It Was Italy, Prettily

It Was Italy, Prettily

Paolo Rossi exults while still on the ground as his header starts off Italy's 3-1 rout of West Germany in the final of the World Cup
Paolo Rossi exults while still on the ground as his header starts off Italy's 3-1 rout of West Germany in the final of the World Cup
July 18, 1982

On Sunday night in Spain, to the rockets' red glare, to the howling of 87,000 manic fans in the humid bowl of Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium—and before possibly the biggest TV audience in history, more than two billion viewers in 130 nations—Karl-Heinz Rummenigge of West Germany, head high, face stoical, slipped away to his team's dugout and his own thoughts. It was 25 minutes into the second half of his nation's game against Italy in the final of the 1982 World Cup.

For him, the showdown in Spain was over. The first rockets of the night, 15 minutes earlier, had been sent up in ecstasy by Italian partisans to cheer a striker other than Rummenigge. His name: Paolo Rossi. He had just put his country ahead 1-0. And it had been a clumsy and uncharacteristic foul by Rummenigge himself that resulted in the free kick that in turn led to the chipped ball Rossi had headed home with delicate ease.

Now, as Rummenigge came out of the game, the score was 2-0, and the rockets were ascending again. By withdrawing, Rummenigge admitted what the crowd had long sensed, that his strained right thigh muscle could respond no more. And for the rest of the game, like a broken gunfighter who no longer goes out on the street, he watched as the blue-shirted Italians—the Azzurri—now confident, later brilliant, cut his team to pieces and in magnificent style won the World Cup 3-1. In winning, Italy, which had also been victorious in Cup play in 1934 and '38, stepped proudly beside Brazil, the only other three-time champion.

Before the match, Rummenigge's breakdown had seemed possible. Aficionados, who hoped for a match-up between him and Rossi, two deadly marksmen who were tied for the lead in Cup scoring at five goals apiece, hadn't been optimistic earlier in the weekend. The thigh injury that had sidelined Rummenigge for most of the semifinal against France looked as if it might keep him out of the final as well. Then during Sunday morning and afternoon rumors had spread that he would start after all, that his lordly economy of movement and his blinding acceleration in front of the goal would be seen—and be savored for the contrast it offered to the style of his rival.

Until less than two weeks before the final, Rossi—little Pablito—he of the five o'clock shadow and the dark, falconlike features, had been the most reviled player on a reviled Italian side that, up to and including its second-round game against reigning world champion Argentina, had relied almost entirely on savage defense.

It was after that game, won grindingly 2-1 by Italy, that Italian Defender Claudio Gentile, the least aptly named player in the tournament, had growled "This is not a dancing academy" when accused of fouling Diego Maradona, the Argentine star, for most of the 90 minutes. Even after that victory the preponderance of Italians in Spain was still convinced that it would be "Ciao, bambini" when The Forza Azzurri met Brazil. The Brazilians, who had scored 13 goals at that point, were wondrous to behold and with their fluid and creative style seemed likely to have little trouble with a defensive-minded bunch of thugs. The one factor no one took into account was Rossi.

Getty Images

He had been under a cloud for more than two years, ever since a grim Sunday in February 1980 when Italian police had interrupted major league games across the country to charge players with fraud. Two infuriated bettors had claimed they hadn't received value for considerable sums—as much as $240,000 to a whole team—paid to "influence" the results of games. Among the 38 players, coaches and managers named was the Perugia Club's Rossi, Italy's highest-salaried player and its idol after his brilliant performance during his country's fourth-place finish in the 78 World Cup.

The charges against all the accused were, in fact, dropped by the court for lack of evidence, and no allegation was ever made that Rossi took money, only that he refused to testify against fellow players. Nevertheless, the Italian soccer league held its own hearings, and with 17 other players, Rossi was suspended, in his case for three years. That term was reduced to two on appeal.

So it was only this May that Rossi began playing again, just three weeks before the start of the World Cup. His lack of playing time was evident. "Send him home!" howled the Italian press even before the opening round of the 24-team World Cup finals. The howling would continue until the memorable fifth minute of the Brazil game, when Forward Bruno Conti broke clear and got Defender Antonio Cabrini away on the left. Just to the right of the goal, disregarded by the Brazilians, Rossi was ready to head home Cabrini's crossed ball.

That game is now an authentic piece of World Cup history. For the first time the Italians committed themselves to attack. Twice Brazil rallied to tie the score. Twice Rossi put Italy ahead again. The final score of 3-2 included a hat trick for Pablito, and suddenly Las Ramblas, Barcelona's 42nd Street, which had echoed for days with a taberna-to-taberna samba beat from happy Brazilian fans, fell silent. In Rio, when Rossi got the winner, a 20-year-old shot himself dead.

It was different in Rome. Fans splashed happily in the city's fountains. And when it came to Italy's semifinal against Poland last Thursday, all the big stores closed down. Who would want to shop with the game on TV?

That match was anticlimactic. The Poles were without their Midfielder, Zbigniew Boniek, and perhaps their 0-0 battle with the Soviets, which had eliminated the U.S.S.R. a few days earlier, had drained them. In any case, the Poles looked finished even before Rossi put his team ahead 2-0 with goals in the 24th and 71st minutes. All Italy erupted again, and everywhere Rossi, who now had five goals—Italy's entire output—in two games, was the hero.

In Verona, if you had a ticket for the first night of Verdi's Otello, you were unlucky. You couldn't hear the tenor for the celebrating fans. The politicians started to cash in. Announcing he would be in Madrid for the final, Italy's plump prime minister, Giovanni Spadolini, claimed that he brought the country luck. Sandro Pertini, the nation's president, watching the game on TV while in France for a state visit, leaped from his chair to announce that he would make Rossi a commendatory the highest civil title the republic awards. Meanwhile, offers of free wine and lifetime supplies of free shoes had come Rossi's way.

In Italy's newspapers there was some powerful word-eating. Gianni Rivera, the doyen of Italian soccer commentators, wrote in Rome's La Repubblica, "I will wear the habit of a penitent and follow the procession of Saint Bartholomew in repentance at my home village."

The Italian players remained unforgiving. They were still on strike, they said, against their country's press, which had been giving them such a rough passage, and wouldn't even talk to foreign journalists who might pass their quotes on. Rossi, though, gracefully indicated that he would be happy to give his opinion on the weather.

AP

That assessment, almost certainly, would have had to have been excised from any family reading, because the weather in Spain was hellish, capable, it seemed, of incinerating the talents of both Rossi and Rummenigge. A battering heat wave had drifted in from the Sahara. In the little town of Granolito, 25 miles from Barcelona where the Italy-Poland game was played, the temperature reached an insane 120°. And in Seville in the south, where Germany met France in the other semi, it was 91° when the game started at 9 p.m.

There, at the end of regulation time, with the score at 1-1 and 30 minutes of overtime in prospect, the players collapsed on the field for a five-minute armistice, plain agony on faces striped with sweat and dirt. Michel Platini, the French captain, whose sweet running in midfield should have had the game won by now, lay prone, holding ice to his calves. Eyes, both German and French, bulged as liter bottles of agua mineral were sucked dry in seconds. All too soon, the sides lined up again.

And then came a miracle for France as the stands turned red, white and blue with tricolors. Two minutes from the restart, Defender Marius Trésor put France ahead, and six minutes later Alain Giresse, a midfielder of skills as delicate as his name, made it 3-1. Now the French looked certain to make the finals.

Rummenigge, meanwhile, had sat on the bench with his bad leg through the sweltering night, Coach Jupp Derwall clearly unwilling to risk him. On the bench also was 6'2", 190-pound Horst Hrubesch, another strong attacker, who a week earlier had publicly called Derwall a coward for not using him against England, when the Germans had played for a tie. But this was a desperate situation, so Derwall threw in first Hrubesch, then Rummenigge.

And it was Rummenigge, in the 102nd minute, who established position on the left of the box and brought the score to 3-2. Six minutes later Hrubesch nodded the ball across to Forward Klaus Fischer, who kicked overhead to tie the game up 3-3.

And so the outcome would be decided by the crude and cruel charade of the penalty shootout. France's hopes appeared to rise when burly Defender Ulrich Stielike, the third of the six players who would kick for the Germans, saw his shot saved. He sank to his knees, weeping. Harald Schumacher, Germany's keeper, ran over to hold him. "I'll stop the next one," Schumacher promised. And he delivered, deflecting Didier Six's shot and later that of Maxime Bossis to give Germany a 5-4 shootout edge and a berth in the final.

A hero, then, this Schumacher? Not to the millions of TV viewers who had earlier seen him brutally deck French Defender Patrick Battison with a forearm smash to the mouth as Battison ran onto a teammate's pass. Battison was carried off on a stretcher, an oxygen mask assisting his breathing. Schumacher's was a sending-off offense that, extraordinarily, the referee did not notice.

Even before that ugly moment, though, the Germans had easily won the title of el Mundial's least popular team. It had tasted no glory on the way to the final, with its early stunning defeat by Algeria, its shameful "fixed" game with Austria that let the Austrians advance at Algeria's expense and its trench warfare in holding England to a 0-0 tie. And on Sunday night in Madrid, Germany faced not only the Italians but a stadium full of Spaniards as well.

As the Germans ran out onto the field and their names were announced over the loudspeakers, the locals howled their disapproval. Already, in the streets and in the papers, it had been made clear that they were on Italy's side, and the news that Giancarlo Antognoni, the Azzurri's elegant attacking midfielder, wouldn't appear because of an injury to his right foot put them all the more on the side of their fellow Latins.

And in the early part of the first half the Italians seemed to need all the help they could possibly get. They lost Striker Francesco Graziani to a broken collarbone after eight minutes, and then, in the middle of the half, Alessandro Altobelli, who had come on as Graziani's substitute, was blatantly fouled in the penalty area. Cabrini took the resultant penalty kick, normally a certain goal, and missed, a hanging offense in the minds of many Italians.

All the early attacks had been by the Germans, and they looked to be mounting the kind of blitz that had sunk Chile 4-1 in the first round. Rummenigge, hard pressed, had managed to juggle the ball from right to left foot and then slash it just wide. More than once, Midfielder Paul Breitner had come crashing through from within his own half.

Italy pulled back. Gentile, the hard man, started to work on Breitner as he had on Maradona, and Conti got the first yellow caution card of the evening. The game was slowing down into a midfield slog. At halftime—with no score—it belonged to anybody.

That was no longer so after Pablito's goal made Santiago Bernabeu a blue heaven. Derwall brought on the hulking Hrubesch, but the magic wouldn't occur again without Rummenigge. The Italians won the midfield. By mid-half they were tapping the ball about insolently just outside the German penalty area, and in the 69th minute the ball came back to Midfielder Marco Tardelli, hovering at the end of the box. He slammed it home.

That made it 2-0. Rummenigge was gone and with him, it seemed, Germany's chances. The Italians were passing almost as if to music. "Olé!" chanted the crowd at every deft move.

At the 81st minute Conti broke in on the left and tied the ball up for Altobelli to get the world championship insurance goal for Italy. Its players bore no resemblance to those who had sweated to tie Peru and Cameroon in the first round a couple of weeks before.

The Germans never surrendered. Seven minutes from the end, Breitner hit a right-foot shot inside the far post that made the score a more respectable 3-1. That was what it had been against France, had it not? But while they were defeating the French, General Sun had been defeating them. There was nothing left for them to give.

And there was yet one more affecting moment for Italians to savor before Dino Zoff, their 40-year-old goalie and captain, would receive the World Cup from the King of Spain with special grace. Enzo Bearzot, the Italians' much-abused coach, brought on Franco Causio as a substitute with just a minute left in the game. Causio, Italy's faithful, long-serving old soldier, had missed a winner's medal in 1978 but he would get one now.

Later Sunday night, Madrid Plaza Mayor would be turned into Rome's Piazza Navona, ablaze with red, white and green banners. Avanti Azzurri! But that warm gesture of Bearzot's will be remembered in Italy long after all the celebratory liters of vino are forgotten.

TWO PHOTOSRossi scored six times in the final three games. THREE PHOTOSSchumacher watches helplessly as the ball headed by Rossi (almost obscured by two defenders) goes in the net for a 1-0 Italian lead, giving a joyous rise to Rossi.
TWO PHOTOSTardelli's shot from edge of penalty area found Schumacher trying to cut down the angle but quite badly out of position. Score: 2-0. PHOTOThe Cup and old hands Zoff and Bearzot. PHOTOThough gleeful, Gentile wasn't genteel.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)