Italy still laments 'Grande Torino' on 70th anniversary of air crash

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Turin (Italy) (AFP)

Italian president Sergio Mattarella led the tributes as the country remembered the legendary 'Grande Torino' on the 70th anniversary of the Superga air disaster that wiped out one of Italy's greatest ever football teams.

On Saturday, just like every year, thousands climbed up to the Basilica of Superga, a Baroque church which overlooks the city, to remember the victims.

On May 4, 1949, a plane carrying the five-time reigning Serie A champions from Lisbon to Turin crashed into the back wall of the Basilica killing 31 people including 18 members of the team who made up the majority of the Italian national team.

The team coach, staff and three journalists were also killed.

Over 500,000 people lined the streets of Turin for the funerals, and seven decades later the memory of the team known as the "Invincibles" has not faded.

Mattarella said that the tragedy was "an indelible page in the history of the Republic and not just Italian football" as the team had been "a symbol of sport and also represented a sign of the rebirth of the country after the horrors of war".

The day's commemorations began with a tribute at the Monumental Cemetery in Turin where the city's Mayor Chiara Appendino laid a wreath in front of the memorial plaque in honour of the victims.

Hundreds later attended a Mass in the city's Duomo, before members of the current squad travelled up to Superga where at 5pm Torino captain Andrea Belotti read the names of all the victims of the disaster, including Valentino Mazzola, the team's skipper at the time who was considered one of the best players in the world.

"I grew up in the myth of that team, my youth was permeated by the memory of the great champions who disappeared in Superga," said Lega Serie A president Gaetano Micciche.

"The fact that after so many years the whole of Italy remembers them with emotion testifies to the deep impact that they were able to leave in the hearts of each of us."

Torino as a team have never fully recovered from the disaster.

They have won the league just once since, claiming a seventh Serie A title in 1976, while city rivals Juventus have dominated Italian football, winning their eighth consecutive and 35th Scudetto overall this season.

The two teams met again on Friday in the Turin derby with Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo grabbing a late 1-1 draw for Juventus to deny Torino a first win at their rivals since 1995.