Let’s talk about calcio!

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Italy’s thrilling victory over England at the UEFA EURO 2020 soccer championship this past July sparked a week-long, country-wide celebration.  Why not learn a few terms used to describe a sport that Italians are crazy about? Calcio, as the Italians call this popular sport, is derived from the verb calciare, which means “to kick.”If you’re in a soccer league here in the United States or you just like watching it at home, knowing a few Italian words and phrases will certainly add to the excitement of being involved in this Italian passion!

Soccer — a brief history of the game 

The basic idea behind soccer — a game of skill that involves kicking a ball — is said to date back as far as 2500 B.C., as a form of the game we know today was played by the Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese. The Roman game of Harpastum and the ancient Greek game of Episkyros were ball games that involved two teams kicking a ball but also allowed the use of hands or sticks, similar to today’s rugby.

According to the blog “The Origin, History, and Invention of Soccer”:

“The most relevant of these ancient games to our modern day “Association Football” is the Chinese game of Tsu’Chu (Tsu-Chu or Cuju, meaning “kicking the ball”). Records of the game began during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.) and it may have been a training exercise for soldiers.

Tsu’Chu involved kicking a small leather ball into a net strung between two bamboo poles. The use of hands was not permitted, but a player could use his feet and other parts of his body. The main difference between Tsu’Chu and soccer was the height of the goal, which hung about 30 feet from the ground.

From the introduction of Tsu’Chu onwards, soccer-like games spread throughout the world. Many cultures had activities that centered on the use of their feet, including Japan’s Kemari, which is still played today. The Native Americans had Pahsaherman, the Indigenous Australians played Marn Grook, and the Moari’s had Ki-o-rahi, to name a few.”


“Soccer began to evolve in modern Europe from the medieval period onwards. Various forms of what is now known as “folk football” were played (in England). The codification of soccer began in the public schools of Britain at the beginning of the 19th century. The word soccer was derived from an abbreviation from the word association. The -er suffix was popular slang at the Rugby School and Oxford University and used for all sorts of nouns the young men shortened. The association came from the formation of the Football Association (FA) on October 26, 1863.

Over the years, more clubs joined the FA until the number reached 128 by 1887. (England) finally had a nearly uniform rule structure in place.



Italian Soccer Victories

The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) was formed in Paris in 1904 with seven members. This included Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Germany announced its intention to join the same day.

In 1930, the first-ever FIFA World Cup was held in Uruguay. There were 41 members of FIFA at the time and it has remained the pinnacle of the soccer world ever since. The championship has been awarded every four years since the first tournament in 1930, except in 1942 and 1946, due to World War II.”


Statistics about Italian Soccer Victories from “Wikipedia: Italy at the FIFA World Cup”:

Italy is one of the most successful national teams in the history of the FIFA World Cup,
having won four titles (1934193819822006), just one fewer than Brazil.



The UEFA, or the Union of European Football Associations dates back to 1927, when the French Football Federation’s administrator Henri Delaunay first proposed a pan-European football tournament. The UEFA Champions League is an annual club football competition organized by the Union of European Football Associations and holds annual competitions.


Statistics about Italian Soccer Victories from “Sports Adda”:

Prior to their championship win of the EURO 200  in 2021,
the Italy national football team had reached the European Championship final in 1968, 2000 and 2012.
And Italy’s (last) title win in the UEFA Euros came in 1968,
when the Blues had beaten Yugoslavia over two matches (in Rome).


What do Italians call the different games of foot ball played around the world?


Football (UK) il calcio
Soccer (US) il calcio
To play soccer giocare a calcio
To enjoy playing soccer divertirsi  giocando a calcio
Football (AU) football australiano
Football (US) il football americano
College football ( US) il football universiatrio
Rugby la palla ovale


Juventus – the most well-known soccer team in Italy

From a previous Conversational Italian! blog entitled “Italian Soccer, anyone?”

Juventus was founded in 1897 by a group of male students from an elite school in the city of Turin, the Liceo Classico Massimo d’Azeglio. The Latin word for “youth” is “iuvenis,” and is where the name of this team comes from. For years, I wondered why the letter “J” starts the name of this famous Italian team when “J” doesn’t exist in the Italian language. It turns out that the name was translated from Latin into the dialect spoken in the Piedmont region of northern Italy at the time, which does use the letter “J.”

Over the years, the Juventus team has been called by many nicknames. Perhaps the most famous is “Vecchia Signora,” which means “Old Lady” in Italian. I’ve heard many explanations for this, but the most plausible seems to be that it is a reference to the history and greatness of the team — the team is like royalty over in Italy, and signora means both “Mrs.” and “royal lady.” Of course, this name can also be taken ironically because the team includes young men.

Juventus, the most successful Italian soccer team of all time, plays in the top Italian football league, which is the Serie A League. The winner of this league is awarded the Scudetto (“little shield” or “coat of arms” of the Italian tricolors worn on the uniform the next season) and the title Campioni d’Italia (Champions of Italy), along with a trophy called the Coppa Campioni d’Italia. In the 2016–2017 season, Juventus made history with their sixth consecutive Scudetto. They went on to play in the European Champions Cup but did not win a European title that season.



The Italian Soccer Team and Soccer Match

For those who are new to the game of soccer, below is some Italian vocabulary and an explanation of the basic rules.

A soccer tournament is called un torneo di calcio. A soccer commentator is called un critico di calcio or un opinionista di calcio.

A soccer match, or partita di calcio, is played by two teams. Each soccer team, or soccer club, is called una squadra di calcio.

When playing a soccer game, 11 players can be on the field at any one time, one of whom is a goalkeeper. A soccer match lasts 90 minutes. There is a halftime break, called l’intervallo, after 45 minutes. If the score is tied, the game may go into overtime — as happened just this summer at the exciting conclusion of the EURO 2020.

The object of soccer is for a player to get the ball into the other team’s goal by using
any part of the body except the player’s hands and arms — and then only while he is
located in his own penalty area.

The referee, or l’arbitro, is in charge of the soccer game. The calls the referee makes may be a bit confusing to the new soccer fan. Some penalties are more severe than others.  Yellow and red cards are given to players who violate certain basic rules. This will determine the type of penalty imposed for a given infraction. For further explanation of these rules, I suggest the blog “The 17 Basic Rules of Soccer.” 


A typical soccer field, or campo da calcio, from “The 17 Basic Rules of Soccer”: 

soccer_rules_1 soccer field labeled



The art of the game:

la palla / il pallone
soccer ball
to kick
calcio d’inizio
calcio d’angolo
calcio di rigore
calcio di punizione
deviare la palla

kick off
corner kick
penalty kick
free kick
deflect the ball


la rete

fare gol

net used for the goal

the goal
to make a goal/to score
to score

to score

l’allenatore soccer coach
il giocatore soccer player
il calciatore soccer player
il portiere goal keeper/goalie
l’arbitro referee/umpire
la gara competition
il fallo di mano foul for using one’s hands
il fallo di reazione retaliatory foul
il fallo da ultimo uomo last man foul
il fallo a gamba tesa studs-up tackle
la scorrettezza foul play/rudeness
scorretto(a) improper/rude
l’insulto insult
il cartellino giallo yellow “caution” card is given for improper play, hand foul, or unsportsmanlike or rude behavior
l’espulsione expulsion from a soccer game occurs if a player receives two yellow cards
il cartellino rosso red “expulsion” card occurs for a serious foul using violence, a retaliatory foul, a last man foul, insults, or when two yellow cards have been received


The Italian Soccer Fan

The Italian phrases that describe an Italian soccer fan echo the passion that they feel for the sport: appasionato di calcio, fanatico del calcio, and fan del calcio/tifoso di calcio.

A popular exhortation to encourage a team to score is “Rete!”  “Score!” / “Into the net!”

When at a Juventus soccer game, the popular chant is Forza Azzuri!, which is a reference to the team’s blue uniforms. The word forza literally means strength but is also used in this case as an exhortation, to mean , “Come on!” The Italians also wear blue uniforms during international competition, so this chant is appropriate at FIFA and European matches as well. (By the way, Italians do not chant “Forza Italia!” as this phrase has been usurped by an Italian political party, which took the name “Forza Italia” when led by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.)

Another popular chant includes the name of a team player:

Solo noi, solo noi, (name of player) ce l’abbiamo solo noi!
Only us, only us, (name of player) only we have him!


Have fun playing soccer!

For anyone inspired to play soccer by Italy’s recent win at the EURO 2020, below are a few Italian terms to urge on your teammates!


I’ve got him! Mio! Quello è mio!
One on one uno contro uno
I’m marking that man (I have him) Ce l’ho!
Try to avoid the marking of an opponent  Smarcati! /Liberati!
Go on wing Vai sulla fasica! / Allargati!
Pass the ball to the wingman right/left apri a destra/sinestra
From one side of the field to the other da porta a porta
Pass it through the defenders! In mezzo!
Corner! Calcio d’angolo
Leave it! Lasciala!

If you are a fan of Italian soccer, leave a comment about your favorite Italian team
or the most exciting game you’ve watched.
I’d love to hear from you! 


About Kathryn Occhipinti

Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for more than 10 years. She is the author of the “Conversational Italian for Travelers” series of books to teach adults Italian with the vocabulary they need to travel to Italy. She is very active on social media promoting Italian language and culture through her Facebook group Conversational Italian! as well on Twitter @travelitalian1. Links to audio for her Italian language dialogues and her blogs for beginning and intermediate Italian can be found at www.learntravelitalian.com.

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One comment

  1. Meravigliosa storia del calcio Italiano. Continuate il buon lavoro.

    La mia squadra preferita e il AC Mlan.


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