldn’t have made a more positive start to Euro 2000, at least in terms of results. Thanks to a 2-1 opening victory against Turkey and a 2-0 win over co-hosts Belgium, their passage to the last eight was secured. However, the tactical critics were out in force. Arrigo Sacchi, who had revolutionised the Italian game with his aggressive zonal approach to defending in the 1990s, wrote in La Stampa that, “Italy won by playing Italian-style. It was a good Italy, in keeping with our habits and our mentality. It was the usual Italy – defensive, opportunist and maybe at times a little boring.”

The criticism stung Zoff, though the former goalkeeping icon didn’t allow it to unsettle his squad. Progress through to the semi-finals was sealed with a 2-0 win over Romania, who had knocked England out in the group stages. And, in the last four, the depth of talent available to the Azzurri at this time became clearer still.

Buffon’s replacement as No.1, Francesco Toldo, was one of the most underrated goalkeepers of the era. He had looked up to Zoff as a child, and helped his hero no end with a superlative performance against Holland. Having saved a penalty in normal time, he went on to make a further two in the shootout following a 0-0 draw. In between his two pieces of brilliant decision-making, Totti chipped in a stunningly cool spot-kick to break Dutch hearts. Italy, unconventional kit and all, were in the final.

Disappointment at the Euro 2000 Final

The final itself would turn out to be a tough watch for Italians, though. Having taken the lead through Marco Delvecchio, Italy were pegged back in stoppage time. Then, in extra time, David Trezeguet scored the golden goal that gifted France the championship.

Zoff couldn’t quite get the trophy, and he hadn’t quite delivered the blistering attacking play many seemed so inexplicably desperate to see. His decision to have Albertini man mark Zinedine Zidane went down particularly poorly back home, to the extent that Silvio Berlusconi criticised the call, saying: “I am indignant.” Zoff’s response was that of a man at the end of this tether. He announced his resignation, retorting: “I don't take lessons in dignity from Mr. Berlusconi.”

Euro 2000 was a tournament that ended badly for Italy, but perhaps, as a football-loving nation currently set to watch this summer’s World Cup on television, they didn’t truly realise just how good things were in the moment. Perhaps the football wasn’t that bad. Perhaps Zoff didn’t need to resign. Yet, even if the tactics were old, this Italy dressed like a football team of the future.

This article was written by Blair Newman for Soccer Box, where you can shop for the official Italy football kit inlcuding home and away shirts, shorts, socks and training wear.