ROME: Paolo Rossi, Italy’s goal scoring hero from their victorious 1982 World Cup campaign and scorer of a hat-trick against Brazil in one of the most famous matches in the competition’s history, has died at the age of 64.
The celebrated striker’s death comes with the soccer world still in mourning for Argentina icon Diego Maradona, who passed away late last month.
Italian TV channel RAI Sport, where Rossi had been working as a pundit, said on Thursday “Pablito” had died of an “incurable disease”. Rossi’s wife, Federica Cappelletti, posted a photo of herself and her husband on Instagram along with the words “per sempre” – “forever”.
“There will never be anyone like you, unique, special …” Cappelletti later wrote in Italian on Facebook.
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina said that Rossi was “indelibly linked to the blue shirt and his style of play inspired many strikers of future generations.” Rossi, almost frail-looking for a striker at the time but quick, agile and intelligent, won two Serie A titles, a European Cup and a Coppa Italia with Juventus but will be most fondly remembered for lighting up the 1982 World Cup in Spain with six goals.
His selection in the Italy squad came after a two-year ban for a match-fixing scandal and was initially criticised by pundits, who wrote him off as out of shape.
But they were left eating their words when he struck one of the World Cup’s great hat-tricks against Brazil, who were runaway favourites and had enchanted the world with their flowing football. Italy’s 3-2 victory in that classic encounter in the second group phase booked them a place in the semis against Poland, where Rossi again made the difference.
He sunk the Poles with a brace in a 2-0 win that fired his side into the World Cup decider against West Germany. Rossi then scored Italy’s first in a 3-1 victory that gave them their third World Cup title and their first since 1938.
He won the Golden Boot as the top scorer and Golden Ball as the player of the tournament, a campaign regarded as one of the best individual World Cup performances of all-time. He was also awarded the 1982 Ballon d’Or as Europe’s top footballer. “This came out of the blue,” said Dino Zoff, goalkeeper in the 1982 team.
“We’d heard something was wrong but I didn’t think it was that serious. I had a wonderful relationship with him, he was a lovely guy. This is something which is difficult to understand.” Another team mate, Giancarlo Antognoni said: “Another piece of history of my beloved football has gone.” (Reuters)