1) Italy v Spain – Euro ’88 Group Stage (14 June 1988, Frankfurt)
Paolo Maldini truly announced himself on the world stage during the 1988 European Championships in West Germany. Still a teenager, and having made his international debut only in March of that year, Maldini was one of the stars of the tournament as a young Italy team reached the semi-finals. In this second group game against Spain, the 19-year-old marked Real Madrid legend Michel, one of Europe’s most feared stars, completely out of the game. This proved just what a wonderkid Maldini was, and Italy would go on to win 1-0 thanks to Gianluca Vialli’s late goal.
2) Brazil v Italy – USA ’94 Final (17 July 1994, Pasadena)
Although Italy would lose on penalties, following a goalless draw and an iconic Roberto Baggio miss from 12 yards, this game will always be memorable to Maldini for other reasons. Brazilian forwards Romario and Bebeto, particularly the former, had been tearing up defences all World Cup, but they were tamed by Maldini and his equally legendary Milan colleague Franco Baresi, who had miraculously returned from injury to make the clash. This was the first time there had ever been a clean sheet World Cup Final, and Maldini played a huge role in this.
3) England v Italy – World Cup ’98 Qualifier – (12 February 1997, London)
Paolo’s father Cesare took charge of his first competitive game as coach, and duly led Italy to one of their finest victories on foreign soil, 24 years after Fabio Capello had earned the Azzurri their maiden win at Wembley back in 1973. Gianfranco Zola scored the only goal of the game within the first 20 minutes and, from then on in, the Italian defence suffocated the English strikeforce, which included Euro ’96 top scorer Alan Shearer. This qualifier was also Fabio Cannavaro’s first ever competitive game for his country. The Azzurri backline that day was terrifyingly formidable:
Ciro Ferrara- Alessandro Costacurta- Fabio Cannavaro- Paolo Maldini
4) Holland v Italy – Euro 2000 Semi Final (29 June 2000, Amsterdam)
One of the most famous-ever Italian defensive displays, as La Nazionale somehow eliminated the co-hosts on penalties, despite playing with 10 men for almost 90 minutes after Gianluca Zambrotta’s 34th minute dismissal. Maldini, along with the impenetrable Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, and Francesco Toldo, who saved one penalty and saw another hit the post in normal time, soaked up wave after wave of Orange attacks. Toldo would deny the Dutch twice more in the shootout as Italy triumphed 3-1 in one of the most gripping clashes in Euros history.
5) Italy v Romania – World Cup 2002 Qualifier (7 October 2000, Milan)
Maldini wins his 113th cap for Italy, and in the process overtakes 1982 World Cup-winning captain Dino Zoff as the most capped player in the history of the Azzurri. Before the match, Maldini was presented with a special trophy, and greeted by Giovanni Trapattoni, father Cesare Maldini, ex-Milan mentor Arrigo Sacchi, and Zoff himself. It proved to be a perfect celebration for the then 32-year-old as the Azzurri romped to a 3-0 win – Pippo Inzaghi, Marco Delvecchio and Francesco Totti grabbing the goals.