Every time I hear ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ - that most legendary of all football anthems - I am immediately reminded of Italy’s epic win over Germany at the 2006 World Cup.
I feel very lucky to have been at that Biblical encounter at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund. It’s the greatest footballing experience of my life - and I doubt it will ever be surpassed.
I travelled to Germany with my friend Giuseppe to follow Italy’s journey. We had already been at all of the Azzurri’s previous five games on route to the semi-final.
We had seen Daniele De Rossi rearrange Brian McBride’s face. We had been attacked by angry Aussies in the street after Fabio Grosso’s ‘dive’ in the last 16. And we had accidentally booked a hotel bang in the middle of Hamburg’s red-light district before the quarter-final win over Ukraine. Big mistake!
Harry Symeou hosts Jack Gallagher & Toby Cudworth to look back on Germany '06 as part of the 'Our World Cups' series. We take a trip down memory lane - join us!
But watching Italy beat Germany from Dortmund’s famed south terrace, ‘The Yellow Wall’, was naturally the most memorable encounter of all.
It was a gripping contest that ebbed and flowed for 120 mesmerising minutes. It was end-to-end stuff for much of the game – attacks against defence with gaping holes in the centre of midfield.
Italy finished the game with four attackers, had 11 shots on goal and hit the woodwork twice. Germany, meanwhile, had big chances of their own - with Gianluigi Buffon making super saves from Bernd Schneider and Lukas Podolski, who also headed a great opportunity wide too.
Somehow, heading into the final minute of extra time, the score was still goalless.
Italy earned a corner at the goal we were behind. I turned to Giuseppe and told him not to watch. It had become a running joke during the tournament that it was good luck when he closed his eyes. Marco Materazzi had nodded home Italy’s opener versus Czech Republic from a corner Giuseppe put his head down for. I also stopped him from watching Francesco Totti’s penalty winner versus Australia.
"For a few seconds, I felt like I was in an altered state of consciousness. We were surrounded by Germany fans and a stunned silence filled almost the entire stadium."
Could this trick work a third time?
The corner found its way to Andrea Pirlo on the edge of the area. The Milan playmaker delivered a sumptuous no-look pass to Grosso inside the box on the right.
Grosso, the surprise breakout star of the tournament, whipped in a curling shot first time. As soon as he struck the ball, I immediately jumped up to celebrate. We were sat right in line, diagonally, from Grosso. It was instantly clear from the line of the shot that it was destined for the corner of the net.
For a few seconds, I felt like I was in an altered state of consciousness. We were surrounded by Germany fans and a stunned silence filled almost the entire stadium.
On the pitch, Italy players and staff celebrated as if they had just won the World Cup. Grosso raced off and mimicked his own version of ‘Tardelli’s Scream’ - the famous celebration of Marco Tardelli upon scoring Italy’s second goal in the 1982 World Cup final win over West Germany.
Italy had just seconds to hang on now. Germany poured forward looking for an equaliser. But Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro, who had put on a defensive clinic in this game with interception and block after interception and block, thwarted one last German attack.
‘The Berlin Wall’, as he became known, allowed Totti and then Alberto Gilardino to set up Alessandro Del Piero to curl home a second with the final kick of the game.
Italy 2, Germany 0.
The referee blew for full time and immediately ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was played around the stadium.
A very poignant song at the best of times, that was the moment it really hit home to all the Germany fans around us that their World Cup dream was over. Not just children and women but numerous grown men broke down in tears.
So did many Italians around the world, I’m sure. It had been such an emotional rollercoaster with such a dramatic ending.
Italy were now in the World Cup final. We didn’t go to Berlin as we had only bought tickets up to and including the semis. But even watching the Azzurri lift the cup couldn’t have beaten this mystical experience in Dortmund.