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Gianpiero Combi

94. Gianpiero Combi

Regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers in the game's history, Gianpiero Combi is a legend at Italian club Juventus, where he spent his entire career. Born in Turin, he made his Serie A debut at the age of just 19 against Milan in February 1922.

Two years later, Combi made his international debut for Italy against Hungary, but suffered a disasterous start to his international career as the Hungarians won 7-1 and had to wait almost a year for his second appearance. 1926 brought Combi his first major honour at club level as Juventus won the Serie A title, and in 1928 international success came with a bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Amsterdam.

By now the regular first choice in goal for Italy, Combi played a crucial role in the Juventus team that dominated Italian domestic football in the early 1930s. Juventus took the Serie A title four years in a row from 1931 to 1934, and Combi had established a reputation as one of the finest goalkeepers in the world. Italy also won the international competition the Dr. Gero Cup twice, in the 1927-30 and 1933-35 tournaments, and Combi appeared during both of these successful campaigns.

As the World Cup came to Europe for the first time in 1934, Combi prepared to lead host nation Italy into the tournament as one of the favourites. With Mussolini using the tournament for propaganda purposes, the pressure on the national team to succeed was immense. After coming easily through their opening match against the United States, Italy scraped past Spain in a replay and then beat favourites Austria 1-0 to reach the final.

In the final, Combi conceded his first goal in three games as Czechoslovakia took the lead. Italy, however came back to win 2-1 after extra-time and Combi became the first goalkeeper to lift the trophy as captain. He retired immediately after that World Cup success, but remained with Juventus as an advisor and a scout. He also briefly served as joint manager of the Italian national team. Gianpiero Combi died in 1956, aged just 53.

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