World Cup Rivalries: Italy

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup less than seven months away and the draw to take place in 10 days time, we analyse some of the Socceroos fiercest rivals.

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup less than seven months away and the draw for Brazil set to take place in 10 days time, we analyse some of the Socceroos potential opponents and fiercest rivals.

The Socceroos have only played Italy once in their history but the nature of how the contest was decided is scarred in the minds of Australian football fans. The events of that fateful day forging a rivalry that will no doubt have our national side desperate to atone for the result the next time the countries meet.

It was the FIFA 2006 World Cup in Germany. The location Kaiserlautern - a place where the Socceroos had produced one of their finest ever victories, a fortnight-s prior against Japan. However the scene of so much jubilation would ultimately turn to one of despair when the Socceroos were eliminated from the tournament after the Azzurri were awarded a controversial penalty in injury time.

Competing at their second ever World Cup and for the first time in 32 years, the Aussies staged some remarkable comebacks in the group stage to progress to the round of 16. Under the guidance of Guus Hiddink, the Socceroos defied their world ranking to take the game to the Italians, who had been expected to ease through.

The match remained scoreless throughout the ninety-minutes, some heroics from Schwarzer matched by the efforts of Kewell, Cahill and co. at the other end but neither side could find a decisive goal. As injury time wore on Fabio Grosso managed to weave his way into the Socceroos box. What happened next would divide football opinion the world over but in the mind of the man who mattered a challenge from Lucas Neill was deemed by the referee to warrant a penalty.

With what would prove to be the last kick of the game Francesco Totti stepped up to take the spot-kick, holding his nerve to break Australian hearts. Like a large helping of sauerkraut, the result in Germany left a bad taste in the mouth of Socceroos fans, exacerbated by the fact the Italians would go on to lift the trophy. Despite this, Australia's performance at the tournament was one we can forever be proud of.

This time around Italy booked their ticket for Brazil and 14th consecutive FIFA World Cup appearance after they topped Group B in the European qualifiers. Drawn alongside Denmark, Bulgaria, Armenia, Malta and the Czech Republic, the Italians faced a potentially tricky path but managed to go through the group phase undefeated.

With four World Cup titles to their name (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006) and two runners-up finishes (1970 and 1994), Italy lie second only to hosts Brazil on the all-time FIFA World Cup honours board. The Azzurri are also the only team along with the Brazilians to have won the competition twice in a row.

With the Italians currently ranked equal eighth in the world, they will more than likely fall into a pot with other European nations not ranked in the top seven when the FIFA World Cup draw gets under way in 10 days time.

The Italians will no doubt be a tough proposition at the World Cup, especially considering they have only been beaten once this year in the 18 internationals they have played. However the prospect of squaring the ledger against the Italians will surely have many Socceroos fans hoping we are drawn alongside them when the groups are decided on 6 December.