History of the World Cup: 1982 – Rossi to the rescue for Italy


Paolo Rossi celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Poland in the semifinals of the 1982 World Cup. (Bob Thomas/Getty)

A World Cup of startling upsets, improbable finishes and unmatched drama — with a fair bit of controversy thrown in for good measure — ended with Italy claiming its third title after beating West Germany in Madrid.


The World Cup returned to Europe in 1982 as sunny Spain, land of Don Quixote and Salvador Dali, welcomed soccer’s biggest stars. Spain was a country in transition at the time, slowly moving towards a liberal democracy and away from a dictatorship following the death of General Francisco Franco.

Like the host nation, the World Cup was also in transition. Sir Stanley Rous, the former FIFA president, raised the issue of expanding the World Cup to 24 teams in 1970. So it came to pass in 1982, thanks to the exploits of Joao Havelange, Rous’s successor.

Though the World Cup was back on European soil, it was the South Americans who were the pre-tournament favourites. Critics were calling this Brazil team — featuring Zico, Socrates, Cerezo and Falcao — even better than the legendary 1970 squad. Argentina, the defending world champions, included Diego Maradona, who would be making his World Cup debut after being passed over four years earlier. But it was Europe who dominated, with both semifinals being all-Europeans affairs.

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With eight new teams added to the mix, a change of format was required: the 24 countries were divided into six groups of four with the top two advancing to the second stage. The 12 survivors would then be divided into four groups of three, essentially a quarterfinal round, with the winners moving on to the semifinals.


West Germany and Italy met in the final on a warm night in Madrid on July 11 in a rematch of their classic 1970 semifinal. Full of fouls and stoppages, the first half was a tedious affair, the lone moment of excitement coming in the 23rd minute when German defender Hans-Peter Briegel fouled Italy’s Bruno Conti inside the penalty area. Antonio Cabrini stepped up to the penalty spot, but pushed his effort wide of the post.

It was the first missed penalty shot in a World Cup final, but it was also the turning point in the game. The Italians did not wither on the vine, despondent over Cabrini’s miss, but instead regrouped and came out attacking in the second half. Their persistence paid off when Paolo Rossi scored his sixth and final goal of the tournament in the 57th minute. Claudio Gentile strolled down the right wing and knocked a lazy cross into the penalty area. The German defence was guilty of ball-watching as Rossi perfectly timed his run into the box and smashed it past Harald Schumacher.

Twelve minutes later it was 2-0. Defender Gaetano Scirea and Rossi broke down the right side before the ball was played into the middle and Marco Tardelli ripped a vicious shot past a helpless Schumacher. The Germans were done, but Italy made sure of it in the 81st minute. Conti dragged the German defence out of position and sent a perfect ball across the box for Alessandro Altobelli to knock into the net. Germany’s Paul Breitner scored two minutes later, sweeping a shot past a diving Dino Zoff, but it didn’t matter.

Italy were World Cup champions for the first time since 1938, a scenario that nobody would have predicted after the Azzurri’s laborious start to the tournament, when they drew all three of their group matches and only advanced to the second round via tiebreaker


Number of participating teams: 24
Top scorer: Italy’s Paolo Rossi (6 goals)
Number of games: 52
Total goals scored: 146
Average goals per game: 2.81
Highest scoring game: Hungary’s 10-1 win over El Salvador on June 19
Total attendance: 1,856,277
Average attendance: 35,698


Paolo Rossi. There could be no choice other than the man who led the Azzurri to their first World Cup in 44 years. Rossi was kept scoreless through the first four games, but he exploded out of his slumber with a hat trick against Brazil in the quarterfinals en route to scoring a tournament-leading six goals and cementing his place as one of the greatest World Cup heroes of all time.


Italy’s 3-2 victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals. Legendary BBC play-by-play announcer John Motson called this the greatest match he’s ever commented on. It had drama, fantastic goals, great saves and one hero: the indomitable Paolo Rossi who led the Italians to victory over a Brazil side the critics hailed as even better than the 1970 World Cup winning team. The France-West Germany semifinal ranks a close second.


Not only did Paolo Rossi win the Golden Shoe as the tournament’s top scorer, but he was also awarded the inaugural Golden Ball award as World Cup MVP. He was later recognized for his accomplishments in Spain when he earned the Ballon d’Or award as the European player of the year in 1982.

The 1982 World Cup marked a turning point in Rossi’s career. In 1979, while playing for Perugia in Italy’s Serie A, Rossi received a three-year ban after being implicated in a betting scandal that rocked Italian soccer (Rossi to this day denies any involvement). The ban was later reduced to two years and his suspension ended just months before the start of the World Cup. His inclusion in the squad was derided by Italian journalists and fans, pointing out that the forward, who scored three goals in Argentina in 1978, was out of shape. The criticisms grew even louder after he contributed little and didn’t score a single goal through Italy’s first four games in Spain.

But manager Enzo Bearzot had faith and he was duly rewarded in the Brazil game – a marvellous hat trick by Rossi was followed by three more important goals in the semifinals and final as Italy won the World Cup. Rossi, the player few Italians expected to come through, became a national hero.


The semifinal between France and West Germany in Seville produced another all-time classic with equal parts drama and controversy. The teams traded goals in the first half, but the game turned in the 57th minute. Substitute Patrick Battiston raced through the middle as he tried to catch up with a brilliant pass that split West Germany’s defence. Goalkeeper Harald Schumacher rushed off his goal-line and, without even attempting to play the ball, viciously thundered into Battiston with a forearm to his face.

The malicious blow sent the Frenchman crashing to the ground in an unconscious stupor — minus two teeth — and Battiston was rushed to a local hospital where he narrowly avoided death. Incredibly, the Dutch referee did not even give the despicable Schumacher a yellow card, and instead awarded the Germans a goal kick.

With the tension building and the score tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, the French scored two quick goals in extra time. But the resolute Germans bravely fought back. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, just minutes after coming into the game as a substitute, scored for Germany after 102 minutes and Klaus Fischer levelled the score six minutes later. The drama on that hot sticky night in Seville reached a crescendo as the game went to a shootout. Schumacher made two saves and Horst Hrubesch scored the decisive goal to give the Germans an improbable 5-4 victory on penalties.


The strangest incident of the tournament took place in Valladolid during France’s win over Kuwait in the first round. Late in the game, midfielder Alain Giresse burst through the Kuwaiti defence and scored to give France a 4-1 lead. Kuwait’s defenders vehemently protested the goal, claiming they stopped midway through Giresse’s run because they heard the whistle blown (as it turned out, a spectator in the stands behind Kuwait’s goal was the whistle-blowing culprit).

As the players surrounded the referee, Kuwaiti FA president Prince Fahid came down to the sidelines from his seat in the stands and threatened to take his players off the field if the goal was not disallowed. Inexplicably, the Russian official overturned his decision and the game resumed, but not before Maxime Bossis scored France’s fourth goal in the 90th minute.


Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff, at 40 years of age, is the oldest player to ever win the World Cup. At 17 years and 42 days of age, Norman Whiteside of Northern Ireland became the youngest player to appear in a World Cup game when he saw action against Yugoslavia in the first round.


Austria and West Germany shamefully conspired with one another in their opening group, draping a blanket of controversy over the competition. Algeria looked a sure bet to go through to the next round after they defeated Chile on June 24 in Oviedo. Austria and the Germans faced off in the final match of the group the next day in Gijon. Because FIFA did not require the final two games of the group stages to be played simultaneously, Austria and West Germany knew that a 1-0 win for the Germans would be enough for both nations to advance to the next round.

And so, the two neighbouring countries had their arrangement and stopped playing when the Germans went 1-0 up after 10 minutes. From that point on, the game slowed down to a crawl with neither team seriously venturing forward. The Spanish spectators in the stands booed both countries unmercifully as they carried out this sporting fraud, and Algeria protested the result to FIFA the next day, but soccer’s world governing body turned a blind eye and let the injustice stand.


Algeria, playing in its first World Cup, pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition when it earned a 2-1 victory over West Germany in the first round. Bookies listed the African nation as a 1,000-1 longshot to win the World Cup prior to the tournament, while the West Germans were 3-1 favourites to win it all.


Hungary’s 10-1 win over El Salvador in the opening round was the biggest victory ever at the World Cup. It beat the old record set by Hungary in 1954 (9-0 vs. South Korea) and equaled by Yugoslavia in 1974 (9-0 vs. Zaire).


Hungary’s Laszlo Kiss is the only substitute to have scored a hat trick in a World Cup game. Hungary led El Salvador 5-1 when Kiss came on in the second half and scored in the 70th, 74th and 77th minute. Kiss’s hat trick, taking a mere seven minutes to complete, was also the fastest ever recorded at the World Cup.


• Fourteen cities and 17 different stadiums (two each in Barcelona, Madrid and Seville) staged the competition’s 52 games.

• Belgium’s 1-0 victory over Argentina in the first game of the competition was the first tournament opener not to end in a 0-0 draw since the 1962 World Cup in Chile.

• Following the Austria-West Germany debacle, FIFA corrected its mistake by introducing a revised system at the 1986 World Cup and future tournaments where the final two games in each group of the opening round were played simultaneously.

• Curiously, Seville police barred Red Cross officials from the sidelines during the France-West Germany semifinal. As a result, France’s Patrick Battiston was lying prone on the field unattended for three minutes before he received medical attention after being fouled by German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher.

• Runners-up in 1974 and 1978, the Netherlands was nowhere to be found in Spain as they failed to qualify for the tournament. The Dutch also didn’t make the grade in 1986 and would have to wait until 1990 to make their World Cup return.

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