It was the stuff of dreams for Italy, and the stuff of nightmares for Brazil. For the neutral it was sheer delight, though the purist might have been forgiven for shedding a tear or two. It was the day Italy - and, in particular, Paolo Rossi -sprung sensationally to life at the 1982 FIFA World Cup™ to beat the finest Brazil team since 1970.
Tele Santana's Brazil went into this second-round match at Espanyol's Sarria stadium with a semi-final place in their sights. The format of the 1982 tournament included a second group stage and with both teams having already beaten holders Argentina, the Seleção's bigger margin of victory (3-1) ensured they now needed only a draw.
Brazil were the tournament darlings and overwhelming favourites. Blessed with the sublime midfield talents of Zico, Socrates and Falcao, they had won all four games played so far, scoring 13 goals. Enzo Bearzot's Italy, by contrast, had scraped into the second round by virtue of having scored more goals than Cameroon, following three successive draws. Moreover, in striker Rossi, they had a player short on both form and fitness following a two-year ban for match-fixing, which ended just two months before the finals began.
The 25-year-old's indifferent showings in the group games had the Italian press calling for his scalp. Another blank followed in the 2-1 win over Argentina. Yet, fortunately for Italy, Bearzot retained him in his starting line-up for this all-important game. The rest is history, Rossi emerging as Italy's saviour in a truly epic encounter.
It took Rossi just five minutes to find his range in Barcelona. The source of the goal was his Juventus team-mate Antonio Cabrini, who, receiving Gabriele Oriali's ball out on the left flank, spotted his team-mate's run to the far post and sent over a perfectly measured cross which Rossi headed low past Valdir Peres.
Brazil went after an equaliser at once, which meant leaving their defence short of cover and Rossi duly turned provider, laying on a chance for Francesco Graziani who ballooned the ball high and wide. If Italy were unusually attack-minded, their opponents were just doing what they did best - going forward and creating chances. On ten minutes the burly centre-forward, Serginho, scuffed his shot wide with only Dino Zoff to beat.
Italy's lead did not last long as, just two minutes later, Socrates made it 1-1. The tall, lanky midfielder strolled into the Italy half and slipped a pass forward to Zico with his back to goal. There seemed no danger but suddenly the No10 span away from his marker and returned the ball to Socrates, who advancing down the inside-right channel, drove a low shot between Zoff and the near post.
Frustration began to creep into the Italian game as the Brazilians set up camp in their half and soon Claudio Gentile's name had gone into referee Abraham Klein's notebook. Yet rather than find the second goal they were seeking, in the 25th minute Brazil gifted one to their opponents. Valdir Peres played the ball out to Leandro who, in turn, found Cerezo. Under no pressure, the defender clipped a careless cross-field pass straight into the path of Rossi who, in true predatory fashion, intercepted before despatching a rasping drive into the back of the net.
Forced to play catch-up again, the Brazilians laid siege to the Italian penalty area. It was all hands to the pump for the Azzurri, or in the case of Gentile to the shirt of the sparkling Zico - the Italian man-marker tugging it with such force shortly before the interval that it ripped.
If the first half was spectacular, the second was thrill-a-minute as Brazil continued to dominate with the Italians lying in wait, hoping to deal another hammer blow on the break. Falcao had a glorious chance to equalise just two minutes after the interval but his cross-shot took a slight deflection. Italy's Bruno Conti, and Zico and Serginho for Brazil then saw further chances go begging with Serginho perhaps the most profligate as he failed to chip the advancing Zoff.
Cerezo was next to go close, picking up a pass from Junior before unleashing a right-foot thunderbolt that clattered against the left upright. At last, though, in the 68th minute, Brazil drew level - and what a goal it was. Coming forward down the left side, Junior broke infield and found Falcao stationed on the right-hand corner of the penalty box. After feinting a pass to Cerezo, who had made a decoy run, the Roma man cut inside and from the edge of the area drilled the ball high to Zoff's right.
Having clawed their way back into the game, Brazil continued to push forward in search of a third goal - a tactic that would ultimately prove their undoing. Following a Zoff save from substitute Paulo Isidoro, Italy countered on 74 minutes, forcing a corner on the right. After Bruno Conti's centre was half-cleared to the edge of the area, Marco Tardelli drove the ball back towards goal and Rossi appeared on the edge of the six-yard box to complete his hat-trick.
A goal down for the third time with only 16 minutes left to play, Brazil threw everything forward but there was no way past the 40-year-old Zoff. In the dying seconds, Oscar headed low to the far corner but the veteran keeper got his hands to the ball just before it could cross the line. Brazil's fate was sealed. Italy were on the way to claiming a third world crown and Rossi the Golden Shoe.