1982: Paolo Rossi on a roll

Striker Paolo Rossi, whose head was on the chopping block, back home, prior to the tournament, scored a hat-trick against Brazil to help Italy reach the final!

Silencing his critics: Paolo Rossi was the architect of Italy’s title triumph in 1982.   -  Getty Images

With 24 teams participating for the first time, the competition in Spain was expected to reach unprecedented heights with its quality and quantity of football. The Brazilian side featuring the likes of the temperamental yet brilliant ‘White Pele’ Zico along with Paulo Roberto Falcao, Serginho and legendary skipper Socrates, who captained his country with pride and smoked a pack a day, looked the team to beat at the start of the tournament.

The Italians, on the other hand, were reeling under allegations of betting and bribery scandals involving Serie A players, clubs and officials. One such player to be sanctioned was the much-maligned Juventus striker Paolo Rossi, who was being vilified all over the Italian press for his unexpected recall to the national side so soon after such blatant involvement in dreadful foul play, which had left him suspended for two years from the game.

Host: Spain

Teams: 24

Matches: 52

Goals: 146

Attendance: 21,09,723

Winner: Italy

Golden Boot: Paolo Rossi (ITA) — 6 goals

Best Goalkeeper: Dino Zoff (ITA)

Best Player: Paolo Rossi (ITA)

In a virtual quarterfinal between Italy and Brazil, where the South Americans had the easier option of just a draw to reach the semifinals on goal difference, amazingly, the Italians drew first blood. The Brazilians, on the backfoot, took just seven minutes to get the scores level when Socrates burst through the Italian embankments and slotted past goalkeeper Dino Zoff. Taking advantage of Brazil’s suspect defence, Rossi restored Italy’s lead, and as half-time came the Azzurris were just 45 minutes away from a seemingly unthinkable semifinal place. Brazil came out hard in the second session. The Italians defended stoutly, but Falcao hit an unstoppable shot past Zoff and the scores were drawn again. With 20 minutes to pass, Brazil could only survive for six as Marco Tardelli’s shot fell for Rossi on the edge of the six-yard box. Dutifully he completed his hat-trick. A hat-trick for a striker whose head was on the chopping block, back home, prior to the tournament!

A desperate Brazil was kept at bay and from thereon the Italians kicked up a storm which ended with another memorable Cup triumph as they defeated West Germany 3-1 in the final.

A certain Diego Maradona, destined to be a star four years later, also made his Cup debut in Spain, only to be red-carded in a second round game against Brazil, after he had kicked Brazilian player Joao Batista in the 85th minute.

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