“In the most meaningless of consolations, Hungary 1954 and Holland 1974 are two of the three teams often cited as the greatest never to win the World Cup. Eight years later, after the Munich tragedy, it was the footballers of Italy, and one forward in particular – Paolo Rossi, who are responsible for one of the most notorious shocks of all-time: the shock which changed Brazil footballing fantasy forever”


Even though, he scored the deadlock-breaking goal in the final of the World Cup 1982 and before that, took revenge against Poland with a brace, what people still remember about Paolo Rossi, that opening goal in that afternoon at Barcelona against the Brazil of Zico, Socrates, Eder, and Falcao. That goal helped Rossi to wake up from his nightmare and in the end, kicked the hot favourites out of the tournament. Zico and Socrates became the tragic heroes, while Rossi the national hero.

The Germans are responsible for two of the most shocking results in the history of the World Cup.

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The first one witnessed Fritz Walter-inspired Germany overcoming the Mighty Magyars of Hungary 3-2 in what remains the biggest shock in a World Cup final to date. The second one came twenty years later in Munich, where a Beckenbauer-inspired Germany stopped Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff’s outstanding Holland.

In the most meaningless of consolations, Hungary 1954 and Holland 1974 are two of the three teams often cited as the greatest never to win the World Cup. Eight years later, after the Munich tragedy, it was the footballers of Italy, and one forward in particular – Paolo Rossi, who are responsible for one of the most notorious shocks of all-time: the shock which changed Brazil footballing fantasy forever.

In Spain, the Italians, emerging from a domestic match-fixing scandal, were in a mess. In the Group Stages, they hardly looked like a team to go far and struggled against Cameroon and Peru while had a horrible game against Poland.

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They were lucky to survive in the Group Stages, courtesy of three draws and goal difference, which ensured their progress.

Paolo Rossi, the brilliant forward who had emerged four years earlier in Argentina, was back after a two-year ban and his inclusion in the squad had led to harsh criticism of Coach Enzo Bearzot.

Rossi was dire, nowhere near justifying Bearzot’s faith in him. Seemingly carrying an unhealthy burden of expectation, he was a shadow of the 20-year-old who had thrilled the watching world in Argentina, scoring three goals as Italy finished fourth.

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In the second round, Italy were placed in the Group Death – defending champions Argentina and hot favourites Brazil were waiting for them and the fans thought, it was time to sit back and witness the thrashing of the Azzurri.

Astonishingly, a narrow 2-1 win over an Argentina team that was inspired by the presence of Diego Maradona, scripted by a defensive master-class from Claudio Gentile, ensured a winner-takes-all clash against Brazil on July 5, 1982.

To the surprise of all, Italy attacked from the word go with Gentile marking Zico.

The game was just five minutes old when a brilliant play by Bruno Conte on the right side of the midfield created space to essay a pass to space on the left where Antonio Cabrini received and immediately crossed on the right corner of the Brazilian penalty area, where Rossi ran like a hare to head the ball into the net.

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Brazil were behind and Rossi rediscovered his mojo, which led to a hat-trick and dashed the dreams of Brazil and their ecstatic fans.

That first goal cannot be forgotten – it gave birth to a legend named, Paolo Rossi.

Born in Prato, Tuscany, Italy in the area of Santa Lucia, the promise shown by Rossi at youth levels for Saint Lucia, Ambrosiana and Cattolica Virtus brought a Juventus to the family door despite being ignored by his parents at first hand – Rossi’s mother being defiantly against the move and his father even bringing in a Catholic community leader to dissuade Juventus in the pursuit of their son.

Although he was a member of the squad during the 1972–73 season, Rossi made his debut in professional Italian football with Juventus in 1973, making an appearance in the Coppa Italia and winning a runners-up medal in the 1973 Intercontinental Cup.

Two years later, after a series of injuries and operations, Rossi played two further domestic cup games during the 1974-75 season.

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After three operations on his knees, he was later sent to gain experience with Como, where he made his Serie A debut during the 1975–76 season, initially playing as a right-winger, where his small build would not be a hindrance; he made six Serie A appearances for the club, but again failed to score – meant that he followed in the footsteps of his brother by realizing his parent’s fears and seeing his Juventus dreams ended prematurely.

During those formative games, Rossi took to the field with the likes of Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile and Franco Causio, players with whom he would win the World Cup and, in the cases of Zoff and Gentile, eventually be reunited within the Juventus team once again.

His career reached a turning point when Vicenza Calcio – then Lanerossi Vicenza – engaged him on loan. Coach Fabbri decided to move him from the wing and place him in the center of the attack, because of injuries to the then center-forward, just before the season started. Rossi immediately showed a tremendous knack for getting open in the box and scoring, winning the Serie B Golden Boot with 21 goals in his first year in this more advanced position.

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In the 1976–77 season, Rossi’s qualities as an implacable striker led his team to promotion to Serie A, and he also led Vicenza to the second group stage of the Coppa Italia that season. In the following season, Rossi scored 24 goals, to become the first player to top the scoring charts in Serie B and Serie A in consecutive seasons, also leading Vicenza to an incredible second-place finish in Serie A during the 1977–78 season, only behind co-owners Juventus.

Due to his performance, he was selected by the Italian national team’s manager Enzo Bearzot for the 1978 FIFA World Cup. Rossi was also given his Italy debut under Bearzot on 21 December 1977, in a 1–0 friendly away win over Belgium.

Rossi confirmed his growth during the 1978 World Cup tournament, gaining international fame as one of the world’s best strikers. Playing for Italy as a central striker, he would sometimes switch positions with the two other forwards, going to his original right-wing position. Right-winger Franco Causio, a two-footed player, would go left, and Italy’s tall left winger Roberto Bettega would go to the center.

This simple strategy was able to made possible by the technical quality of all three players, created havoc in the opposition defence, and Italy showed an entertaining offensive style of play in the tournament. Rossi totaled three goals and four assists as Italy finished in fourth place in that World Cup.

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He was named as part of the team of the tournament for his performances, and he also collected the Silver Ball as the second-best player of the World Cup. Rossi’s goal in Italy’s opening 2–1 group win of the tournament against France, on 2 June 1978, was also his first goal for Italy

Up to this point, Rossi had been jointly owned by Vicenza and Juventus. When the two clubs were called to settle the property, Lanerossi offered the shocking sum of 2.612 billion lire for Rossi, who became the world’s most expensive player, and Italy’s most costly sportsman ever to that date. After the 1978 World Cup, during the 1978–79 season, Rossi made his European debut with Vicenza in the UEFA Cup, however, despite scoring 15 goals for the club in Serie A, his season was marked by injuries, and Vicenza was relegated to Serie B. Rossi was subsequently loaned to Perugia, in order to play in Serie A the following season.

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While at Perugia, he managed 13 goals in Serie A during the 1979–80 season, also helping the club to the round of 16 of the UEFA Cup.

During the season, however, he was involved in the infamous 1980 betting scandal known in Italy as Totonero, and as a result of this Rossi was disqualified for three years, although this was later reduced to a two-year ban.

As a result, Rossi missed out on the 1980 European Championship with Italy, where the team once again finished in fourth place, on home soil.

Despite the ban, Rossi always claimed to be innocent and stated that he had been a victim of an injustice.

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The scandal cost Rossi two years of his career and a place in the Italy squad for Euro 1980. Meanwhile, Perugia were deducted five points for the 1980/81 season and, combined with no Rossi, were relegated at the end of the campaign.

With the reduction of his ban from three to two years came a light at the end of the tunnel. With Bearzot in his corner, the 1982 World Cup became a possibility for Rossi.

Internazionale had made an approach for his services and he was amenable to the idea to the point that it appeared a done-deal, only for him to back away at the last minute, just as he had when Napoli tried to sign him.

Instead, Juventus returned for him, offering sanctuary, a place to train, a place to reclaim full-fitness, and home to submerge himself within football once again. His ban ended in April 1982 and he made his belated league debut for Juventus away to Udinese.

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Rossi scored in a 5-1 victory as a controversial Scudetto was wrapped up on the final day at Catanzaro, a day which gave birth to Fiorentina’s ball of hatred towards the black and white stripes.

After a couple of months, in Spain, Ross was reborn and Italy became the center for the gathering of the world’s best players. Money poured into Italian football and Serie A became the best leagues in the world.

The confidence which was lost after the Second World War and Torino Tragedy after the War was regained courtesy of a Rossi heroic in Spain.

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After the glory in Spain, Rossi was expected to be at the height of his powers, but his sharpness in front of goal started to wane, even though, wherever he traveled to play, he had always been the center of attraction for all until the legend of Maradona was born in Mexico.

Before the rebirth of Maradona; Tele Santa’s Brazil, The France of Michel Platini and Paolo Rossi garnered enough attention.

Still today, people talk about the striker from Italy who stopped Brazil.

Still today, people love and respect him.


He was Rossi, Paolo Rossi!

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