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Dublin: 5 °C Monday 20 January, 2020

Happy Birthday, Toto Schillaci!

It’s hard to believe– mainly because he looked 47 at the time– but the unlikely star of Italia ’90 drew to within three years of the half century today.

Image: Ross Kinnaird/EMPICS Sport

SALVATORE SCHILLACI WAS an unspectacular, if efficient, goal-poaching mainstay of UEFA Cup winners Juventus when he was selected by Azeglio Vicini to represent Italy in the 1990 World Cup.

Expected to play the role of enthusiastic understudy to his more illustrious colleagues, Roberto Baggio and Andrea Carnevale, the Palermo native instead seized upon the early opportunity afforded him by a second-half appearance in the hosts’ opening game (against Austria), scoring the first of the six World Cup goals that would elevate him to international stardom.

In this country, of course, the mere mention of Schillaci’s name is usually enough to elicit an involuntary cry of pain among members of the footballing faithful, but elsewhere, the pint-sized Italian is still considered something of a hero.

Toto would never again scale the heights of his tournament debut, and after struggling with injuries and scandal, his career trundle to a muted conclusion in the Japanese domestic league.

For a little over a month in the summer of 1990, though, he was something of a footballing demigod: living, breathing proof that, at its heart, sporting excellence is defined as much by conviction as innate talent.

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