By Rohit Mundayur
New Delhi, Dec 10 (IANS) Football great Paolo Rossi, who died of lung cancer aged 64 on December 9, won the Italian Serie A twice and the European Cup once in his illustrious career, but the tournament that he is most widely associated with, for good reason, is the 1982 World Cup.
He scored six times in a performance that made him one of just three players in the history of the World Cup to win the Golden Boot and Golden Ball together. To cap it off, he went on to win the coveted Ballon d’Or later in 1982.
Just two years prior to that tournament, however, it looked like Rossi might not be available for selection at all as he was one of several people who got punished for the 1980 betting scandal that incriminated as many as 13 clubs accross the top two divisions of Italy.
Rossi was suspended for three years but it was reduced to two after he pleaded innocence. He maintained that he had no involvement in the scandal for the rest of his life.
The forward had said in a 2018 documentary by FIFA that when you win something as important as the World Cup, it comes to encompass more than just that trophy. “It’s about the group you win it with, it’s about your entire career that took you there. It’s about your personal redemption,” he said.
The deluge of tributes that came with the news of his death, both in Italy and around the world, meant that Rossi had done far more than just redeem himself.
In the 1982 tournament, Rossi and his rather unfavoured Italy’s surprise success was one that created ripples in the country and outside it. The tournament started slowly for him individually and for the team as they scraped through the first round-robin stage, level on points with Cameroon, and just one point ahead of Peru and two points behind Poland.
Rossi himself came under fire for his poor performance in the three group matches.
Italy were then pitted in the same group as South American giants Brazil and Argentina in the next round-robin stage. With the likes of Zico, Socrates, and Falcao leading their forward line, Brazil were the favourites that year along with Karl-Heinze Rummenigge’s West Germany.
Brazil’s strength was testified by the way they took Argentina apart before meeting Italy, who themselves beat Argentina 2-1. It meant that the match between the superstars of Brazil and Italy was a virtual knockout game and Rossi came alive. In a match rated as one of the greatest games of all time in World Cup history, Italy beat Brazil 3-2 with Rossi scoring all three goals.
The result is often cited to be the end of Brazil’s obsession with playing possession football based on intricate passing and individual skill.
Rossi was practically unstoppable after that, scoring twice in the semi-final against Poland and putting Italy in the lead against the Germans in the final, which they eventually won 3-1. Italy had won the World Cup twice before that, but both the titles had come in the pre-World War II era.
Rossi scored 20 goals in 48 appearances for Italy between 1977 and 1986, and scored 103 goals in 251 club appearances, playing 94 games for L.R. Vicenza and 83 with Juventus.
Rossi’s final appearance in a national team jersey came in 1986, during a 2-0 friendly win against China in Naples. After retiring as a player, Rossi worked as a football commentator for Sky Sports, Mediaset Premium, and RAI Sport.