News of Paolo Rossi’s death will no doubt see many of searching for those goals he scored in 1982.
His hat-trick against Brazil in a 3-2 win is considered one of the best games in the tournament’s history, while Rossi himself is regarded as one of the best strikers to ever play. His tale, though, is one of redemption, as author Amit Katwala’s explains in his book, World Cup Stories.
Rossi top scored at the 1982 World Cup in a year he also won the Ballon d’Or
A popular joke in Italy in the spring of 1980 was that Regina Coeli were Serie A favourites. Dont worry if youve never heard of themits the name of Romes most famous prison. That year, it held 11 footballers arrested for their alleged role in the Totonero (black lottery) matchfixing scandal.
Paolo Rossi would have watched along with a stunned nation the footage of players being led away from their dressing rooms in handcuffs, in a countrywide operation. Rossi was a talented 23-year-old striker who had already represented his country at the 1978 World Cup, and was one of Italys highest-paid players. He had scored 45 goals in two seasons for Vicenza, helping them to promotion into Serie A.
A few days later, though, he too was called to court. Two small businessmen from Romerestaurateur Alvaro Trinca and Massimo Cruciani, a shopkeeperwere the orchestrators of Totonero. They placed bets with an illegal syndicate, and then paid players to ensure the results they wanted. It didnt go as planned.
When the players reneged on the deal, the hapless duo were left 1.5 billion lire in debt to the shady syndicate. They decided to turn themselves in, and take the players who double-crossed them down with them.
Nobody could have imagined these scenes a year earlier when Rossi seemed a million miles from playing at the World Cup
Rossi was accused of taking a bribe of two million lire (about £1,000) from Cruciano and Trinca to ensure a 22 draw in a game between Perugia (where he was on loan) and Avellino. He has always denied the allegations, and was found not guilty of aggravated fraud in a criminal court, with the evidence against him reportedly weak.
The Italian FA took a different view, because they wanted to make an example of a high-profile player, or possibly because Rossi refused to give evidence against his teammates. They suspended him from playing for three years. All of a sudden the universe, where for a long time I was seen as a demi-God, revolted against me, stabbing me in the back with an erroneous and cowardly judgement, he wrote in autobiography I Made Brazil Cry.
Enzo Bearzot, the coach of Italys national team, was appalled. The country was about to host the 1980 European Championships, and would have to cope without one of its star players. After the tournament, in which Italy finished fourth, Rossis ban was quietly reduced from three years to two. He would return in time for the 1982 World Cup.
Rossi joined Juventus ahead of the 1982 World Cup in Spain having began his career there
During his time out, Rossi signed for Juventus in a £1.75m deal, and when his ban expired he was instantly recalled by Bearzot, despite having played just a handful of games. The press were aghast, and Rossi set about proving his doubters right in the first few games of the tournament in Spain. He looked off the pace, out of touch.
I have been saying from the very start that no one man can change a team, said Rossi after being substituted during a 11 draw against Peru. I have finally shaken off the ghost of the 1978 World CupIm confident the fans understand I am a different player.
Rossi had his hands on the ultimate prize, scoring once in a 3-1 win over West Germany
Italy laboured through the group. As Rossi puts it: Three draws with Poland, Peru and Cameroon and qualifying on goal difference. Criticisms, polemics that wouldnt end: Rossi is not scoring, Rossi is a disaster, Rossi isnt there.
Such defeatism makes what happened next even more extraordinary. Italy faced Brazil in the second group stagethe winner would progress to the semi finals. Goalless Rossi started, and something seemed to switch inside him as he headed home the opening goal after five minutes.
I remember it as the most resounding memory of my life. I felt liberated, just like when one takes off soaking wet clothes.
He finished with a hat-trick as Italy won 32 to reach the semis, where they dispatched Poland 20, Rossi getting both goals. He opened the scoring in the final against West Germany, and ended the tournament with the Golden Ball for top scorer, Golden Boot for best player, and a World Cup winners medal. He made it a golden quartet with the Ballon dOr.
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It was a high he would rarely reach again. He helped Juventus to the European Cup at Heysel in 1985, but knee injuries wrecked his career and he retired at 31. In an ironic twist, in the early 1990s Italys golden boy was involved in an attempt to introduce the USA to Totocalciothe lottery that almost wrecked his career.
The 1982 World Cup in brief
Rossi was the hero in Spain, with his six goals handing Italy a third world crown. They beat a German team, who had survived the competition’s first penalty shoot-out in a dramatic semi-final against France, 3-1. If Italy won gold, Brazil took a share of the glory for some scintillating football before succumbing to Rossi’s quarter-final hat-trick in the best game of this first 24-team World Cup.
This and more World Cup Stories are available to read here.

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