Hat-tricks are not run-of-the-mill in the intense rivalry of the World Cup — achieved by the few who write themselves instantly into the record books.
Italy’s Paolo Rossi joined that elite group at Spain 82 scoring all three in the 3-2 win over world champions Brazil. Overnight he became the pin-up boy of the Azzurri fans.
Every tournament invariably unearths a personality who dominates all others such is his decisive impact. Rossi was certainly in that category — quite a fairytale as he had only resumed his career after a prolonged ban for involvement in a betting scandal.
Rossi, born in Santa Lucia in the Province of Prato (Tuscany) on September 23, 1955, is a colourful and controversial character but, above all, a striker supreme, not a bustling or intimidating presence, who dovetailed perfectly with Franco Causio and Roberto Bettega, to form one of the most potent attacks in world football.
He made 48 international appearances scoring 20 goals, went on loan from Vicenza to Perugia in 1979-81 where he hit the headlines not for his performances but that gambling controversy leading to three years disqualification by the Italian Federation. This was later reduced on appeal to two pleading he had been a victim of an injustice. In his book ‘I Made Brazil Cry’, one of those who accused him admitted the allegations were invented, a figment of imagination.
Fortunately, the rehabilitation process ensured his availability for the 1982 World Cup but again he found himself savaged by the media who queried why national coach Enzo Bearzot had selected him as he was embarrassingly unfit. One newspaper described him as “a ghost aimlessly wandering over the pitch!”
Rossi, now a real estate agent, answered his critics by the only way he knew— scoring goals. Italy topped the qualifying group with a 2-1 win over Argentina at the Sarria Stadion, Barcelona, followed by the triumph against Brazil at the same venue where he produced a text book example of opportunism with those three goals. Remember this was a Brazil team that included superstars Socrates, Zico, Falcao, Eder.
Thanks to Rossi Italy had reached the semi-finals defeating Poland 2-0 at the Nou Camp, Barcelona.
And to crown a remarkable comeback he scored the opening goal in Italy’s 3-1 win over Germany in an eminently forgettable flaccid Final at the Bernabeu. Indeed, the only memory retained from this is Italy’s Antonio Cabrini missing a 25th minute penalty — the first man to fail from the spot in a World Cup Final.