Wednesday March 20 2013
When Rossi broke Brazilian hearts

Italy last beat Brazil in the 1982 World Cup, a game where Paolo Rossi was the unlikely hero with a hat-trick that will never die.

Paolo Rossi was the man who, in 1982, won Italy the World Cup for a third time. En route to the Final his goals shot down Brazil and Poland. In the finale against West Germany it was Rossi who scored the first of Italy’s three goals. The striker from Tuscany finished as the 1982 World Cup’s top scorer – not bad considering he failed to score in the first four games.

His exploits in Spain earned him a place in Italian football’s Hall of Fame. Yet Rossi was fortunate to be involved in that World Cup. In 1979, a year after catching the eye during the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, Rossi was caught up in a match-betting scandal that rocked the Italian game. The striker, who was playing for Perugia, was one of several players accused of fixing a 2-2 draw with Avellino. Rossi was banned for three years although it was reduced to two on appeal.

The ban was lifted just two months before the 1982 World Cup. Nobody in Italy expected Enzo Bearzot, the Italian Coach, to select Rossi who surely lacked match fitness. But the pipe-smoking Bearzot, remembering Rossi’s wonderful contribution to Italy’s excellent ‘78 campaign, gambled on the striker who had signed for Juventus just before the ban was imposed.

“I knew that if Rossi wasn’t in Spain,” explained Bearzot, “I wouldn’t have had an opportunist inside the penalty box. In that area he was really good, really fast, always ready to run by using feints. In attack it is necessary to have a fast striker. He doesn’t have to be tall but he must be quick to exploit the counter-attack.”

At first it seemed Bearzot had made a terrible mistake. Rossi failed to score in Italy’s opener against Poland (0-0). In the second match against Peru (1-1) he was substituted early in the second half after a dreadful first 45 minutes. And he again fired blanks in the third match against Cameroon (1-1). The Azzurri scraped into the second phase on goal difference. By now the hysterical Italian Press were calling for Rossi’s exclusion and Bearzot’s head.

To reach the last four Italy had to play holders Argentina and favourites Brazil. Against Argentina, Rossi failed to break his scoring duck, but he had a good game and Italy won 2-1. So against Brazil, who had beaten their South American rivals 3-1, the Azzurri had to win to make the semi-finals. Brazil needed only a draw.

This was the match in which ‘Pablito’ – his nickname following the 1978 World Cup in Argentina – exploded into life. In one of the greatest games of all time Rossi hit a sensational hat-trick that dumped the brilliant Brazilians out of the tournament. First he headed Italy ahead after five minutes. Brazil equalised. Then he capitalised on a Brazilian mistake and blasted Italy into a 2-1 lead. Brazil again equalised, but they had no response to his third goal 15 minutes from time.

Not surprisingly, he chose his first goal against Brazil as one of the most important he has ever scored. “It freed me psychologically and also increased my motivation,” he said. “Like all strikers, once you get a goal you want more as soon as possible.”

In the semi-final, against Poland, Rossi scored both goals in a 2-0 win. In the Final Rossi, almost inevitably, grabbed the first goal in a memorable 3-1 win. Later that year he was named European Footballer of the Year – after a lot of Italian journalists were made to eat humble pie.

Rossi learnt his trade at Juventus but even before he celebrated his 18th birthday his football career was in jeopardy after he had cartilages from both knees removed. He was loaned to Como and it was with the Lombardy minnows that he made his Serie A debut in November 1975.

Then Juventus sold a half-share in Rossi to Serie B club Vicenza and it was there he made his name. In his first season with the Biancorossi, in 1976-77, his 21 goals helped Vicenza win promotion to Serie A. The following season Rossi and Vicenza proved to be the revelations of Serie A. Rossi was capocannoniere with 24 goals. Newly-promoted Vicenza, coached by Gian Battista Fabbri, finished second to Juventus.

That season Rossi won his first cap for Italy in a 1-0 victory over Belgium in Liege while Vicenza bought out Juve’s share in Rossi for a then-staggering £1.75m, a deal that nearly ruined the club. After a slightly disappointing 1979-80 season, Rossi scored 15 goals. They were not enough to stop Vicenza falling into Serie B and he was loaned to Perugia. There, apart from finding himself embroiled in a match-rigging scandal, he netted 13 goals in 28 games.

Before his two-year ban was announced Juventus bought Rossi for a cut-price £600,000 from Vicenza. It was a shrewd business move. Not only did they make £1.15m profit, but after the 1982 World Cup the Bianconeri owned one of the hottest properties in world football.

In Turin ‘Pablito’ won more trophies – the Coppa Italia in 1983, Lo Scudetto and the Cup-Winners Cup in 1984 and the European Cup in 1985. By now Rossi, wearing the red and black of Milan, was a shadow of the player of 1982. He had scored only two goals for Milan in the 1985-86 season and his inclusion in the 1986 World Cup squad was more for morale than form. After he returned from Mexico he was transferred to Verona. Rossi was still only 29 but this was to be his last port of call. Injuries had returned to plague him, just as they did when he was a teenager.

He kicked his last ball in April 1987 in Verona’s 3-0 win over Diego Maradona’s Napoli. It was a fitting end for Rossi since Napoli would win the title that season.

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Have your say...

LoL that's a good question, but knowing the great self proclaimed expert Rosario O'Donnel, he will over look it since Rossi played for his beloved Milan.
on the 22nd March, 2013 at 6:19am
Daniel Giambrone, fair point about England to a degree, but only the 66 final was a thriller, the others were brave performances, (Yes Banks did produce a great save against Pele and Owens goal against Argentina was class( Italy Holland 78, was a brave and we didn’t shame ourselves.

And it’s not just supportors of Italy who rate West Germany 1970 (Game of the century), and Brazil 1982

Agreed 100 per cent on Azzurri and Vicini dropping Baggio, it still annoys me.
on the 21st March, 2013 at 5:04pm
Matteo, I rarely stick up for English football, but after your comment, I feel compelled to do so. The 1966 final was memorable, as was the 1-0 defeat to Brazil in 1970. The 1998 game against Argentina was also very good. Even though England lost two of these encounters, they put in a very good showing. Another great Italian game was the 0-0 with Germany in 2006. I thought that the Azzurri of 1990 was a great team to watch, & I still get annoyed with Vicini for dropping Baggio for the semi.
on the 21st March, 2013 at 12:18pm
Rosario - interested for your thoughts on Rossi with regard to his ban. Does that make him a Ladro? Or did he not 'cheat' enough to warrant your continual fight for footballing justice?
on the 21st March, 2013 at 12:07pm
To beat teams of the calibre of Brazil, Argentina, & Germany,(Poland were also very good, was an incredible achievement. It annoys me when people go on & on about the 82' Brazil team, & how it was a tragedy that they never won. They were a great attacking team no doubt, but I feel that Italy deserve more credit; they played some great football! We could attack & defend! I hope that we can finally beat them again tonight, & also beat them in their back yard in the summer.
on the 21st March, 2013 at 10:13am
Great story and destiny for Rossi..! I was not born but I have looked back at footage of these games and it seemed magical.
on the 21st March, 2013 at 8:33am
Great memories, watched the game as a school boy, as the game itself one of the greatest World Cup games ever, along with Italy West Germany 1970. Can’t seem to recall England being in that many classic World Cup games !

What Rossi and the Azzurri done was legendary and magical, still watch the DVD over and over again. It inspires me, and I won a school boy bet for around fifty pence as I said Italy would beat Argentina and Brazil, how I was mocked and laughed at, yet I certainly did have the last laugh and money for a bag of chips after school due to my windfall !
on the 21st March, 2013 at 8:20am
on the 21st March, 2013 at 6:44am
Orgoglio Italiano!!! I was 4 days old when this happened.
on the 20th March, 2013 at 10:17pm
'82 a fantastic time watching as a 14 year old the Azzurri having to face the might of Argentina and Brazil in a group of death!

We watched all the games on a black and white television (to poor for colour lol)! Now I watch it again and again in glorious colour on DVD or repeats on ESPN.

Forza Azzurri
on the 20th March, 2013 at 10:06pm
Rossi is an Italian Football Legend , we Azzurri fans have so much to thank him for - Grazie Paolo !
on the 20th March, 2013 at 9:53pm
Rossi rimaneria sempre nel mio cuore!
on the 20th March, 2013 at 8:26pm
Like most Italian fans I have this match at home on DVD. It's exciting to watch even when you know the result, must have been amazing at the time.
on the 20th March, 2013 at 7:28pm
Great memories. I will never forget the day and where I was. As a 16 year old working in a TV shop watching it on a 60 inch TV which was very rear in those days. I scared a poor old lady as Rossi slotted the first home as I jumped & screamed for joy. Had great joy after the match winding up all my friends who had backed Brazil. Great Day and thanks for bringing back the memories. Now to click onto Youtube to show my 15 year old what a great day its was.
on the 20th March, 2013 at 7:27pm

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