Home | Breaking News | Giampaolo Pazzini, new Wembley’s first goalscorer, feels the emotions 10 years on
Giampaolo Pazzini scores the first goal at the new Wembley, for Italy in an Under-21 international against England, in March 2007. Photograph: Graham Hughes/AP

Giampaolo Pazzini, new Wembley’s first goalscorer, feels the emotions 10 years on

WT24 Desk

Exactly 10 years have passed since Giampaolo Pazzini scored the first goal, and then the first hat-trick, at the new Wembley Stadium,The Guardian reports. The stand-out performer in a 3-3 draw between England’s and Italy’s Under-21 sides, he still remembers the fine details: from the sound of the crowd to the way his first shot skipped off Anton Ferdinand’s thigh on its way into the top corner.

In fact, just about the only thing Pazzini doesn’t remember about that day is the fact he should have scored four. With just over 10 minutes left to play the England goalkeeper Lee Camp parried an Arturo Lupoli shot into his path only for him to drag the ball wide from six yards out.

“You know, I don’t recall that bit so well,” he says, bursting into a laugh. “Honestly, a friend just said the same thing to me a few minutes ago, but I guess my memory only held on to the beautiful parts.”

Who could blame him? This was a historic occasion for English football: the inauguration of a stadium many years in the making, and a return to a spiritual home in north-west London. But for Pazzini, it was also a defining moment in his own career.

“I was at Fiorentina, in Serie A, but I was playing some weeks and not others,” he recalls. “I was young [22] and there were great champions ahead of me in the starting XI. So for me the under-21 team was a shop window. Even now people ask about it, because an Italian scoring a hat-trick at Wembley is not something that has happened again since.”

It was not just the fact of scoring three goals that made this day memorable, but the nature of them. The opener arrived within 30 seconds of kick-off, a wicked drive from 20 yards. Ferdinand was backtracking as Pazzini rushed forward down the right channel, but the striker made space to shoot with a slick body swerve.

“That was something unplanned,” he says. “I found myself outside the box and didn’t know what to do because I was a little bit isolated in that part of the pitch. I tried to go straight at Ferdinand and my shot wound up taking that little deflection off him on the way in.”

Less improvised was the celebration, Pazzini pointing two fingers at his eyes. This was his signature move – unfamiliar to fans in England, but already well-known back in Italy. It had begun as a teasing response to his friend Luca Toni’s habit of cupping an ear after each goal. “It was my way of saying: ‘Hey, did you see that?’”

Pazzini’s second was more simple, a volley from close range. It made the score 2-2, after England had responded to his opener with goals from David Bentley and Wayne Routledge.

The home side took the lead again through Matt Derbyshire and were chasing a fourth goal when they instead were hit on the counter. A slick Italy passing move ended with Pazzini being released into the box. He fired through Leighton Baines’s legs and into the bottom corner. “I think that was the best goal,” Pazzini says. “It was a breakaway, it all happened at speed, I had to shoot diagonally across my body, and before that I had to control the ball during a full sprint. So the third was more beautiful, and more difficult, than the first.”

For Pazzini, though, the most captivating moment would arrive around 10 minutes later, when he was substituted by the manager, Pierluigi Casiraghi. As the board went up with his number, England’s fans rose for a standing ovation.

“That’s the thing I want to say most: I want to thank everyone who was at the stadium,” Pazzini says. “To hear more than 50,000 people applauding me when I went off was something incredible. In that moment I don’t think I really even understood what was happening, because it seemed so extraordinary that I didn’t think it could be true.

“Even today, it is still an incredible emotion. At that age, I could not have imagined anything of the sort. We were playing away from home. I never thought such a thing could happen.”

Pazzini went on to enjoy a productive career. He is one of 80 players to have scored 100 goals in Serie A. As well as Fiorentina he played for Milan and Internazionale – winning a Coppa Italia with the latter. And yet, after scoring three goals in one day at Wembley, he notched only four for Italy’s senior team – a point he acknowledges as a source of regret.

Today he plays for Hellas Verona in Serie B. That is by choice and not for a lack of alternatives. Top-flight clubs came calling after the club were relegated last summer, but Pazzini preferred to stay. He also turned down a lucrative move to China in January.

“It wasn’t an easy decision but I was happy to take it,” he says. “I’ve been able to score a lot of goals [19 in 24 league matches] and right now we need a few more to seal promotion. I still have things I want to achieve in Serie A. I still have an objective or two.”

Whatever happens next, though, that afternoon at Wembley will for ever remain one of the most special of his career. “I’ve kept photos from that match, as well as my boots and the ball – signed by everyone,” he says. “For me, it was a truly unforgettable day.”

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