Rome, December 10
Paolo Rossi, Italy’s goalscoring hero from their victorious 1982 World Cup campaign and scorer of a hat-trick against Brazil in one of the most famous matches in the competition’s history, today died at the age of 64. The celebrated striker’s death comes even as the football world is still in mourning for Argentina icon Diego Maradona, who passed away late last month.
Italian TV channel RAI Sport, where Rossi had been working as a pundit, said that Rossi had died of an “incurable disease”. Rossi’s wife, Federica Cappelletti, posted a photo of herself and her husband on Instagram along with the words “per sempre” — forever. “There will never be anyone like you, unique, special…” She later wrote in Italian on Facebook.
The Italian Football Federation president Gabriele Gravina said that Rossi was “indelibly linked to the blue shirt and his style of play inspired many strikers of future generations.”
Summer of 1982
Rossi, almost frail-looking for a striker at the time but quick, agile and intelligent, won two Serie A titles, a European Cup and a Coppa Italia with Juventus but will be most fondly remembered for lighting up the 1982 World Cup in Spain with six goals. His selection in the Italy squad came after a two-year ban for a match-fixing scandal and was initially criticised by pundits, who wrote him off as out of shape.
But they were left eating their words when he struck one of the World Cup’s great hat-tricks against Brazil, who were runaway favourites and had enchanted the world with their flowing football. Italy’s 3-2 win in that classic encounter in the second group phase booked them a place in the semifinals against Poland, and Rossi again made the difference. He sunk the Poles with a brace in a 2-0 win that fired his side into the World Cup decider against West Germany. Rossi then scored Italy’s first goal in a 3-1 win that gave them their third World Cup title and their first since 1938. He won the Golden Boot as the top scorer and Golden Ball as the player of the tournament, a campaign regarded as one of the best individual World Cup performances of all-time. He was also awarded the 1982 Ballon d’Or as Europe’s top footballer.
Born in Prato, Tuscany, Rossi played his entire club career in Italy. He was banned for three years in 1980 as part of the nation’s infamous “Totonero” match-fixing scandal but always denied any wrongdoing. The ban was later reduced to two years, allowing him to carve out his slice of World Cup history and win “personal redemption.” “On one hand I felt fulfilled. I said to myself, ‘you’ve made it’,” he said in a documentary in 2018. “On the other hand, I was disappointed that all of this just ended. The World Cup was over.”
He also scored three goals at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. With a total of nine goals, he remains Italy’s joint highest scorer at the World Cup. — Reuters