Italian progress: Fourth place
Football Italia recounts Italy’s steps through the World Cup, tournament by tournament. Little was expected of a new look Italy squad in 1978 with public opinion totally against boss Enzo Bearzot, but he silenced his critics in Argentina.
The 1978 Finals in Argentina was a gruelling campaign, but they still departed with nothing better than fourth place. Enzo Bearzot’s side got off to a flyer – blitzing their ‘Group of Death’ with three confident victories. That scenario did not seem likely after 39 seconds of the opener though as Bernard Lacombe gave France the lead. The equaliser came through 21-year-old Vicenza striker Paolo Rossi and after the interval substitute Renato Zaccarelli bagged the winner.
Confidence grew against Hungary – who were without two of their stars after red cards versus Argentina. This game was the Roberto Bettega show. Another strike from Rossi gave them the lead before a superb solo goal from Bettega and a third on the hour from Romeo Benetti. Both Italy and Argentina were through when they met but pride was at stake. Yet another great Bettega goal confirmed a 1-0 win over the hosts.
The format of the event meant there was a second group stage before the Final. Italy’s first game against West Germany ended goalless but the Azzurri should have won with Bettega and Rossi both creating plenty of openings. Rossi scored the winner against Austria in the next game, a memorable strike in a match where Austria had a goal disallowed and two strong penalty claims waved away, but fatigue was starting to show.
The game with Holland was effectively a semi-final. A draw would send the Dutch through, or allow West Germany a chance to capitalise against Austria. Italy needed a win to reach their fourth Final. The Azzurri got the early breaks as Ernie Brandts netted an own goal, and in the process collided with and injured ‘keeper Piet Schrijvers – requiring 37-year-old Jan Jongbloed to replace him. However, shortly after the break Brandts redeemed himself with an equaliser. The moment of judgement came in the 76th minute as Arie Haan unleashed a missile-accurate shot into the top corner, sending Holland to their second consecutive Final.
For Italy all that remained was a chance for the bronze medal and some retribution for 1970 against Brazil. However, despite a Causio opener Brazil came through with two superb long-range strikes from Nelinho and Dirceu – meaning they finished the event unbeaten but with nothing more than 3rd place.
In their ‘semi-final’ against Holland, Italy kicked-off with nine players from Juventus – and 10 based in the city of Turin. Only Vicenza striker Paolo Rossi broke the domination.
Italy’s game against West Germany was the 300th in the tournament’s history, and was also German ‘keeper Sepp Maier’s 16th individual match – a new record.
Tradition states that you change shirts with your opponents. However, that went out the window when Austrian defender Bruno Pezzey exchanged shorts with Italy’s Francesco Graziani.