“Rossi is a great player. He has something beyond his scoring instinct: his intelligence to find spaces and make the most of our mistakes.” Telé Santana, the best coach of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, described Paolo Rossi better than anyone, Italy’s most outstanding footballer, and one of the most decisive for a world champion in all of history.
Pablito He arrived in Spain after two years of inactivity, since in 1980 he was suspended for being the protagonist of the gambling scandal known as Totonero. Along with his harsh sanction, AC Milan and Lazio were also relegated to the second division, in a case that affected all of Italian football. Despite his lack of football rhythm, coach Enzo Berzot decided to call him up for the World Cup anyway. That was the decision that gave the Azzurra the title.
The summons of the Juventus attacker was criticized by all the press and public opinion, who saw Rossi as a true symbol of the corruption that at that time was hitting all of Italian football with great harshness. Despite this popular pressure, Bearzot remained firm and included in the World Cup list first and in the starting team later an attacker who had been suspended until April and had only played three games. “He is an opportunist within the area”, always said the technical director.
After the Cup, Bearzot explained the reasons that led him to summon Rossi: “I knew that if Rossi was not in Spain, he would not have any opportunistic player in the area. In that area he was really good, fast, always ready to play the game. proper feint. ” Pablito was not very tall or very fast, not even too clever. He was smart and knew the area better than anyone.
At the 1978 World Cup, Rossi was one of the best players in the tournament at just 21 years old. He formed a great offensive duo with Roberto Bettega and led his national team to fourth place. He scored three goals and won everyone’s praise. After the defeat against Brazil in the game for third place, he said: “Playing at home was decisive for them, although Argentina deserved to win anyway.”
Four years later the situation was very different, Rossi did not have the freshness of 1978 and had not added experience, because he had played very little. What he did have, and to spare, was a thirst for revenge and a winning mentality. He leaned on that to become the champion’s key player, the man who made what seemed like a chimera possible. Because like few times in history, the champion reached the top thanks to the talent of a single footballer.
The first phase of Italy was really very bad. He did not show good game nor did he know how to overcome three opponents who were accessible in principle. The team drew with Chile, Cameroon and Poland and only scored two goals. In those three games, Rossi did a much more sacrificial job than it suited him and received even more criticism. But Bearzot’s confidence held firm and in the second round he had his prize.
La Azzurra beat Diego Maradona’s Argentina 2-1 in their debut in the second phase. Tardelli and Cabrini converted the goals, while Rossi left once again in silence. But three days later his big night would arrive, the one in which everything he ever dreamed of comes true. He scored three goals: at five, at 25 and at 29 of the complement and he eliminated only the best team in the World Cup, perhaps one of the best of all time: the Brazil of Socrates and Zico. “It was the best game of my career. Everyone considered Brazil the winners, but we were able to exploit our virtues,” he said later.
In the semifinals, Italy beat Poland 2-0, with a goal of their own at each half. Every minute that passed, Rossi got bigger. He had rediscovered his football and was full of confidence. He was unstoppable, impossible to stop for any defender.
In the grand final, Rossi opened the scoring twelve minutes into the second half against West Germany and was the true leader of the Italian National Team. Tardelli and Altobelli put the final 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu. The 3-1 that gave the first postwar title to Italy, the first that is not tainted by fascism. La Azzurra was a world champion in a legitimate way, without cheating or doubts. And Paolo Rossi had had a lot – or everything – to do with it.
“We felt unstoppable, and we showed it by dominating a magnificent rival,” declared a happy Rossi after the Olympic return. Gone were the trials, the years without playing, the criticisms and doubts. Everything was already happiness. He had led Italy to an unexpected title, which without his extraordinary contribution would have been impossible.