Teams

Euro 2020

Why are Italy called 'Azzurri' and why do they play in blue?

Italy and Spain will go head-to-head for the place in the Euro 2020 final with the Italians in their famous blue, the azzurro that gives the side its name.

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Why is Italy called Azzurri and why do they play in blue?
RYAN PIERSE Pool via REUTERS

Italy and Spain face off in the first Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday where Roberto Mancini's side will seek to reach a European Championship final for the first time since 2012, when the same opposition inflicted a 4-0 defeat on the Azzurri in the showpiece game at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.

The blue shirts worn by Italy can be considered the most famous in international football, along with the yellow of Brazil, which gives the side its nickname Canarinho (Little Canary). Italy, known as the Azzurri, have won four World Cups and a European Championship adorned in blue and have rarely strayed from their traditional strip throughout their history.

All white to be blue

Like many teams in the early 20th century, Italy started out in white when they made their debut against France in 1910. Although this was partly due to a debate about which colour should represent a nation that had unified only 50 years previously, it was also based on more pragmatic concerns - the contemporary cost of dye.

Eventually it was decided that Italy should play in blue and the new shirts were sported for the first time in 1911 against Hungary after a couple of games in white. Blue was a natural choice, stemming from the Savoy blue (or Savoy azure) used by the House of Savoy from the 11th century. From reasonably humble beginnings, the House of Savoy grew to become absolute rulers of Sicily and later, through the Savoy-Carignano branch of the family, absolute rulers of Italy until the declaration of the Italian Republic in 1946. Italy's last four kings, Victor Emmanuel II, Umberto I, Victor Emmanuel III, and Umberto II were all of the House of Savoy and Savoy blue still adorns the outer edge of the Italian Presidential Standard.

Also called azzurro Savoia in Italian, the colour game its name to the national side shortly after Italy adopted its blue shirts.

Other Italy shirts

Like many nations, Italy have occasionally veered away from their traditional strip. A short-lived experiment with black was ordered by Benito Mussolini and Italy played France in a friendly in 1935 and again at the 1938 in the all-black strip preferred by the Italian dictator (although blue was worn at the 1936 Olympic Games in Hitler's Germany).

Italy's standard away strip is white but they have occasionally worn a green shirt, first used during a 1954 friendly against Argentina. The story goes that as Italy's senior side wears blue, those going through the junior international sides would be required to wear the green "apprentice" shirts before being ceremoniously awarded their azzurro Savoia.

Since Italy became a republic in 1964, the blue shirt has been worn as the country's first strip on a permanent basis.