Enzo Bearzot’s 1982 group picked up the Azzurri’s third world crown. Dave Taylor thinks back to that glorious summer in Spain.
The Brazil game kicked-off on a swelteringly hot afternoon in Barcelona’s Sarria Stadium. The 44,000 fans were unaware that they were about to witness one of the best-ever games in the tournament’s history. Brazil only needed a draw to go through to the semi-finals while Italy had to win and it was believed this game would mark their exit. Brazilian legend Pele saw it differently. “Brazil made too many mistakes during the win against Argentina, so I have a nasty feeling about our meeting with Bearzot’s team,” he said before the game. He was right. Bearzot knew exactly what he was doing and expected his main attackers Conti, Rossi and Graziani to exploit any slackness in the Brazilian’s defence.
Rossi’s first chance arrived in the fourth minute but sadly for him he missed the post by inches. However, his disappointment didn’t last long as a minute later he received a superb cross from Cabrini from outside the penalty area. The Brazilian defence stood still as Rossi hammered home a clinical finish. There were two faces of Italy playing that day. On one hand there was the openly brutal Gentile making mincemeat of Zico’s legs. The wonderful, simply stated elegance of Antognoni made you forget about Gentile’s thuggery as Italy won 3-2, thanks to Rossi’s glorious hat-trick. When the whistle blew a delirious Bearzot danced with sheer joy towards his wonderful heroes including the legend that came to known simply as Pablito.
Into the semi-final and by virtue of their win, the Azzurri stayed in Barcelona but moved over to the vastly superior Nou Camp for the game against Poland. Now there was a different feeling back in Italy. Few had been patient after their slow start but following the victories over Brazil and Argentina, the Azzurri looked liked potential winners.
The game against Poland also kicked-off on a hot afternoon. Rossi scored both of Italy’s goals as he and Antognoni bamboozled the Poles for the first half-hour. Sadly, it was Antognoni’s last game in the competition as he hobbled out of the match in the 28th minute to be replaced by Inter’s Giampiero Marini. A masterful display by the Azzurri saw them literally glide into the Final against West Germany.
The Germans, like Italy had also started lethargically but now had the chance to win the trophy for the third time. Bearzot fielded the same side with the exception of Antognoni who was replaced by an extra defender as Gentile was drafted back into the side. Captain Dino Zoff earned his 106th cap and while young Giuseppe Bergomi was winning his fourth the rest of the defence had earned almost 200 caps between them.
An evening kick-off in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium saw little of the adventurous football that stood out when Italy beat Argentina, Brazil and Poland. In the eighth minute poor Francesco Graziani was struck down with a shoulder injury allowing Alessandro Altobelli to replace him. Italy were awarded a penalty approaching the half-hour when Hans-Peter Briegel brought down Conti in the area. However, Cabrini became the first player to miss a spot-kick in a World Cup Final. This knocked the wind out of the Azzurri and they struggled until half time.
Bearzot appeared to rejuvenate his side at the interval and the Azzurri came out like men possessed. Within ten minutes Gentile raced down the right flank and put in a perfect cross. Rossi beat a crowd of players to score. Then the great Marco Tardelli slotted home the second and celebrated by doing the ‘urla.' Ten minutes from the end Conti started a long surging run down the right flank to set-up Altobelli for Italy’s third. The game was as good as over although the Germans managed a consolation goal in the 83rd minute through Paul Breitner. Italy kept going until the final whistle to become world champions for the third time.
Under Bearzot the Azzurri grew as the Finals progressed and triumphed through all the pre-tournament adversity. The victory was all the more sweet as Italian football was going through some serious changes. The FA had allowed foreigners back in which saw a lot of homegrown talent banished to the bench. Bearzot picked devoted athletes who he knew would sweat for him on the pitch and believed in his simple but effective ideas. After all the negative Press, Bearzot and his brave squad had won through. The princely representatives of the world’s greatest football team sent the peninsula into an orgy of celebrations.