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.
It seemed Italy had held out. Then two minutes into injury time, libero Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, who played his football in Italy for Milan, equalised with virtually the last kick of the game. Extra time was unbelievable. Beckenbauer, his arm in a sling after damaging his collarbone following a cynical foul by Pierluigi Cera, urged his team forward and Gerd Muller put the Germans ahead after a mix-up between substitute Fabrizio Poletti and Albertosi.
Burgnich levelled soon after. In his 11 years with the national team he only scored two goals and this was one of them. Riva then hit the best goal of the game, and one of the best of the tournament, finishing off an exhilarating counter-attack that involved Rivera and Domenghini.
In the second period of extra time Muller made it 3-3 but straight from the re-start Rivera, who replaced Mazzola at half time, pounced to make it 4-3. There the pendulum stopped. Italy were in the Final. The Italian media blamed German manager Helmut Schoen for his team’s defeat. ‘Danke Schoen!’ read the headlines. He could not take off the injured Beckenbauer because he had already used both substitutes.
Italy were given little chance against Brazil in the Final. The South Americans appeared unstoppable from the moment they thrashed Czechoslovakia in their first game in Guadalajara. Not only that but the epic semi-final against the Germans, which had taken place just four days earlier, was bound to affect Valcareggi’s players.
Both nations had won the Jules Rimet Trophy twice before and the winner of this Final would get to keep the prize forever. Before the kick-off the Italian players threw flowers into the crowd in order to win support, but the majority of the Azteca were behind the men in canary yellow.
Italy started the better of the two teams. Riva forced an excellent save from Felix with a stinging 25-yard shot before shaving the bar with a header. Pele put Brazil in front in the 18th minute with a breathtaking header, but Boninsegna equalised in the 37th minute, capitalising on Clodoaldo’s lazy backheel. Italy continued to pose a threat until the 65th minute when Man of the Match Gerson restored Brazil’s lead with a savage shot. That was the end of the 1970 Final. Italy, who were beginning to tire, were destroyed mentally after that goal. Jairzinho made it 3-1 five minutes later before Carlos Alberto scored one of the best goals of all time in the 87th minute to make it four.
Italy’s World Cup ended controversially. Just six minutes from time Valcareggi threw on Rivera, too late to change the game. But he did not take off Mazzola, who was having an excellent match. Instead he withdrew Boninsegna, the best of Italy’s forwards. It left a bitter taste. The Italian public was not overly impressed with their team’s second place finish. When the players returned home they were greeted with insults and rotten fruit, the same bouquet that awaited them in 1966.
Without doubt, the burden placed on Luigi Riva going into the 1970 World Cup was too heavy. The Cagliari striker was supposed to win the Jules Rimet single-handedly for the Azzurri but, realistically, that was never going to happen. With three goals to his name Riva did not have a great tournament, but Mexico did see flashes of his awesome power.
Born in Leggiuno, near Varese, he joined Cagliari from Serie C side Legnano in 1963 and he stayed with the Rossoblu until 1976 when injury ended his career. He began as a left winger but at Cagliari he was converted to centre forward and his 21 goals during the 1969-70 season brought Lo Scudetto to Sardinia.
Riva was a strong player renowned for his bursts into the penalty area and for an incredible left-foot shot which saw him earn the nickname ‘Tuttosinistro’ - all with the left. He was also excellent in the air and scored many goals with his head. On three occasions he won the Serie A capocannoniere award - in 1967, ‘69 and ‘70. He is also the Azzurri’s record scorer with 35 in 42 matches and was the symbol of Italy’s renaissance after the humiliation of the 1966 World Cup.
Riva made his international debut in 1965, in a 2-1 defeat in Hungary, but was spared the embarrassment of losing to North Korea in Middlesbrough. He became a regular in the new-look Italian side under Ferruccio Valcareggi and helped the Azzurri win the 1968 European Championships on home soil, Riva scoring the first goal in Italy’s 2-0 win over Yugoslavia in the final replay in Rome.
Riva was at his peak in 1970 and his career was later blighted by injury. He played for Italy in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany but had a nightmare and was dropped after the second game, a 1-1 draw with Argentina, and never played for his country again. Not surprisingly he is worshipped in Cagliari where he scored 164 goals in 315 appearances for the Rossoblu.