Mexico ‘70 is widely regarded as one of the greatest World Cups. Italy were involved in some memorable matches but, as Mario Risoli reminisces, they had to eventually give way to a great Brazil side.
So Italy reached the quarter-finals. Despite scoring just one, fortuitous, goal they had topped their group. Their opponents in the last eight were the hosts, Mexico, who were full of confidence after progressing into the next phase. Israel Coach Emanuel Sheffer was not convinced the Azzurri would make it to the semi-finals. “If Italy play in the quarter-finals as they did against us, then it will be Mexico who will win.”
The small stadium in Toluca was filled to capacity an hour before kick-off with the crowd incessantly chanting ‘Me-hee-co!’ Me-hee-co!’ For a while it seemed Shaffer would be proved correct as the Mexicans aggressively attacked the Italian defence. In the 13th minute the Azzurri conceded their first goal of the competition when Gonzalez beat Enrico Albertosi with a low shot. The crowd went wild and it looked ominous for Ferruccio Valcareggi’s side when Padilla nearly made it 2-0. But Toluca was silenced in the 27th minute when Angelo Domenghini equalised with a deflected shot. Mexico goalkeeper Calderon - a part-time film actor - cut a disconsolate figure on the floor as the Italian players celebrated.
At half time Valcareggi replaced Sandro Mazzola with Gianni Rivera and the game turned on its head. In the 64th minute Riva hit his first goal of Mexico ‘70, inevitably with his left foot. Rivera made it 3-1 five minutes later before setting up Riva for his second of the afternoon to make it 4-1. Mexico had been brushed aside by a ruthless Italian display. “The tactic here,” said Valcareggi afterwards, “is to be strong at the end.”
In the semi-final, in Mexico City’s concrete cathedral named the Azteca Stadium, Italy faced West Germany in an all-European affair and what followed was the most dramatic soccer match of all time. Roberto Boninsegna gave Italy the lead in the ninth minute with an opportunist strike and after that the Germans threw everything at the Italians to draw level. At times in the second half Albertosi’s goal led a charmed existence - Overath hit the bar, Roberto Rosato cleared off the line and Seeler had a blatant penalty turned down.