5 July 2016

Paolo Rossi's World Cup hat-trick

Spain 1982: Italy defeat Brazil in classic match

Paolo Rossi kisses the World Cup trophy on the plane back to Italy
Paolo Rossi kisses the World Cup
trophy on the plane back to Italy
Italians were celebrating up and down the country on this day in 1982 as striker Paolo Rossi turned from villain to hero with a magnificent hat-trick to knock hot favourites Brazil out of the World Cup finals in Spain.

The Juventus forward had served a two-year suspension for his role in an alleged match-fixing scandal while on loan with Perugia and was controversially selected for the World Cup by Italy coach Enzo Bearzot.

He had returned to action in Serie A late in the 1981-82 season after his ban was lifted less than six weeks before the finals were due to begin. Critics argued that with so little preparation time he could not possibly be match fit.

Boasting stars such as Zico, Falcão, Éder and Sócrates, the 1982 Brazil side was reckoned to be at least the equal of the team of Pelé, Rivellino, Tostão and Jairzinho that won the 1970 World Cup in such flamboyant, thrilling style.

Some say the 1982 vintage was even better. What is true is that they needed only to avoid defeat against Italy in their final match in the second group phase in the Estadio Sarrià in Barcelona to reach the semi-finals.  Italy, by contrast, had been uninspiring, scraping through their first-round group without winning a match.

They kept their hopes alive, however, by beating Argentina 2-1 in the first of their two second-round matches and against Brazil, inspired by Rossi, produced one of the most memorable performances by the Azzurri in a match regarded by some football watchers as the greatest World Cup match of all time.

Italy were ahead after just five minutes when Rossi justified the faith of manager Bearzot by heading in Antonio Cabrini's cross.  From that point on, the game consisted of Brazil pushing forward and Italy defending superbly while looking to sting the South Americans on the counter-attack.

Within seven minutes, however, the scores were level as Sócrates played a one-two with Zico and drove the ball in at goalkeeper Dino Zoff's near post.

Paolo Rossi had been a controversial choice in the Italy squad after his ban for alleged match fixing
Paolo Rossi had been a controversial choice in the
Italy squad after his ban for alleged match fixing 
Brazil looked to have momentum and Italy seemed in danger of collapsing under pressure but then a casual pass by Cerezo towards Junior after 25 minutes presented the opportunity for Italy to regain the lead. Rossi, rediscovering his old poacher's sharpness, latched on to the stray ball and shot past goalkeeper Waldir Peres.

The lead held this time until well into the second half, when Rossi could have made it 3-1 but sent an easy chance wide. Two minutes later, Italian fans were stunned when Falcão, given too much time and space, equalised with a powerful drive.

Brazil could have settled then for keeping the scores level but in their desire to win the game they left themselves vulnerable. An Italian attack won a corner, which was only half cleared.  Marco Tardelli's shot was not strong enough to beat Peres but Rossi, his predatory instincts kicking in again, diverted the ball into the net to complete his hat-trick and take Italy into the last four.

With renewed confidence, Italy went on to defeat Poland 2-0 in the semi-finals with Rossi scoring both goals, and overcame West Germany 3-1 in the final.  Rossi scored the opening goal to take his tally to six, which earned him the Golden Boot as the tournament's leading marksman.

Rossi, who was born in Prato in Tuscany and played for Juventus, Vicenza, AC Milan and Hellas Verona in domestic football, retired in 1987. Now 59, he regularly appears on Italian television as a football pundit.

UPDATE: Sadly, Paolo Rossi died in December 2020 at the age of only 64, having been diagnosed with lung cancer.

The Castello dell'Imperatore in Prato
The Castello dell'Imperatore in Prato
Travel tip:

Paolo Rossi's home town of Prato is situated around 25km north-west of Florence.  Its main sights include the 13th century Castello dell'Imperatore and the Church of Santa Maria delle Carceri, which can both be found adjoining the wide Piazza Santa Maria delle Carceri in the centre of the town.

Travel tip:

Paolo Rossi's final club before he retired, Hellas Verona, was founded in 1903 by a group of students, who called the club Hellas, which is the Italian word for Greece, at the suggestion of their classics professor.  In 1906, the team attempted to raise their profile by playing a match inside Verona's famous Roman amphitheatre, the Arena di Verona, nowadays famous for its outdoor productions of opera.

(Photo of Castello dell'Imperatore by Massimilianogallardi CC BY-SA 3.0)

More reading:

Dino Zoff: Italy's 40-year-old World Cup winning captain

Marcello Lippi and Italy's 2006 World Cup triumph


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