The Azzurri overcame all the odds, controversy, doubts and even scandal to lift the 1982 World Cup Today we take a look back at their journey in Spain 1982.
There are few international teams that have captured the hearts of their fans as completely as the Italy side that travelled to Spain for the 1982 World Cup. That team and its accomplishments are revered more than any other Azzurri vintage, viewed as the most complete squad the peninsula has ever sent to football’s premier competition. The reasons for this are fairly tangible, from the end of a 44-year wait to once again lift the game’s foremost trophy to the unexpected manner of the victory. Heading into the World Cup in Spain in 1982, the Azzurri were rank outsiders, but through steely determination, skilful play and a striker catching fire at the right time, they ended up lifting the biggest prize in the game. The tournament was preceded by chaos in Serie A. Only two years previously, the Totonero betting scandal hit the domestic game that led to clubs being relegated, players being arrested and the game thrown into turmoil. Milan and Lazio were relegated to Serie B for their involvement, while Paolo Rossi was handed a two-year ban. The striker had impressed in the 1978 World Cup, registering three goals and four assists as he helped Italy to a place in the semi-finals, and his absence was keenly felt by all concerned. Italy coach Enzo Bearzot never abandoned Rossi, and he took him along to the World Cup despite protests from fans and journalists concerned about his lack of fitness. He had played just three competitive matches for Juventus and looked nothing like the clinical finisher who had been one of Serie A’s top scorers before the scandal broke. He would, like the Azzurri in general, ghost through the opening group stage, but came alive when the level of competition rose considerably.
Assessing the Azzurri of that era, it is clear that captain and goalkeeper Dino Zoff was an exceptional talent, one of the greatest ever to stand between the posts. He had already turned 40 years old when the tournament began, testament to his excellent conditioning during a time when many players neglected their health. Both Beppe Bergomi and Antonio Cabrini excelled at the finals. The former was merely 18 years old in 1982, and forced his way into the first XI during the knockout stages. The Inter defender went on to amass over 80 caps and represent Italy in two further World Cups before retiring in 1999. On the opposite flank, Cabrini was a mainstay of the formidable Juventus defence of that era. He had cemented his place four years earlier, helping the Azzurri to the 1978 semi-final before going one better in the next World Cup. He missed a penalty in the 1982 Final, but that would not damage his team’s chances and he was once again a standout performer. Between these two great full-backs were two more members of Giovanni Trapattoni’s all-conquering Bianconeri side, men who are still regarded as true giants of the global game.
Claudio Gentile was the immovable object, a rugged man marker whose marshalling of Diego Maradona at the 1982 World Cup is an indelible memory of all Italian fans. Like Cabrini, he was a major part of the success enjoyed by his club and country, a defender very few attackers ever managed to slip past easily. His partner was the flawless Juventus captain Gaetano Scirea, quite simply the greatest central defender his nation has ever produced. The sweeper was so much more than a stopper, stepping out to help create goals when his teams needed them most. Scirea won 78 caps for the Azzurri, and it is difficult to recall him making mistakes in any of them, such was the sheer quality and class he possessed. So good were those players in the regular XI that even Franco Baresi never set foot on the field at the finals, the Milan legend adding serious depth to Bearzot’s squad.
In midfield, the coach could choose from a plethora of weapons, including pure wingers like Bruno Conti and Franco Causio who could stretch out the field to create space for others. Both created chances for their team-mates and scored goals themselves, the kind of players who would thrive even in today’s fast-paced matches. Bearzot could also rely on the skill and guile of Fiorentina icon Giancarlo Antognoni, a creative midfielder who possessed a wonderful touch and an incredible range of passing. Beside him, Marco Tardelli provided the steel in the centre of the pitch, an all-action midfielder who constantly harassed opponents as he sought to regain possession. He also weighed in with the key goal in the final, his tearful screams of joy one of the World Cup’s most memorable moments. The attack saw Golden Boot winner Paolo Rossi steal the headlines, with his goals enough to see him win the Ballon d’Or in 1982. Alessandro Altobelli would also net in the showpiece game, showing there was more to fear than just the in-form “Pablito.” This heady blend of players served the Azzurri well, allowing Bearzot to shape his line-up to the opposition and give his side the best possible chance of victory. The combination of the players and coach made the 1982 Italian side among the very best. They were almost impenetrable in defence, had both superiority and variety in midfield and possessed the attacking threat to score in any circumstance. In short, that particular Azzurri side was simply better, deeper and more talent-laden than any of their imaginary modern-day rivals taking part in the current World Cups. From Zoff in goal to Rossi up front, they possessed 11 men who have become legends of the game, while even the bench was filled with truly great players.
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. The Italian job was done.