In terms of youth football, the Viareggio Tournament is the oldest and most prestigious. The 70th edition will take place on March 12th, exactly 10 years after perhaps the most incredible one of all time. With incredible energy spent and a final outcome to remember, let’s now discuss the 2008 edition. The poster boy at the time was Mario Balotelli, who initially skipped two group games for more important encounters. One example of this was in the TIM Cup against Juventus in Turin, when the youngster bagged himself a brace and received praise right from the top. He returned just in time to help his teammates progress past the group stage thanks a victory over Radja Nainggolan’s Piacenza side.
From then on it was a completely unique experience: A 90th minute back-heel from Balotelli helped secure a 4-3 win over Cisco Roma in the Round of 16, which was then followed by a 2-0 victory over Cesena thanks to extra-time goals from Balotelli and Destro and a 120th minute 2-1 win over Atalanta in the semi-final. It was then time for the two-legged final. It was previously arranged that should the first match end as a draw after extra-time, then the final would be replayed two days later and would include a penalty shoot-out if necessary. Inter had 22 players in their squad, although on the eve of the two-legged final against Empoli, coach Vincenzo Esposito only had 12 players to rely on. However, despite their injuries and suspensions, the team gritted their teeth and made it to penalties. Every single Nerazzurri player scored during the shoot-out, with Belec also saving one to help Inter lift the trophy for the fifth time.
Out of the winning squad, many went on to triumph with Inter, like Mario Balotelli, while others moved to other clubs in Serie A, such as Joel Obi, Vid Belec and Mattia Destro. Others like Rene Krhin and Luca Caldirola travelled to leagues abroad, while some also had to retire early due to physical problems. Sadly that included Daniele Federici and then-captain Dennis Esposito, who would fire up the team pre-match and played in the final in spite of a strain. However, all of them will still have fond memories of that Tournament 10 years ago, when in 17 days they played 840 minutes altogether – practically 50 minutes every day – but still managed to come out on top.