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EXCERPT | July 19, 1982

Rise of the Azzurri

Italy won the World Cup for the first time since 1938

The 1982 World Cup final pitted the game's top striker, West Germany's Karl-Heinz Rümmenigge, against the tournament's improbable goal-scoring sensation, Italian striker Paolo Rossi. Clive Gammon reported for SI.

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—R√ºmmenigge, 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 by Italian partisans to cheer a striker other than Rümmenigge. Rossi had just put his country ahead 1--0. And it had been a clumsy and uncharacteristic foul by Rümmenigge himself that resulted in the free kick that in turn led to the chipped ball Rossi had headed home with delicate ease.

Now, as R√ºmmenigge came out, the score was 2--0, and the rockets were ascending again. By withdrawing, R√ºmmenigge admitted what the crowd had long sensed, that his strained right thigh muscle could respond no more. 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 stepped proudly beside Brazil, the only other three-time champion.

Rossi's tournament-high six goals earned him the Golden Boot award. In 2006 Italy beat France to win its fourth World Cup title.

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PHOTOPhotograph by STEVE POWELL/GETTY IMAGESHEAD MASTER Nobody had expected much from Rossi (lying on the ground)—who had just returned from a two-year suspension for allegedly conspiring to fix matches—but he scored six goals in the World Cup's final three games, one on this header that opened the scoring in the triumph over West Germany. PHOTOLEO MASON/SIPA/SPECIAL FEATURES PHOTOSIMON BRUTY PHOTOPASCAL GUYOT/AFP PHOTOMICHAEL BUSH/UPI/LANDOV (HEAT) PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON (UTLEY) PHOTODAVID WALBERG (PLAYER) TWO PHOTOSAKRON BEACON JOURNAL/MCT/LANDOV (FANS) PHOTOFRED VUICH (LEAKE) PHOTOMARCELO SAYAO/EPA (BRAZIL FAN)