Paolo Rossi was an instinctual and clinical finisher with a knack for being at the right place at the right time—and then scoring with authority.
Forty years ago, the tournament was dominated by Paolo Rossi’s unforgettable performance
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
Soccer fever has once again overtaken Canadian soccer fans’ psyches. The Canadian Men’s National Soccer Team qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar for the country’s second berth at a World Cup tournament in 36 years. Notably, this year marks a special anniversary of a prior World Cup tournament—one that provided excitement, drama, suspense, disappointment, and heartache: the 1982 FIFA World Cup. It was the 12th World Cup held in Spain, in 17 venues across 14 host cities.
The 1982 FIFA World Cup had 24 teams participating, an increase from 16 teams in the previous World Cup which allowed more teams from Asia and Africa to participate. The tournament also featured the first penalty shootout in the France versus West Germany semi-final match. The World Cup in Spain enthralled and captured the hearts and imagination of “football” fans worldwide; especially supporters of the Azzurri (the Blues)—Italy’s national soccer team. The Italians won the 1982 World Cup, led by the boot and head of striker, Paolo Rossi. He scored six goals in Italy’s final three matches. Rossi was an instinctual and clinical finisher with a knack for being at the right place at the right time—and then scoring with authority.
Significantly, the 1982 FIFA World Cup was a phenomenon and spectacle, broadcasted worldwide. It occurred during the pre-internet era. There were no cell phones, Smartphones, iPhones, or social media. Fans attending matches at the 1982 World Cup with cameras—except for Polaroid cameras—had to wait for days to see their captured images. In 1982, daily life and especially technology were much slower and simpler. But the “beautiful game” remained unchanged. And when the tournament ended, Paolo Rossi emerged as a global soccer star and national hero in Italy. Viva Italia!
1982 FIFA World Cup draw ceremony deserving of a red card
The excitement before the start of the 1982 FIFA World Cup had lovers of the “beautiful game” expecting and anticipating another tournament filled with drama, excitement and surprises. However, the pre-tournament publicity would have a troublesome beginning—with the tournament draw ceremony being full of mishaps. In the BBC documentary, Match of the World Cup 1982, there were numerous errors made when the teams were being drawn. One clip showed two teams being entered into the wrong groups. FIFA general secretary, Sepp Blatter, admitted that an “error” had been made. Then the machine, filled with miniature soccer balls (like Bingo)—containing the names of one of the 24 competing countries—stopped working. Also, some of the soccer balls got stuck in the machine, while others broke in half. This caused a considerable delay, leaving the audience confused and dumbfounded.
Rossi & the 1980 Totonero match-fixing scandal
According to a December 2020 article about Rossi in The Guardian, his professional soccer career began early. In 1972, he signed with Juventus at the age of 16. He later was loaned to the second division team, Vicenza. Rossi was the top scorer for the club during the 1976-1977 season as the team was promoted from Serie B to Serie A. He was later selected to be on the Italian National Team and appeared in his first FIFA World Cup—1978 tournament held in Argentina. Rossi scored three goals in three games, as Italy finished in fourth place. After the World Cup, Rossi continued playing for Vicenza, but he suffered injuries before Vicenza returned to Serie B. Rossi was loaned to Perugia; and it was here that he became involved in the 1980 Totonero match-fixing scandal. According to a July 2006 BBC article, the Totonero scandal “…involved a syndicate attempting to tamper with Serie A and B matches. It culminated in mass arrests and in the aftermath AC Milan and Lazio were [sic] relegated to Serie B.”
Clive Gammon, a writer for Sports Illustrated, elaborated further on the scandal involving Rossi in a July 1982 article: “The charges against all the accused were, in fact, dropped by the court for lack of evidence, and no allegation was ever made that Rossi took money, only that he refused to testify against fellow players. Nevertheless, the Italian soccer league held its own hearings, and with 17 other players, Rossi was suspended, in his case for three years. That term was reduced to two on appeal.”
In December 2020, The Sun reported Rossi gave an interview for the 2018 book GOAL! Hesaid the bribery scandal was an incident that he wanted to put behind him. “It was as though that whole affair, the scandal, in which I had been involved in was now part of another world—it had had nothing to do with me, I just wanted to put it all behind me,” he said. “So, when it came to an end and my two-year suspension finished it was as though I was starting afresh with a new life.”
The emergence and redemption of Rossi at the expense of Brazil
Italian striker, Paolo Rossi, had a quiet start to the 1982 FIFA World Cup tournament. In Italy’s three preliminary matches against Poland, Peru and Cameroon, Rossi had not scored. Italy played Argentina in the next round (Second Group Stage), winning by a score of two to one—with Rossi still scoring no goals. Some Italian fans wondered why Rossi was in the lineup and criticism was directed toward Italian head coach, Enzo Bearzot. Italy’s next opponent would be Brazil on July 5, 1982. On paper, the Brazilians were favoured to win—as they had top-level players: Zico, Falcão, Sócrates, Éder and Serginho. However, Paolo Rossi would break out of his goalless drought to score a hat-trick. Italy won the match by a score of three to two, eliminating Brazil from the tournament. Legendary BBC announcer, John Motson, stated the Italy and Brazil encounter was the greatest match that he had ever called (as reported by Sportsnet in a June 2018 article).
Veteran soccer writer, Gabriele Marcotti, in a May 2014 espn.com article about the 1982 Brazil World Cup team, said although the team was talented, their failure in the loss against Italy was due to Brazil coach, Tele Santana, not adjusting to the Italians’ counterattacks. “This was the team that was so grotesquely and excessively talented and so committed to playing to Tele Santana’s ideal of the ‘beautiful game’ that it existed on a different plane to their contemporaries,” he wrote. “They could lose, but they could not be beaten. Except by themselves.” Marcotti then added, “It’s almost too easy to say they didn’t take it seriously enough, that they were overconfident, that their obsession with style and aesthetics over substance and common sense cost them. And it’s true.”
Rossi would score another pair of goals in Italy’s semi-final match against Poland on July 8 (the final score was 2-0). The same day had West Germany advancing to the final with a 4-3 victory over France via penalties. The stage was now set for a compelling all-European final. CBC also covered the final match between Italy and West Germany. A CBC preview segment uploaded to YouTube contained commentary from the veteran broadcaster, Steve Armitage and the late Graham Leggat (who played in the 1958 FIFA World Cup representing Scotland). Leggat stated that he walked on the pitch (a few hours before the final began) and wished he had been playing. “I didn‘t play in the final,” he said. “It would have been a thrill of a lifetime. And I can tell you, that after walking on that field today—I wished I were playing today…”
The 1982 FIFA World Cup Final: Italy vs. West Germany
The 1982 FIFA World Cup Final had West Germany playing Italy at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid on July 11, 1982. The first half ended with no scoring. Then in the second half, the Italians opened the scoring on a Paolo Rossi header in the 57th minute—his sixth goal of the tournament. Twelve minutes later, Italy’s Marco Tardelli, after receiving a pass, quickly placed the ball from his right foot to his left foot—then booted a curling shot into the corner of the net. Tardelli then celebrated exasperatedly by running downfield, clenching his fists, eyes widened, mouth open—as he was embraced by teammates. Tardelli’s celebration became an iconic moment. Alessandro Altobelli scored Italy’s third goal in the 81st minute. West Germany scored in the 83rd minute on a goal by Paul Breitner. But the goal was inconsequential as the Italians celebrated a 3-1 victory. Paolo Rossi won the Golden Boot for his six goals in the tournament. He also won the Golden Ball award as the best player in Spain. According to the same article in The Guardian, Rossi retired from soccer in 1987. He later ventured into property development and owned and operated a vineyard near Arezzo in Tuscany. Rossi also worked as a pundit for RAI (a national public broadcasting company in Italy). In December 2020, Rossi passed away from lung cancer at age 64.
The legacy of the 1982 FIFA World Cup
Clive Gammon, from the same July 1982 article in Sports Illustrated, stated the 1982 World Cup Final between Italy and West Germany was a global phenomenon. Gammon stated the final match captured, “…the howling of 87,000 manic fans in the humid bowl of Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium—and before possibly the biggest TV audience in history, more than two billion viewers in 130 nations…” And when Italy defeated West Germany 3-1, it was their first World Cup title since 1938 (Italy also won in 1934). Italy had tied Brazil for countries that had won the most World Cups (Brazil won the WC in 1958, 1962 and 1970). Italy would win a fourth WC in 2006 whereas Brazil won two more WCs in 1994 (against Italy) and 2002.
The official FIFA website, which has a page dedicated to the 1982 World Cup tournament summarizes its legacy appropriately: “The romantic-minded may have shed a tear for Brazil and France—unlucky losers in two of the finest matches of any [FIFA World Cup]—but few begrudged Enzo Bearzot’s men a 3-1 victory over a rugged West Germany team in a Final in which Rossi’s opening goal secured him the Golden Shoe to complete a personal redemption story even more dramatic than the Italians’ revival after a faltering start.”
Lastly, Paolo Rossi, in a 2007 interview with FIFA, spoke about how the 1982 FIFA World Cup had a significant impact on him—while also uniting the country of Italy: “Everything suddenly changed. Nothing was going my way and then suddenly everything was going my way. It was suddenly all so easy. Such is the beauty of sport. A goal can change everything. In my case, it changed my entire life.”