Italy went to Argentina in 1978 expecting to be on the first plane home. Instead, Enzo Bearzot’s side laid the foundations for a glorious tournament in Spain four years later. Giancarlo Rinaldi reminisces.
The clash started in the most promising of manners for Enzo Bearzot’s men with an own goal from Ernie Brandts putting Italy ahead after less than 20 minutes. At half time the Azzurri were set for the Final but two incredible long range efforts from Brandts and Aare Haan left Zoff rooted to the spot and sent Holland through. Many have a romantic image of Total Football, but there was nothing poetic about this particular Dutch display. Apart from the twin goals there were plenty of crunching fouls that left the Italian team with much more than just their pride bruised after the game.
A third and fourth place play-off with Brazil was scant reward for Italy while they watched the Argentina side they had beaten go on and win the Final against Holland. And the battle for the bronze medal took much the same course as the Dutch encounter. Having gone ahead through Franco Causio another two spectacular strikes from distance gave Brazil victory. It was a bitter way to end a competition that had seen Italy grow significantly in stature.
“Overall this was a major World Cup,” recalled Ormezzano. “It was important and would become historic for the way it managed to change the mentality of Italian football. We owe our thanks to Enzo Bearzot, a man of courage and ideas, who was strong enough to go against accepted wisdom and the overpowering and simplistic Press.”
Certainly, the Azzurri came away from the tournament - particularly thanks to their win over Argentina - with an enhanced reputation on the world stage. Players like Antonio Cabrini, Gaetano Scirea, Marco Tardelli, Giancarlo Antognoni and Paolo Rossi - all aged 25 or under at the time - had gained invaluable experience in the intense atmosphere of the South American competition. Italy had found a side which was capable of taking on the best in the world in their own backyard and beating them. It meant that those who were able to see through unbiased eyes rated the 1978 World Cup as one of the best Italy had produced since they last lifted the trophy. And, of course, it provided vital groundwork for some even more special memories in Spain four years later.
While the present and future Golden Boys of Juventus - Roberto Bettega and Paolo Rossi - grabbed the goals it was the inventive and intelligent playmaking of Causio which gave Italy an extra touch of class. ‘Il Barone’ was at the peak of his form with outstanding performances all the way through the tournament - crowned by a goal against Brazil. His club career was the classic tale of the talented boy from Southern Italy, in his case Lecce, forced to go north to pursue his career.
This he did to deadly effect with Juventus where he played over 300 Serie A games and won no fewer than six League titles. A gifted dribbler with a fine cross, he was always able to provide the telling pass which would split defences and create an opportunity for his front men. Indeed, his quality was such that many reckoned he should have been born in Brazil rather than Italy. It is a measure of the debt which Coach Bearzot felt he owed him that he was given a few minutes to play in the World Cup Final win against West Germany four years later.