Enzo Bearzot’s 1982 group picked up the Azzurri’s third world crown. Dave Taylor thinks back to that glorious summer in Spain.
Thinking about that brilliant team of 1982 is enough to bring a lump to even the most cynical of throats. Players like Giancarlo Antognoni, Dino Zoff, Antonio Cabrini, Gaetano Scirea, Marco Tardelli, Francesco Graziani and top scorer Paolo Rossi entranced all of Italy. Rossi - King Paolo - became a national treasure in the aftermath of that glorious night on July 11 when Dino Zoff lifted the coveted trophy.
Before the tournament, hero worship was the last thing on anyone’s mind. Most tifosi and nearly all the critics held out little hope for the Azzurri. In reply the team hit back by imposing a Press blackout. The media were stoking up overly pessimistic views for weeks beforehand and not without reason. Several stars had serious question marks against them. Juventus striker Roberto Bettega was struggling with injury, Paolo Rossi had just returned from a lengthy suspension and midfield maestro Giancarlo Antognoni was recovering from a near fatal head injury. Coach Enzo Bearzot held more optimism, maintaining great faith in a strong side which had matured during the 1978 Finals.
Italy reached the Finals as runners-up to Yugoslavia in qualifying, winning five, drawing two and losing one of their eight group games. It was the pre-tournament games, however, that gave the Press the ammunition. Italy lost to France and a weak East German side before playing out an insipid 1-1 draw with Switzerland.
The mood hardly improved after a poor start to the competition, with three tedious draws against Peru, Poland and Cameroon. The Press came down hard as the Azzurri qualified for the next stage by the skin of their teeth. Bearzot could hardly defend his team who, after his backing, had let him down. Then, just to make it that little bit more difficult, the draw for the second round found them up against Brazil and defending champions Argentina. Nobody gave them a chance. The two South American teams were mesmerising in the qualifying games and had individuals like Zico and Diego Maradona who could turn games on their own.
It was a tough first game against Argentina. Claudio Gentile, though, gave a determined display never allowing Maradona to stray a foot further than his shadow and Italy managed to scrape through 2-1 thanks to goals from Tardelli and Cabrini. There were signs of improvement. Paolo Rossi was still to shine but that was about to change and change him forever. Bearzot picked him for the Brazil game, warning Rossi it was his last chance.
Brazil had already swept aside Scotland, the Soviet Union, New Zealand and reigning champions Argentina but were about to experience ‘Pablito.’ The star-studded Selecao side included world-class names like Falcao, Socrates, Zico, Junior, Serginho, Cerezo, Leandro and Eder and were quite rightly the favourites. The Azzurri also had their fair share of stars. In goal was Zoff, appearing in his third World Cup. In front of him was hard man Claudio Gentile. There was Antonio Cabrini, whose powerful surges down the left flank caught the eye. The stupendous sweeper Scirea completed the defensive quartet from Juve. Milan’s Fulvio Collovati partnered him in central defence.
A powerful midfield included the muscular Gabriele Oriali, whose dashes into the box unnerved even the world’s best defenders, and the incomparable Marco Tardelli. The playmaker was Giancarlo Antognoni. It was cultured play of the Fiorentina ace from the centre of midfield that opened up space for the likes of winger Bruno Conti and forwards Rossi and Graziani.