When Rossi broke Brazilian hearts

  • Paolo Rossi scored a hat-trick against Brazil in 1982

  • Italy won 3-2 in one of the World Cup’s most famous matches

  • Rossi: “It was the most important game of my career”

With their 2018 FIFA World Cup™ fate balanced precariously on the upcoming play-offs, Italy will be praying that a hero emerges.

Gli Azzurri’s glittering World Cup history is, of course, littered with them, from Silvio Piola through Gianni Rivera to Roberto Baggio. Yet perhaps the most famous of all is Paolo Rossi.

The star of Italy’s 1982 World Cup triumph was, though, an unlikely hero. The team’s coach, Enzo Bearzot, was widely criticised simply for including Rossi - who was unfit and returning from a lengthy ban - in his squad. That opprobrium grew as Italy scraped through the first group stage after three drab draws, with Rossi lampooned in the Italian media as a “ghost”.

When Bearzot’s side were drawn against holders Argentina and favourites Brazil in the second group stage, the obituaries for their World Cup campaign were already being written. But everything changed for Rossi and Italy when they met the seemingly unstoppable Brazilians in a decisive and ultimately unforgettable encounter.

"Before the game, Bearzot told me to put pressure on Oscar and Luizinho, Brazil's two slow central defenders," Rossi reflected in his autobiography. "They'll surely make a mistake, he said."

Italy’s coach was proved right. Rossi ran riot, scoring a memorable hat-trick that silenced his critics and vindicated one man's unflinching faith.

"After the game I immediately looked for Bearzot,” Rossi said. “I owed it all to him, this unbelievable victory, those unforgettable moments. I hugged him, just a hug, there was no need to speak.

"I think in that moment I experienced the highest level of happiness, the happiness that makes you fly after years of suffering, doubts, anguish.

“I would say the victory against Brazil was the match of the century,” he added. “It was emotional until the very last second and it was full of extraordinary players. It was definitely the most important game of my career.”

It was certainly the springboard from which Rossi went on to claim the tournament's Golden Boot, having added another three goals in the semi-final and Final to that famous treble against Brazil. Italy also claimed the Trophy, of course, and we will find out over the coming week whether their hopes of doing so for a fifth time can be maintained.

Did you know? The match ball from that legendary Brazil-Italy game is now proudly displayed at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich. It was donated just last week by the game’s referee, Abraham Klein, at an event in which he shared his memories of the three World Cups he officiated at.