Italy were one of five European participants for the 1988 South Korea Olympics football tournament, and in charge of the Italian select was a relatively unknown capacity by the name of Francesco Rocca. During his playing days, he had been a full-back with Roma, but as a coach he had yet to make a big name for himself.
The Italians had been drawn for Group B, where they would feature along with fairly modestly sounding opposition in Iraq, Zambia and Guatemala. They came to Seoul with a squad consisting exclusively of Serie A players, and so must have been among the pre-tournament favourites. Like during the European Championships a few months earlier, though, they would bow out in the semi-final stage against the Soviet Union. Along the way, they had suffered serious humiliation in the group stage match against Zambia, who had thrashed Italy 4-0. There had been a famous hat-trick for Cercle Brugge forward Kalusha Bwalya.
Experienced AC Milan forward Pietro Paolo Virdis would finish as their top goalscorer with three from five matches. He would never win a single full international cap for his country. There were five players in the 20 man strong squad who would feature regularly in Azeglio Vicini’s preparations ahead of the 1990 World Cup: goalkeeper Tacconi, defenders Ferrara and De Agostini, midfielder Crippa, as well as striker Carnevale. Roma forward Rizzitelli would also feature, although much more sparingly.
Italy’s results read as follows:
17/9 – Guatemala 5-2 (Carnevale, Evani, Virdis, Ferrara, Desideri)
19/9 – Zambia 0-4
21/9 – Iraq 2-0 (Rizzitelli, Mauro)
25/9 – Sweden 2-1 (Virdis, Crippa) a.e.t.
27/9 – Soviet Union 2-3 (Virdis, Carnevale) a.e.t.
1 Stefano Tacconi, Juventus (31), goalkeeper
2 Roberto Cravero, Torino (24), defender
3 Andrea Carnevale, Napoli (27), forward
4 Luigi De Agostini, Juventus (27), defender
5 Ciro Ferrara, Napoli (21), defender
6 Mauro Tassotti, AC Milan (28), defender
7 Angelo Colombo, AC Milan (27), midfielder
8 Luca Pellegrini, Sampdoria (25), midfielder
9 Massimo Brambati, Torino (22), defender
10 Stefano Carobbi, Fiorentina (24), defender
11 Massimo Crippa, Napoli (23), midfielder
12 Giuliano Giuliani, Napoli (29), goalkeeper
13 Pietro Paolo Virdis, AC Milan (31), forward
14 Ruggiero Rizzitelli, Roma (21), forward
15 Roberto Galia, Juventus (25), midfielder
16 Giuseppe Iachini, Verona (24), midfielder
17 Stefano Desideri, Roma (23), midfielder
18 Massimo Mauro, Juventus (26), midfielder
19 Alberigo Evani, AC Milan (25), midfielder
20 Gianluca Pagliuca, Sampdoria (21), goalkeeper