It is a pleasure for gibfootballshow to welcome Steve Mitchell to the site. A huge fan of Italian football. Steve will regularly bring us news from the land of calcio.

The beautiful Italian region of Tuscany has just played host to the 63rd edition of the Viareggio Cup. From its inception in 1949, the “Coppa Carnevale” as it is more commonly known, due to the fact that it is played during carnival season, is open to players between the ages of 17-21 and has become the most important youth football tournament in the world with the city of Viareggio welcoming talent scouts from all over the globe trying to spot the next big thing.

A quick look at some of the players who first came to prominence at the tournament tells you everything you need to know about the importance the Italians place on hosting this annual football jamboree. Dino Zoff, Giacinto Facchetti, Roberto Bettega, Alessandro Del Piero, Sandro Mazzola and Paolo Maldini are just a few examples of home grown  players who first appeared at the tournament before going on to become world superstars. Looking outside of the peninsula, Viareggio also gave us a first glimpse of Gabriel Batistuta, Sepp Maier, Obafemi Martins, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Phil Neville.

Naturally, being the host country, Italian clubs have dominated the competition and in the last 30 years, only twice has a team from outside of the peninsula won the trophy – Dukla Prague in 1980 and Juventud in 2006. The 63rd edition of the competition attracted 48 participants, 31 of those from the host country and a further 17 from Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States. This year there was British involvement as Peter Beardsley took his young Newcastle side to gain invaluable experience. The Magpies failed to progress from the group stages however, losing their opening match to eventual finalists Fiorentina before achieving creditable draws against Southern Italian side Lecce and the Paraguayans Club Nacional.

The last 16 of the competition was dominated by Italian clubs with only Japanese side Nagoya Grampus breaking the host nation’s stranglehold. As we got down to the last eight it was a complete Italian affair with two sides really standing head and shoulders above the rest, Internazionale and Varese.  The semi-final would pitch the Milan giants against Atalanta, who destroyed defending champions Juventus in the quarter-finals whilst Varese would meet Fiorentina, in a match that produced some breathtaking moments as La Viola ran out 3-1 winners to book their place in the final where they would face Inter, who needed penalties to dispose of the side from Bergamo after a tense 120 minutes finished goalless.

For only the third time in the competitions history, the final was played away from Viareggio with Livorno’s Armando Picchi stadium chosen to host the showpiece. In front of an admiring Arrigo Sacchi, who has been given the task of resurrecting youth football in the peninsula, Inter confirmed their pre-match billing as favourites by despatching Fiorentina thanks to two goals from the tournaments stand-out performer, striker Simone Dell’Agnello who also won the “Golden Boy” award for the competitions best player, as voted for by journalists from Italy’s main sports daily newspapers and host broadcaster, Rai television. Dell’Agnello finished as the tournaments joint top marksman with seven goals alongside Varese’s Giuseppe De Luca. So as the curtain falls on another fabulous two weeks of competition and as financial fair play becomes the buzz word at Uefa headquarters, the Viareggio tournaments importance in the football calendar becomes ever more invaluable. “Vive la Viareggio” as the locals would say.

Steve will be writing for gibfootballshow regularly if you like his article check out his twitter feed.

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