OBITUARY:Edmondo Fabbri

Wolfgang Achtner
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:08

For the Italians, Edmondo Fabbri symbolised what they feared the most: ''la brutta figura'', or loss of face.

In a country where, for the male population, the greatest love after "La mamma" is "La nazionale", the Italian national football team, Fabbri's crime was to be the coach of the Italian side that was ousted from the 1966 World Cup after being defeated by North Korea.

The fatal match took place on 19 July 1966 at Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough. After a 2-1 win against Chile, Italy had lost 0-1 to the Soviet Union, and needed a draw or victory in their final match of the first round.

Italy's assistant coach, Ferruccio Valcareggi, had watched one of North Korea's matches and described the team to the Italian press as ''Una squadra di Ridolini'', a team of clowns; the Italians were expecting the game to be easy.

But after only 36 minutes, the Italian side was, in effect, left with 10 men, after its captain, the midfielder Giacomo Bulgarelli, was injured in a tackle by an unknown Korean player named Pak Do Ik. In those days, substitutions were not allowed, so Bulgarelli remained on the pitch hobbling about on one leg. Eight minutes later, a right-footed shot by the same Pak Do Ik put the ball in the net.

From that moment, the word Korea and the humiliation provoked by that unexpected defeat were burnt into Italy's collective subconsciousness forever. It may seem absurd, but for most Italians the match lost to North Korea was Italy's own Waterloo and erased memories of the embarrassing defeat at Caporetto during the First World War. In contemporary Italian, "una Corea" became a synonym for a defeat without honour.

For the remainder of this coaching career, every time Fabbri walked on to the pitch, he was taunted by the opposing team's fans with the chant, ''Corea, Corea''.

And yet, if it were not for that cursed match against North Korea, Fabbri would be remembered as one of the Italy's most successful football coaches. At the age of 17, Fabbri played his first match for Forli's Third Division team. One year later he was playing in the Serie A, the First Division, for Atalanta, of Bergamo. In Serie A, Fabbri also played in Milan, for Internazionale, and in Genoa, for Sampdoria.

In 1955, Fabbri became the coach of the team at Mantua, and brought them in just four years from the Fourth to the First Division. On 9 October 1962, at the age of 40, he was appointed the coach of Italy's national team. Less than one month later, Fabbri led the Italian team to its first victory against Austria in 35 years. As coach, Fabbri got rid of the "oriundi", foreign nationals of Italian origin who had been given Italian citizenship to allow them to play for Italy, and brought many talented young players like Milan's Gianni Rivera and Inter's Giacinto Facchetti and Sandro Mazzola to the national team. After the defeat against North Korea, he was fired and replaced by Valcareggi.

Italian sports writers agreed that Fabbri's only "crime" was to have made two mistakes during the 1966 World Cup: leaving the striker Gigi Riva in the stands and insisting on having Bulgarelli, who was his favourite player but who was already injured, play in the final match.

"It is typically Italian and very stupid only to remember defeats," Facchetti said. "I always felt bad that Fabbri never got the credit he really deserved."

After the 1966 World Cup, for another 15 years, Fabbri coached various teams in the Italian First and Second Division, including Torino and Bologna, whom he led to victory in the Italian Cup in 1968 and 1970 respectively.

Wolfgang Achtner

Edmondo Fabbri, football manager: born Castel Bolognese, Ravenna 16 November 1921; married; died Bologna 7 July 1995.

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