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Born: Tuesday 23 August 1910, Milan, Italy
Died: Tuesday 21 August 1979, Rapallo, Italy (aged 68)
One of Italy's all-time greatest players, Giuseppe Meazza was a pivotal member of the national team which won back to back World Cups in the 1930s. An extremely skilful player who was equally accomplished at centre forward or inside forward, he played for both Milan clubs and his standing in the city of Milan was such that following his death, the San Siro stadium which the two teams share was renamed in his honour.
Born in Milan on 23 August 1910, Meazza's childhood was shaped by the loss of his father who was killed in action during the First World War. He worked alongside his mother in a market to help support the family, but his ambition in life was football. Although his mother initially tried to discourage him from playing, when he was 12 she allowed him to join Gloria FC. So poor were the family that Meazza could not afford to buy his own football boots and a fan had to purchase them for him. He was rejected by AC Milan but caught the eye of Internazionale while playing football in the street, and they brought him into their youth set-up.
Meazza was not big or strong, and Inter tried hard to build him up. His game was not built around strength however, but rather his remarkable dribbling and a heading ability which was astonishing for a player of his height (5'6", 1.69m). Meazza's trademark was dribbling from as far back as the half-way line and taking the ball round the goalkeeper to score. He broke into Inter's first team in the 1927-28 season, at the age of 18, and in his second season scored 33 goals in just 29 league games.
At this stage of his career Meazza was usually selected as an out-and-out centre forward, before dropping deeper and playing at inside-right in the second half of his career. He was able not just to score goals but to create them for team-mates with accurate passing. His lifestyle was often controversial, with a reputation for drinking, smoking and womanising as well as regularly turning up late for training or at the last minute for matches. He did not however alllow his private life to affect his performances on the pitch.
Meazza's career really burst into life in the first season of the newly formed Serie A in 1929-30. Inter, at that time known as "Ambrosiana" following a forced merger with US Milanese, claimed the title by two points from Genoa. Meazza was the star of the team, playing in all but one of the league games and scoring 31 goals, ten more than any other player in the league. During that season he was called into the national team for the first time, and scored two goals on his debut against Switzerland in Rome. In May 1930, he scored a hat-trick as Italy beat Hungary 5-0 in a match which clinched the inaugural Central European International Cup.
For much of the 1930s, Inter had to play second fiddle to Juventus in Serie A, finishing runners-up to the Turin club for three years in a row from 1933 to 1935. Meazza however enjoyed a friendly rivalry with Juventus goalkeeper and international team-mate Gianpiero Combi, who bet that he could not beat Meazza could not beat him with his trademark dribble around the goalkeeper or with an overhead bicycle kick. In the next meeting of the two sides, Meazza duly scored two goals in exactly those circumstances.
As part of the national team's preparations for hosting the World Cup in 1934, it was national coach Vittorio Pozzo who moved Meazza to inside-right. He would prove to be a vital member of that 1934 team, scoring twice in the 4-0 win over Greece which ensured Italy's qualification. In the finals, it was his 89th minute goal which finished off the 7-1 rout of the USA in the first round.
The quarter-final against Spain was drawn 1-1 and went to a replay, and in that match Meazza rose to head his country into an early lead which they held to reach the last four. A 1-0 win over Austria took them into the final, but early in that match Meazza was injured and left largely ineffective for much of the game. However, in extra-time he had recovered enough to be able to set up Angelo Schiavio for the winning goal to bring the title to Italy.
Meazza was still scoring goals with great regularity at club level, finishing as Serie A's leading scorer for the second time in 1935-36. He would repeat that feat again two years later, and that time Inter finally got the better of Juventus to claim the title. Following that success, he travelled with the national team to France for their defence of the World Cup. This time Meazza was captain of the team, and successfully led them through matches against Norway and France to reach a semi-final meeting with Brazil.
With Italy leading that match 1-0, he converted a vital penalty to double the lead, a goal which would ultimately prove to be the winner. The pressure on the team ahead of the final was enormous, with fascist leader Benito Mussolini giving his team the ultimatum "win or die". Although it is unclear whether this was a serious threat or a means of imspiring the team, it certainly frightened many of the players. As it turned out, the final was relatively comfortable and brought a 4-2 victory over Hungary, Meazza becoming the third captain to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy.
His international career ended in 1939, but that year brought further domestic success with a 2-1 win over Novara in the Italian Cup final. Inter won another league title in 1939-40, but Meazza missed almost the entire season with injury and in the autumn of 1940 made the difficult decision to leave the club. He did not leave the city, moving to AC Milan and spending two years there. The closest he came to success with AC was a replay defeat to Juventus in the cup final of 1942.
For the 1942-43 season Meazza moved on to Juventus, staying for one season, before winding down his playing career with spells at Varese, Atalanta, and a brief return to Inter in 1947. After his retirement Meazza worked both as a journalist and a coach. He coached his former club Inter in three different spells, as well as Atalanta and Pro Patria. In 1949 he became the first Italian to coach abroad when he had a brief spell in charge of Turkish side Beşiktaş.
Meazza died on 21 August 1979, two days before his 69th birthday, having spent much of his later life alone. He had not been forgotten by his former clubs however and on 3 March 1980 the San Siro was renamed 'Stadio Giuseppe Meazza'. He remains the second highest goalscorer for the Italian national team, and with 216 Serie A goals to his name, is still joint fourth on the all-time list for that competition.
References (all accessed 10 February 2012):
http://www.onthisfootballday.com/football-history/june-19-win-or-die.php (* accessed 11 February 2012)
- Published on Friday, 10 February 2012 22:01