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8 Italian sporting icons who will go down in history

Let’s get into the Italian spirit ahead of Ireland’s huge Rugby World Cup clash this weekend.

WITH THE AZZURRI set to lock horns with Joe Schmidt’s Ireland on Sunday evening in a crucial Pool D encounter at London’s Olympic stadium, we take a look at some of Italy’s greatest sporting names. And no, Mario Balotelli is not one of them…

1. Valentino Rossi

Spain MotoGP Motorcycle Racing Valentino Rossi celebrates after a 3rd place finish in the Aragon Motorcycle Grand Prix at the weekend. Source: Francisco Seco

The 36-year-old multiple MotoGP World Champion is responsible for a marked surge in interest in motor racing in his home country, and he is still going today. He is second in the overall wins standings with 112, and legendary rivalries with Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau, Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo have only served to establish him as the greatest name in the sport.

2. Roberto Baggio

Soccer - World Cup France 98 - Group B - Italy v Austria World Cup France '98 - Baggio versus Austria. Source: EMPICS Sport

Forget the penalty miss in the 1994 final shoot-out with Brazil. Forget the disagreements with managers. And do try to forget the awful, yet iconic, ponytail.

Baggio is arguably Italy’s greatest footballer of all time and was voted fourth in a FIFA Player of the Century online poll just before the millennium. He played for some of Italy’s finest clubs including both Milan teams, Juventus, Fiorentina and Bologna.

Oh, and himself and Maradona are still at it:

Source: USCalcioitalia/YouTube

3. Vince Lombardi

Lombardi Resigns 1969 Lombardi in a 1969 press conference after taking over the Washington Redskins. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Although born in Brooklyn, NYC, Lombardi is Italian in ancestry, and his parents emigrated from Salerno, Italy.

Widely considered THE great in American football, Lombardi is perhaps best known as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 60s, and led the team to the first two Super Bowls in 1966 and ’67. The trophy is now named after him.

4. Rocky Marciano

PA-8631585 Marciano after announcing his retirement from boxing in 1956 in New York. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Another Italian-American of emigrant parents, Marciano is one of the greatest boxers in history. He went undefeated throughout his career, and his knockout percentage of 87.75 is one of the best in heavyweight history.

Marciano was only 45 years of age when he was killed in a plane crash in 1969, but his legacy has lived on — we all remember Rocky Balboa receiving that Marciano necklace from his trainer Micky, don’t we?

5. Sergio Parisse

Rugby Union - 2015 RBS Six Nations - England v Italy - Twickenham Parisse is tackled by England's Luther Burrell and Jonny May in a Six Nations fixture at Twickenham back in February. Source: David Davies

The number 8 returns to the fold for the Azzurri this weekend against Ireland, and he will trouble any team on his day.

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Parisse is to Italian rugby what marshmallows are to hot chocolate, and the Stade Francais captain will be eager to enter this World Cup fray with a bang.

113 caps for your country ain’t too shabby.

6. Andrea Pirlo

Italy Malta Euro Soccer Pirlo vies for the ball with Malta's Andre' Schembri in a Euro 2016 qualifier. Source: AP/Press Association Images

A style and beard icon as well as an Italian footballing legend, Pirlo now plies his trade in the US with the newly-formed New York City FC.

He is Italy’s fourth most-capped player of all time and was key in their 2006 World Cup success. Countless trophies with AC Milan throughout the noughties and his general cool demeanour will see him ranked as one of Italy’s true sporting gods forever more.

7. Enzo Ferrari

Motor Racing - Enzo Ferrari - Italy Ferrari began his illustrious career as a pilot for Alfa Romeo in 1919. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The King of the ‘Prancing Horse’ and founder of the lucrative motor racing tram, ‘il Grande Vecchio’ or the Great Old Man was the entrepreneur that turned motor racing into what it is today.

Interesting fact: he was born in Modena, Italy on 18 February, 1898 but the birth was recorded on his birth cert as having occurred two days later. Why? Because a heavy snowstorm had prevented his father from reporting the birth at the local registry office when it happened.

Twitter birth announcements were a long way off..

8. Pierluigi Collina

Yes, I’m including a referee as a sportsman because the men in the middle can often run more than the players on the pitch in an average game.

Not much can be said about the legendary official apart from the fact that his stare still gives grown men nightmares 10 years after his retirement.

This sort of refereeing would silence even Diego Costa’s protestations.

Source: Footy-Goals.Com/YouTube

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About the author:

Shane Hannon

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