Squadra Azzura – World Champion!

2011 is coming to an end. It was a good year for Italy (men) and Greece (women) who became World Champions.

The Italian men’s teams have had great successes in their history. They won Gold at the Olympiads in London-48, Rome-60, Barcelona-92 and World Championships (WC) in West Berlin-78 and Rome-94. They have also collected several OG & WC’s Silver and Bronze medals.

The latest achievement – 1st place at the WC in Shanghai – is a personal triumph for the Head coach, Alessandro Campagna. He has done an excellent job rebuilding the Italian squad over the last 3 years to lift them to the top from the 9th position in Beijing-08. Himself a European, world and Olympic champion, Campagna is the epitome of a perfect coach. Having absorbed the Italian traditions, he also learnt the intricacies of the famous Yugoslav water polo school under great Ratko Rudic, first as a player and later as an assistant coach. That background combined with his steady temperament & affable personality makes him the successful coach he is. Personally, I have known him as a gentleman.

Alessandro’s first coaching success came at the Junior World Championships in Kuwait-99 when Italy beat Australia by a narrow margin of 8:6 in the final. It was a heart-breaking moment for us in the last minutes when Thomas Whalan’s “doughnut” shot hit the crossbar and dropped on the goal line behind their goalkeeper Stefano Tempesty within centimeters of fully crossing it. Maurizio Felugo then scored a counter-attack goal that sealed their victory.

In his subsequent tenures as the Italian and Greek Head coach, before the current appointment, Campagna also had achieved medal winning results for both countries.

The current Italian senior team is well balanced with strong players in all positions. In Shanghai, a veteran Felugo was one of their leading playmakers. Captain Tempesti received the “Goalkeeper of the tournament” award. The team played consistently well, but for me, their best match was in the semi-final, against powerful Croatia; they were comfortably leading by two-three goals margin throughout entire match to win 9:8.

From an Australian perspective, the Italy’s overall potential has been enhanced by the shooting prowess and speed of Pietro Figlioli who is now a mature athlete in his prime. He played consistently well in Shanghai. One of his best performances was against Spain when the opposition could not find an answer against his devastating shot. His 4 goals in that quarter-final match insured the Italy’s comfortable win of 10:6. In addition, the necessity to mark him closely opened up tactical opportunities for his team-mates. When a swim-up had to be won Figlioli did it.

Pietro was nineteen at the Olympiad-04 in Athens. At the time he was just getting the taste of playing at the highest-level along with Sam McGregor, James Stanton and several other young Australians.

Perhaps, the fact that Italy won their first Olympic Gold in London in 1948 will be another incentive for Squadra Azzura to win it again next year. 2012 promises to be very interesting.

About Erkin Эркин Shagaev Шагаев
European, world, Olympic champion, two times World Cup winner Чемпион Европы, мира, Олимпийских игр, двукратный обладатель Кубка мира

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