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Giuseppe "Peppino" Meazza (23 August 1910 – 21 August 1979) also known as il "Balilla", Peppin in the Milanese dialect, and sometimes just Pepp, was an Italian footballer playing mainly for Inter in the 1930s, scoring 243 goals in 361 games for the club. He is still considered by many to be one of the greatest - if not the greatest - Italian players of all-time, as well as the greatest Italian forward of all time. He began his career as all out striker, but showed his skill and ability by also becoming an accomplished midfielder, playing for more than half of his career as inside forward. He was a great leader with excellent shooting and intoxicating dribbling skill, an eye for the pass and, despite his middle height, an exceptional heading ability .

His nickname, "il Balilla", was given to him in 1927 by his older teammate Leopoldo Conti, who thought "Pepp", who was only 17 when he joined the senior team, was too young to be associated to the senior team, and was surprised after Inter coach Arpad Weisz decided to give Meazza his debut for Inter in his place. "Now we even take players from kindergarten!" exclaimed Conti sarcastically. The National Opera Balilla, the Fascist youth organisation which collected all children aged 8 to 14 years, was established in 1926 and so Conti thought it a good way to describe the young rookie. Meazza scored two goals on his debut in a 6-2 win against Milanese Unione Sportiva in the Coppa Volta in Como, leaving old "Poldo" Conti speechless The "Gazzetta dello Sport", the day after his official debut in the Italian championship on the 12th of September, 1927, praised his game "intelligent, fresh, quick", something that didn't happen very frequently during those days.

Meazza was born in Porta Vittoria, Milan. Having lost his father in 1917 during the tragic fighting of World War I at the age of seven, young Peppe grew up in Milan with his mother, Ersilia who came from Medigliamarker, helping her sell fruit at the market. However, it was football that was his true calling. She hid his shoes so he would not waste his time, so young Peppin learned to play barefoot. He began playing at six years old on the streets on a team named the "Maestri Campionesi" who played with a ball made of rags. At twelve years old he finally got permission from his mother to pursue being a footballer, and began playing for Gloria F.C.. It was here that a fan bought him his first proper pair of football boots.

Meazza was the first Italian football player who became famous worldwide, and was the first player with personal sponsors. He loved his cabriolet, champagne and women. Meazza was famous for humiliating the best defenders of the era and for sleeping at a brothel the night before a match. With his plush touch on the ball, he would cause panic in the robust defenders from an era where two footed tackles from behind were often waved on. Sometimes would not get out of bed until his teammates were already done practicing. He also loved the Tango and used this proficiency to make him unpredictable on the field and could score goals at fox-trot tempo. He was a superb dribbler who despite his speed, never had a single brylcreemed hair out of place, and although he was not tall, was remarkably good in the air. Meazza created many chances for his teammates and scored goals as well. His goals "a foglia morta", the "dead leaf technique", were also feared by goalkeepers. He was a brilliant passer, both-footed, had remarkable field vision and was noted for his turns and spins.

His trademark goals were ones where he would collect the ball at the half-line, dribble through several opponents with a series of twinkle-toed shuffles, and turns, until arriving in front of the goal, where he would stop and invite the goalkeeper to attack him like a matador, before faking a shot, then dribbling past the beaten goalkeeper to slot home easily. In away games, the defenders would often foul and hack him to avoid being humiliated . "Gol alla Meazza" and "finte alla Meazza" have since become popular sayings for Italian football fans to describe a truly inspiring goal off the dribble or a series of jukes. His goals “ad invito”, where he would invite the goalkeeper out before dribbling around him is yet another popular saying. Meazza once said, "There is nothing worse than having a penalty kick saved by a keeper who didn't understand the fake."

Vittorio Pozzo, the mastermind coach behind both Italian World Cup victories, wrote of him: "He was a born forward. He saw the game, understood the situation, distributed the ball carefully and made the team offense operate. Having him on the team was like starting the game 1-0 up."

Gianni Brera called him "Il Folber", and his style of play the "fasso-tuto-mi" because he considered him the complete central midfielder and a nimble acrobat. "He was only Italian that stood out amongst the sensational Brazilians and Argentines" said Brera.

Peppino Prisco, who became vice-president of Internazionale in 1963 and won every trophy possible with the club considered him the best of all time and said, "Meazza was great, unbeatable, even if he would occasionally run into a frightful crisis, caused by his intense sexual activity and his passion for the game. When he took over on the field, he did things that left the mouth ajar."

Bruno Acari IV, who played with Meazza on AC Milan and later coached, once said that "Peppino never wanted to hear about tactics. He was a simple person who became a king when he entered the goal box, with a technical ability that was comparable to Pelé."

During the 1958 world cup, while watching the final between Sweden and Brazil, after one of the commentators said that nobody had ever seen a player like Pele before, Franco Rossi began screaming that it was not true, that Meazza was better .

San Siromarker, the principal stadium in his native city of Milanmarker, which is today shared by Internazionale and crosstown rivals AC Milan, is now officially called Stadio Giuseppe Meazzamarker.

Club career

At the age of 13, Meazza admired AC Milan, but was rejected by them for being too skinny. However, he was received with open arms by Inter Milan. He was randomly observed juggling a rag ball in the street by an Inter scout and quickly signed. They fed him steaks so he would get bigger and stronger. At first he was used to fill a gap in defense instead of being allowed to follow his attacking instinct, but luckily Inter's junior coach later corrected the mistake. He scored two goals on his debut in a 6-2 win against Milanese Unione Sportiva in the Coppa Volta di Como.

Meazza still holds the record for the most goals scored in a debut season in Serie A, with 31 goals in his first season (1929-30). The year before, when Serie A did not exist, and the Italian Championship was composed of 2 leagues (North and Central-South) with playoffs, Meazza played 29 matches, scoring 38 goals at the age of 18 years. He scored 5 goals in a single game, twice in one season: 6 January 1929 Inter against Pistoiese 9-1 and 17 March 1929 Inter v Verona 9-0. That same season (1928/29) on 12 May 1929, he scored six goals as Inter against Venezia beat 10-2. April 27 1930 was the first time Inter ever played AS Roma in Milan. Inter won 6-0 and Meazza scored four goals, scoring his first three within three minutes of the game.

With Meazza on the squad, Inter (re-christened Ambrosiana while under Fascist law) won 3 national championships in 1930, 1938 and 1940, and helped win the team's first Coppa Italia in 1939. The 1930 championship was Inter's first since 1920 and they were considered underdogs to teams like Bologna, Torino, Juventus and Genoa. It was Meazza's dazzling form that clinched the inaugural Serie A title. In the deciding game, he scored a second half hat-trick to tie the game against Genoa after Inter had been down 3-0. He was top-scorer of Serie A 3 times (1930, 1936, 1938), top-scorer in the pre-Serie A year of 1929 and top scorer of the Mitropa Cup three times: 1930 (7), 1933 (5) and 1936 (10).

During the 1933 season, Meazza made a bet with Giampiero Combi, goalkeeper of Juventus and captain of the 1934 World Champion Italian National Team. Combi challenged Meazza, claiming that nobody, not even Meazza, could sidestep him to score a goal. Meazza accepted the challenge. Combi also made another bet with Meazza. A few weeks earlier, while training with the national team, Meazza scored a splendid bicycle kick against the Juventus goalkeeper. Combi wagered that he could not repeat it in an official game. The next game between Ambrosiana Inter and Juventus was played in the Arena Civicamarker of Milan on May 25 1933. Meazza managed to score two stupendous goals. The first goal was an identical overhead kick to the one he had scored against Combi in practice. For the second goal he dribbled through a series of defenders, before faking out Combi, dribbling past him, and scoring a tap-in goal. Combi immediately got up and shook Meazza's hand.

In 1937, it was the day of the game against Juventus in Milan with only an hour before the game and Meazza had still not shown up. The directors became nervous and sent a masseuse and another trainer in a car to find him. They found him in bed, sleeping profoundly and snoring. Without even washing his face, they dragged him up and rushed him to the stadium. While lying down in the back seat Meazza told them of love filled night and said he felt like a lion. The Lion Meazza entered the dressing room and without any squabbling, they quickly gave him his number 9 jersey. He scored two goals that game and was the best on the field. Inter won the game 2-1 and beat Juventus for the Serie A scudetto by two points.

When Ambrosiana beat Bari in the 1937/38 championship, he scored five goals in a 9-2 victory. The next week he scored a hat-trick against Lucchese. Along with fellow Inter players Ferraris II, Ferrari, and Locatelli, Meazza was involved in the Azzurri set-up that wins the 1938 World Cup in Paris. The same year, Inter won their fourth Scudetto, while the clubs first Coppa Italia success came in 1939.

An injury put him out of action for most of 1938/39, and after having devoted the best part of his career to Inter, Meazza transferred to AC Milan on November 28 1940. In almost a century of rivalry, Meazza is the only man who has ever come close to bridging the chasm between the two clubs. The next February 9, before the derby with Inter, Meazza cried in the dressing room, but then he scored the equalizer for Milan in a 2-2 draw. He wore the red and black shirt from 1940-1942. Later in his career he also played for Juventus, A.S. Varese 1910 and Atalanta Bergamo.

His debut for Juventus, October 18th 1942, took place in the derby against Torino. It was not a happy debut. Meazza was untrained, looked overweight and slower in movement. When he entered the game with the number eight jersey and came face to face with goalkeeper, the crowd waited for one of its famous "goal by invitation only," but he did not have the necessary speed of motion and he ended up losing the ball ignominiously. The game was eventually won by Torino 5 to 2. Things went better when he was moved to the center of the attack, where he contributed ten goals, even scoring two against his old club Ambrosiana.

In 1946 he was recalled to Inter as a player-coach. He played seventeen games, scoring the last two goals of his career to help an Inter team that was in danger of relegation.

National team career

Meazza played for Italy in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups, both of which Italy won. Apart from being on and captaining the first team to win a World Cup when not the host in 1938, Meazza, along with Giovanni Ferrari, Guido Masetti and Eraldo Monzeglio, also set a record for being the first players to win two World Cups (consecutive ones). Up until today, they are still the only Europeans to have achieved this record.

His debut with the Azzurri was in Rome on February 9, 1930 against Switzerland. Still only nineteen years old, Meazza scored twice that game (in the 37th and 39th minutes) to help Italy to a 4-2 victory after they had been down by two goals in only 19 minutes. The next game Italy played was on March 2, 1930 against Germany in Frankfurt, where Meazza scored a goal in a 2-0 win. A few months later, May 11, 1930, he scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 game as Italy beat the Hungary of Larcos, Hirzer and Pál Titkos for the first time ever while playing in Budapest. Meazza helped Italy win the Dr. Gero Cup (the forerunner to the European Championship) that year, a cup was a 3 year international tournament between the strongest national teams of central and eastern Europe.

On January 25 1931, Meazza scored another three goals in a 5-0 win against France.

During the Dr. Gero Cup game against Austria on February 22, Meazza helped Italy to victory after overcoming an early deficit when Horvath had scored in the 4th minute. While dribbling the ball in attack, he noticed two defenders closing down on him. He stopped the ball with the sole of his shoe, making both defenders fall to the ground, before racing towards goal, faking Josef Smistik, dribbling around Roman Schramseis, drawing out the keeper Rodolphe Hiden, faking and dribbling around him, making the off balance keeper crash into Schramseis, before tapping the ball into the net for the equaliser and one of the most beautiful goals in soccer history. Italy won 2-1.

His first fifteen caps were at center-forward, but in 1933, he showed his versatility during a 3-1 victory over Germany in Bologna, when he was moved to an inside-right position by the Italian coach Vittorio Pozzo, to accommodate teammate Angelo Schiavio, a switch that would help Italy win the World Cup the next year as the goals flowed in. During the tournament, Meazza once again demonstrated his adaptability when he was switched to an inside-left, when needed.

In the 1934 World Cup, which was hosted by Italy, Meazza appeared in every game for the Azzurri. On March 25 1934 in Milan, Italy beat Greece 4:0 in a qualifying match with two goals coming from Meazza. He then scored the final goal in their 7-1 victory over the United States in the 89th minute in their World Cup opener. In the game against Spain, Giovanni Ferrari scored a goal against Ricardo Zamora after the latter was supposedly fouled by Meazza. Meazza was himself almost knocked unconscious by a collision of heads with Jacinto Quincoces during the game. The game ended 1-1 and had to settled the next day. Meazza scored from a corner sent in by Raimundo Orsi in the 11th minute. Meazza took another nasty hit when he crashed into the desperate keeper. It was the only goal of the game. There were claims that the replacement Spanish goalkeeper, Juan José Nogués, who was replacing the injured Zamora after he was hurt in a clash with Schiavio in the first game, was fouled by Meazza in the play. However, footage exists that exonerates the Italian of any wrong doing. Meazza only ever scored one time against Zamora, in a friendly match.

The semi-final was against Austria. A deluge a few hours before kick-off left the San Siro pitch resembling a bog, but Meazza, who knew this ground better than anybody on the Italian team, made light of the conditions to book his country's place in the final. Playing his fourth game in a week, Meazza out-played an Austrian forward, dribbled past him, then collided into the grounded Austrian goalkeeper, Peter Platzer, who had pounced on the ball to quell the attack. The ball came loose, hit the post and bounced to Enrique Guaita, to score the only game of the match.

55,000 fans turned out to see the final against Czechoslovakia in Rome's Stadio Nazionale PNFmarker. Italy suffered badly after Meazza was injured in a tackle. He soldiered on though. Cries of a conspiracy were heard in the 54th minute after Meazza, who was playing in the final even though carrying an injury from the semifinals, punched Rudolf Krcil in the back in retaliation for a hard foul, without being disciplined by referee Ivan Eklind, who had also officiated the semi-final. After ninety minutes the two teams were 1-1. Italy, though, was in far more trouble as the game went into extra time, until Meazza became the inspirer again. The Czechs did not bother to mark him and he made them rue that decision. In the 96th minute, Eraldo Monzeglio sent a long ball to the hobbled Meazza from the right side of the Italian defense. Meazza, who was being left alone on the wing to drift in and out of the match, recovered sufficiently enough to send a slicing pass to Guaita that unlocked the Czech defense, and then went about setting a series of blocks to free up his strikers. The Roma midfielder slid the ball to Schiavio, who hit a snap-shot past Frantisek Planicka, another legendary goalkeeper of the era, for the winner five minutes into the extra period. Meazza was elected into the All-Star Team of the tournament.

After the World Cup victory, Meazza represented Italy against England in the infamous "Battle of Highbury", the Azzurri's first game since winning the World Cup five months earlier. England and Italy had drawn, 1-1, 18 months earlier in Rome, in their only previous meeting. They game started terribly for the Azzurri. After losing Monti to a broken foot in the 2nd minute, England were leading three goals to nil by the 12th with two goals from Eric Brook and one from Ted Drake. With no substitutes allowed in those days, the Italians had to play the rest of the game with 10 men. They lost the game, however Meazza salvaged some pride by scoring two goals four minutes apart, in the 58th and 62nd minute in very heavy rain to make it 3-2. The first was the result from a skillful move by Guaita that set Meazza free to crown the straggling raid with a fine rocket shot that beat the goalie. The second on a header after he made the most of a free-kick from Attilio Ferraris. He was only denied an equalizer by the woodwork and by some fine saves by England's goalkeeper, Frank Moss who playing in what was to be his last international.

On December 9, 1934 against Hungary, Meazza scored his 25th goal (in 29 games) with the blue jersey, to tie Adolfo Baloncieri as top goalscorer for the national team. In the next game against France he had another two goals, which allowed him to jump in command of the ranking. In 1935 he claimed the Central European International Cup again.

In the 1938 World Cup hosted by France, Meazza captained Italy to another victory, again playing in every match. After what turned out to be their toughest game of the tournament in the opener against Norway (Italy won 2-1 in extra time) he petitioned Vittorio Pozzo, to allow the team a night off to relax. In his wisdom, Pozzo saw that his players needed to unwind after having trained for so long in preparation of the tournament and allowed the players a night of indulgence. Meazza was reported to have spent the night with two beautiful French girls.

Another of his memorable moments in that tournament was the goal he scored against Brazil in the semi-final. Italy were awarded a penalty after Silvio Piola, the team's new center forward, was chopped down in the box by "the Divine Master", Domingos da Guia. The Brazilian goalkeeper Walter, who was famous for hypnotizing his opponents and for saving penalties back in Brazil, arrogantly claimed he was certain he would save the shot. Meazza made no fuss, but as he stepped up to take the kick, his shorts fell down because the elastic around the waist had earlier been pulled and ripped by a defender. Meazza, without letting this stress him, pulled up his shorts with one hand and shot past the confused Walter, who was still busy laughing. His celebrating team-mates surrounded him until a new pair of shorts were produced. The goal sent Italy into their second consecutive World Cup final. It was his last goal for Italy.

In Italy's 4-2 win over Hungary in the final, Italy's dynamic inside-forward partnership of Meazza and Giovanni Ferrari, took hold of the game. Meazza set up goals for Silvio Piola and Gino Colaussi before halftime. The first assist he gave came after a quick exchange with Colaussi, who put Italy up 1-0. The next assist came after he faked a shot, making his defender jump past him, and dribbled past another defender, before sending in a quick pass on the ground for Piola to slam home. Ten minutes before half, after another quick exchange between Ferrari and Meazza, the latter found the unmarked Colaussi with an illuminating pass, and winger netted his second of the game to make it 3-1 at the break. After the tournament, Piola, who scored five goals in France, paid his colleague the compliment of being responsible for his own good performance: "At the FIFA World Cup, I mainly lived off Meazza and Ferrari".

He played his last match for the national nine years after his debut, on the 20 July 1939 at the Olympiastadion in Helsinki when he captained Italy to a 3-2 win over Finland.

He played 53 times with Italy, losing just 6 matches and scoring 33 goals.

Career records

Serie A record

Meazza is still today the third top-scorer ever in the Italian Championship.

National team record

(Italy's score shown first)

Playing Honours

A.S. Ambrosiana / A.S. Ambrosiana-Inter (F.C. Internazionale Milano)

1927-28 Internazionale Milano Serie A 33 12
1928-29 29 33
1929-30 33 31
1930-31 34 24
1931-32 28 21
1932-33 32 20
1933-34 32 21
1934-35 30 18
1935-36 29 25
1936-37 26 11
1937-38 26 20
1938-39 16 4
1939-40 0 0
1940-41 Milan Serie A 14 6
1941-42 23 3
1942-43 Juventus Serie A 27 10
1945-46 Atalanta Serie A 14 2
1946-47 Internazionale Milano Serie A 17 2
Cap Goals Total
Date Venue Opponent Score Competition
1 2 2 9 February 1930 Rome Switzerland 4-2 Friendly
2 1 3 2 March 1930 Frankfurtmarker Germany 2-0 Friendly
3 3 6 April 1930 Amsterdammarker Netherlands 1-1 Friendly
4 3 6 11 May 1930 Budapestmarker Hungary 5-0 Central European International Cup
5 6 22 June 1930 Bolognamarker Spain 2-3 Friendly
6 3 9 25 January 1931 Bolognamarker France 5-0 Friendly
7 1 10 22 February 1931 Milanmarker Austria 2-1 Central European International Cup
8 10 29 March 1931 Bernmarker Switzerland 1-1 Central European International Cup
9 10 19 April 1931 Bilbaomarker Spain 0-0 Friendly
10 1 11 20 May 1931 Rome Scotland 3-0 Friendly
11 11 15 November 1931 Rome Czechoslovakia 2-2 Central European International Cup
12 1 12 20 March 1932 Viennamarker Austria 1-2 Central European International Cup
13 12 8 May 1932 Budapestmarker Hungary 1-1 Central European International Cup
14 12 28 October 1932 Praguemarker Czechoslovakia 1-2 Central European International Cup
15 1 13 27 November 1932 Milanmarker Hungary 4-2 Friendly
16 1 14 1 January 1933 Bolognamarker Germany 3-1 Friendly
17 2 16 12 February 1933 Brusselsmarker Belgium 3-2 Friendly
18 1 17 2 April 1933 Genevamarker Switzerland 3-0 Central European International Cup
19 17 13 May 1933 Rome England 1-1 Friendly
20 1 18 3 December 1933 Florencemarker Switzerland 5-2 Central European International Cup
21 18 11 February 1934 Turinmarker Austria 2-4 Central European International Cup
22 2 20 25 March 1934 Milanmarker Greece 4-0 World Cup Qualifier
23 1 21 27 May 1934 Rome United States 7-1 World Cup
24 21 31 May 1934 Florencemarker Spain 1-1 World Cup
25 1 22 1 June 1934 Florencemarker Spain 1-0 World Cup
26 22 3 June 1934 Milanmarker Austria 1-0 World Cup
27 22 10 June 1934 Rome Czechoslovakia 2-1 World Cup
28 2 24 14 November 1934 London England 2-3 Friendly
29 1 25 9 December 1934 Milanmarker Hungary 4-2 Friendly
30 2 27 17 February 1935
Rome France 2-1 Friendly
31 27 28 October 1935
Praguemarker Czechoslovakia 1-2 Central European International Cup
32 27 24 November 1935
Milanmarker Hungary 2-2 Central European International Cup
33 27 5 April 1936
Zürichmarker Switzerland 2-1 Friendly
34 27 17 May 1936
Rome Austria 2-2 Friendly
35 1 28 31 May 1936
Budapestmarker Hungary 2-1 Friendly
36 1 29 25 October 1936
Milanmarker Switzerland 4-2 Central European International Cup
37 29 25 April 1937
Turinmarker Hungary 2-0 Central European International Cup
38 29 23 May 1937
Praguemarker Czechoslovakia 1-0 Central European International Cup
39 1 30 27 May 1937
Oslomarker Norway 3-1 Friendly
40 30 31 October 1937
Genevamarker Switzerland 2-2 Central European International Cup
41 30 5 February 1937
Paris France 0-0 Friendly
42 1 31 15 May 1938
Milanmarker Belgium 6-1 Friendly
43 1 32 22 May 1938
Genevamarker Yugoslavia 4-0 Friendly
44 32 5 June 1938
Marseillemarker Norway 2-1 World Cup
45 32 12 June 1938
Paris France 3-1 World Cup
46 1 33 16 June 1938
Marseillemarker Brazil 2-1 World Cup
47 33 19 June 1938
Paris Hungary 4-2 World Cup
48 33 26 March 1939
Florencemarker Germany 3-2 Friendly
49 33 13 May 1939
Milanmarker England 2-2 Friendly
50 33 4 June 1939
Belgrademarker Yugoslavia 2-1 Friendly
51 33 8 June 1939
Budapestmarker Hungary 3-1 Friendly
52 33 11 June 1939
Bucharestmarker Romania 1-0 Friendly
53 33 20 July 1939
Helsinkimarker Finland 3-2 Friendly
  • Winner: 1939

A.C. Milan



  • Meazza was one the first Italians to coach abroad, coaching Besiktas J.K. of Turkeymarker in 1947-1948.

  • While serving as a youth coach for Inter, he met Sandro Mazzola. Understanding the boys pain at losing a father while so young and recognizing his skills, Meazza took young Sandro under his wing, and convinced him to sign for Inter.

  • Meazza is a FIFA Hall of Champions Inductee and Italian Hall of Fame Entrant. He was selected by IFFHS/FIFA as the 2nd Best Italian player as one of the best 25 World Players of the 20th Century.

  • With 33 goals, Meazza is still the the Italian national team's second highest scorer. His record stood until Gigi Riva tied and eventually broke it on June 9th 1973, also in a game against Brazil.


  1. Giuseppe Prisco, Pazzo per l'Inter. Un sogno lungo 62 anni, Baldini e Castoldi, Milano, 1993
  2. Paolo Facchinetti, La Grande Ambrosiana. L'Inter di Meazza contro Juve e Bologna: storia e numeri di uomini e fatti leggendari, GEO Edizioni, Empoli, 2001
  3. Franco Rossi, Perda il migliore. Il paradosso di 15 mondiali di calcio, Limina Edizioni, Arezzo, 2006

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