Sarria Stadium, Barcelona
July 5, 1982
Brazil – 2 (Socrates, Falcao)
Italy – 3 (Rossi-3)
As a player Paolo Rossi won two Serie A titles, one European Cup and a Cup Winners Cup with Juventus. He was the first player to win both World Cup Golden Boot and Golden Ball at the same time and also was Serie A top scorer once. Yet, despite scoring over a hundred goals in Serie A, Rossi has been immortalized in football folklore for his performance in one particular match played under a blazing Spanish sun. Rossi himself is not absolved from the mythical status of that particular match as he named his book “Ho fatto piangere il Brasile”.“I Made Brazil Cry”. However, that legendary match between two of the most successful national teams in football was not just about Paolo Rossi or his hattrick, arguably the most famous one in football. It was a clash of styles in the truest sense of the term and two of the greatest purists in contrasting departments of the game exchanged one titanic blow after another.
After the controversies of 1978 World Cup football fans needed a tournament which would bring back the festive nature of football. Their wishes were granted as Spain staged one of the brightest and most enjoyable tournaments. Football was back in its artistic swagger with two teams in particular wowing the crowds. First one was Michel Platini’s France. The other, Brazil. Under Tele Santana, Brazil had regained their mojo and were dishing out the type of breathtaking football which saw them become world champions three times. They had a slight hiccup in their first match against USSR but followed it up with two glorious victories over Scotland and New Zealand. Brazil scored 10 times in first group stage and managed to even top that performance in second group stage as continental rivals Argentina were swept away 3-1. Brazil was so dominant that they were up 3-0 by the 75th minute and a frustrated young striker named Diego Maradona was sent off for stamping on Joao Baptista.
Unlike Brazil, Italy’s start had been completely underwhelming. Italy had performed well in Argentina, eventually finishing 4th after narrowly missing out on a place in the final. But the team was completely weighed down by the Totonero scandal back home which saw AC Milan get relegated. Paolo Rossi, who was serving a lengthy ban of two years, was almost forcibly brought back by Enzo Bearzot. Italian media was critical of this decision accusing Bearzot of playing favourites with a striker who did well in the previous World Cup. Rossi was out of shape and sluggish. So was Italy. Placed in a relatively easy group Italy earned two labored draws in their first two matches, scoring just once. World Cup debutantes Cameroon almost gave them a scare in the third match but the Azzuris somehow hung in for another draw to qualify because they had scored one more goal than the Africans. The increasingly caustic media was banned from the camp and few expected them to get further from the second group containing South American giants.
But then, it all changed. Motivated by the siege mentality surrounding their campaign and Claudio Gentile’s famous man-marking of Maradona, his club mates from Juventus – Marco Tardelli and Antonio Cabrini struck twice in an unexpectedly smooth win over Argentina. Italy was about to face the team which had beaten them twice in previous two World Cup meetings – 1970 World Cup final and third place match of 1978 World Cup. The form book didn’t suggest that this pattern would change.
Brazil: Waldir Peres; Leandro, Oscar, Luizinho, Júnior; Sócrates, Zico, Falcão, Toninho Cerezo, Éder; Serginho
Italy: Dino Zoff; Fulvio Collovati, Gaetano Scirea, Claudio Gentile, Antonio Cabrini; Bruno Conti, Marco Tardelli, Gabriele Oriali, Giancarlo Antognoni; Francesco Graziani, Paolo Rossi
In 1970 World Cup semi-final, Italy shocked West Germany by making a blistering start to the match and taking an early lead. Bearzot’s plan was somewhat similar as the Azzuris started brighter of the two sides, finding gaps in Brazilian defence, which was in process of warming up. After just two minutes, Antonio Cabrini found Tardelli along the byline. The Juventus midfielder ran along the line before pulling back the pass for Paolo Rossi inside Brazil penalty box but the striker failed to trap the ball properly. Two minutes later Italy opened the scoring.
Everything was completed with frightening ease. Conti started the move after overlapping along Brazil’s right flank – turning past Júnior before finding Cabrini on the opposite flank with a diagonal pass. With Leandro making no attempts to close him down Cabrini took two touches before launching in a perfect dipping cross in the box. Rossi raced past his marker, Júnior once again being the guilty party, and headed across Peres. This was exactly the start Italy wanted as now they could employ tactics they were comfortable with – defend with counter attacks. However, it would have been insane to rule Brazil out. After all, they had trailed in two matches till now and still scored six times to win both.
On 9th minute Serginho went one on one with Zoff after a misstep from Italian defence, only to drag his shot wide from less than 10 yards out. Minutes later, Zoff diligently rose to collect a cross from Leandro with Serginho lurking behind.
On 10th minute, Brazil equalized through a delightful goal. Sócrates collected the ball in his half, moved languidly through the central midfield before finding Zico. As Zico received the ball Sócrates had suddenly accelerated. Zico took one touch, with his second touch turned past Gentile and rolled the ball towards still running Sócrates. The Brazilian captain accelerated past Oriali and a diving Scirea before beating Zoff at near post with powerful low drive. 1-1.
That goal seemed to have calmed Brazil down as they began to dictate possession with Zico, Falcão and Sócrates starting to play their little triangles as Italy defended desperately. Having been turned inside out once, Gentile began to keep an even tighter watch on Zico.
Italy needed a goal of their own to gain a breather from Brazilian onslaught and they got it on 25th minute from out of nothing. Cerezo was under no pressure near his penalty box but somehow managed to recklessly play a pass which fell between Falcão and Luizinho. Neither reacted on time. Paolo Rossi did. He raced towards the goal before shooting past Peres with power. After not scoring in 4 games, Rossi had scored twice in 25 minutes.
Brazil attacked with vigour once again but chances were few and far between now as Italian defence seemed to have figured out some of their attacking plans. One of Brazil’s best chance came eight minutes before the half time whistle when Sócrates made a late run into Italian box to meet a Cerezo cross, only to head it straight at Zoff. Falcão’s shot fizzing past the post after a deflection from Tardelli would be the last piece of action in first half as Italy carried an unexpected lead to dressing room.
FIFA.com’s article on this match perfectly describes it as “If the first half was spectacular, the second was thrill-a-minute..”
Santana’s half time talk had the desired effect as Brazil came out with all guns blazing in second half. Within first ten minutes Falcão saw his shot flash past the goal while Zoff saved a shot from Leandro. Italy had their own chance with a counter through Conti but the winger’s final shot was weak. On 55th minute, Zoff showed reflexes which didn’t show his age, coming off the line just in time to deny Serginho a shooting chance. Three minutes later a center from Júnior was headed across the goal by Cerezo towards Serginho but Scirea denied a clear chance to the Brazilian center-forward before Zoff tackled the ball away from which would have put a smile on any of his fellow defender’s face. Right after that chance Italy broke into counter as Graziani leapt past a Luizinho tackle, setting up a perfect chance for Rossi. Incredibly, Rossi missed a sitter, side footing it wide. A minute later Zoff dived down in time to save a free-kick from Zico. Chances were flowing freely at both ends.
Brazil’s incessant forward movement finally bore fruit eight minutes after the hour mark. Júnior cut back from Italy’s left side before flicking the ball towards Falcão with outside of his right-boot. Falcão took two touches and after seeing Zoff slightly off his line shot past him, the ball swerving away from Italian captain just enough.
At 2-2, Brazil were going to the semi-final. Conventional wisdom suggested they held out for a result but Tele Santana’s side were not a result-oriented one and they pushed for more goals. Often pointed out as a historic mistake in hindsight, Brazil were dominating possession to such an extent at that point that it was difficult not to see them score again.
Zico’s shot flashed over and Zoff denied a heading opportunity to Serginho few minutes after the goal. Then on 75th minute, Cerezo conceded a corner which could have been avoided. Tardelli took a shot from the resultant corner from just outside the box. Peres dived correctly to save it but Rossi, played onside by Júnior, changed the direction at last moment. 3-2.
The third Italian goal knocked the air out of Brazil, for the first time in this match. Shoulders drooped a little and for a few minutes Brazil lost their offensive vigour. The match entered into a slight lull for next minutes before Italy put the ball in the net once again but Antognoni’s strike was ruled out for a tight offside. Brazil had one last chance but Zoff made a sharp save off a Sócrates header in last minute.
When the final whistle went off Italy had defeated Brazil for the first time in a World Cup since 1930s.
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Italy’s defending in this match has deservedly made its way into football folklore and it was intriguing to see how Bearzot had meticulously planned out to mark each Brazilian player in different ways. Brazil had only one center-forward, Serginho. It was clear during the World Cup that the strong Sao Paolo striker was not on the same level in terms of skill with rest of the team and rather acted as a fulcrum for Zico and Falcao to burst forward. Serginho was not kept under man-marking and allowed space, till he came near the penalty box. He had the ability to bring others into play so whenever he came near the box to head or chest down crosses, Scirea would stick to him, denying him space to properly connect.
If Serginho was allowed space, it was a totally different case with “White Pele” Zico. Arguably the most skilled player of his generation, Zico was kept in a vice grip by Claudio Gentile. There was a whole lot of shirt tugging but Gentile also stuck to his man, as he did with Maradona, like a shadow. Zico’s serpentine runs from deep midfield caused untold problems to opponents in 1982 but with Gentile following him around constantly and robbing him off possession often as he was largely subdued. So absolute was Gentile’s focus on his man that when Collovati lay injured in first half he was seen following Zico around even when the play had stopped. Only once did Zico managed to shake him off completely, that resulted in Brazil’s first goal.
Italian full-backs had markedly different games. Collovati’s injury did deal a big blow to their plans as the Inter bound right-back had kept Éder’s marauding runs in check till then. He was replaced by Giuseppe Bergomi, who at 18 years was an International rookie. While he didn’t make any major errors, Bergomi also failed to seal the right wing as Éder and Júnior took control of that flanks. Indeed, Brazil’s second goal was a direct by-product of Júnior’s cutting back from right wing. Antonio Cabrini, on the other hand, gave an absolutely spotless performance. He completely shut out Leandro and eventually forced him back with overlapping runs of his own, a crucial factor in Italian counter attacks. Cabrini’s form also forced Sócrates more towards the center after he tried to exploit his right flank a few times in first 15 minutes.
Captain Sócrates was the orchestrator of Brazil’s attacks, spraying passes from central midfield. He also liked to hold on to the ball for a second or two, calculating his options before finding a team-mate with a laser directed ball. This is where Marco Tardelli came in. Like Gentile on Zico, Tardelli constantly hounded Sócrates, squeezing out time and space and making Socrates play safer passes instead of the expansive ones which would open up Italian defence.
The man who did cause a lot of problems to Italy’s defence was Falcão. Having already spent two years in Italy he was better prepared than the rest to escape his markers. Falcão occupied the space between Italian defence and the central midfield and made darting runs into small unmarked channels between Scirea and Gentile when the latter was pulled out of position by Zico. He had a small but deadly burst of pace as well as a good long ranger.
When Italy attacked it was swift and decisive. Rossi worked extremely hard, drifting towards both the wings to receive Scirea’s long passes from deep defence while Graziani on the right wing and Cabrini on the left exploited spaces behind overlapping Brazilian full-backs. For an attacking midfielder in 1980s Serie A, Giancarlo Antognoni had a brilliant goal-scoring record and he frequently put pressure on Luizinho and Cerezo, creating space for Paolo Rossi.
Man of the Match
Paolo Rossi (Italy)
Positioning, poacher’s instinct and composure in front of goal might have been Paolo Rossi’s biggest strengths but it would be unfair to label him as a fox in the box striker. Rossi’s movement was crucial for Italian counter attacks, which regularly caused problems to Brazil’s fragile defence. Rossi would drop back, drift towards both wings while combining with Cabrini and Antognoni as Graziani bombed forward. This was almost similar to Italian offensive of 1978 World Cup where Rossi played the same role with Roberto Bettega and Franco Causio. His three goals showed his greatest strengths, especially the second one when he was first to react to a mistake and created a goal out of nothing. Zoff, Cabrini, Scirea and Tardelli had fine games in their own rights but there were no bigger performances on this big stage than Paolo Rossi.
If 1954 World Cup changed Hungarian football forever then the ‘Sarrià Stadium Tragedy’, as the Brazilian press dubbed it, was the first step towards conservative football in Brazil. Santana and a crux of the team were back in 1986 and played football which looked more like the last hurrah from a brilliant team than a return to power. In Mexico they never quite reached the level they did in Spain and their exit against France was much less surprising than the one against Italy. Four years later Brazil had changed, forever. Defensive midfielders, orthodox defenders and putting results before adventure had finally invaded the land of Joga Bonito. Success and consistency would follow but brilliance rarely accompanied.
Having reached the pinnacle of confidence after their win against Brazil, there was no stopping Italy and Rossi. Italy swatted Poland away in semi-final before facing traditional rivals West Germany in final. The Germans had survived a battle of attrition in an epic semi-final against France but came up pathetically short in the final. In one of the most one sided title deciders in the history of the tournament Italy won 3-1, never looking to lose the match for a single moment. Rossi ended 1982 World Cup with the Golden Ball and Golden Boot having scored six times in Italy’s three most crucial matches. Italy became the first European team to win three World Cups. Their third world title came after a gap of 48 years and was undoubtedly their most important as Italian football would never drop back to their dark days of self-doubt of 1950 and 60s.