Paolo Rossi


LIKE Beckenbauer before him, Johan Cruyff was a complete footballer, who did not believe in set positions. He was a versatile, dynamic customer who could impose himself on a contest.

Attacking by instinct, he could, both, create and defend and his skill with the ball was dazzling. The Cruyff story is also about how some dreams can come true.

His mother was enrolled as a cleaning lady in the Ajax Stadium in Amsterdam, and the young Cruyff would accompany his mother to the famous Dutch club and watch all the marquee names practise.

He dreamt about being 'there' himself. Cruyff would not just be there but would go on to become Holland's greatest footballer. The country's biggest superstar.

Speed, supreme ball skill, fine positional sense, and the ability to score with both head and feet made him perhaps the most feared player of the late 60s and 70s.

Ajax, the breeding ground of talent, did not take long to spot Cruyff and by mid-70s, he had established himself in the club squad. He climbed the rungs rapidly.

Considering his astonishing ability to control the ball and his vision, it was hardly surprising that Cruyff was adjudged the Dutch Footballer of the Year in 1968 and '69. The National call-up did not take long in coming.

He was also temperamental, and his rather frenzied argument with referee during the encounter against Czechoslovakia - it was only Cruyff's second match for the country - saw him being suspended from the Dutch side for six months.

After he served his sentence he was buzzing again, giving a harrowing time to the defenders, and by the time West Germany '74 arrived, he was in peak form.

It's a pity that Cruyff and his dynamic bunch of Dutchmen could not win the World Cup. In '74 they certainly were the most dreaded side with their brand of 'Total Football.'

The team was in fine form too coming to the biggest football event, and in Kovacs, it had a coach who had believed in lively free flowing football rather than dour methods.

Cruyff and Holland went on an overdrive in Germany, blowing away Argentina 4-0, with Cruyff slotting in two spectacular goals. The following result was even more dramatic. Holland humbled defending champion Brazil 2-0, with Cruyff finding the mark once more.

Holland eased its way to the final where its opponent was West Germany. The contest also witnessed the clash of two dynamic players - Cruyff and Beckenbauer.

It was an explosive final and after the scores were level at 1-1, thanks to two penalties, Germany clinched it through its feared striker Gerd Muller.

The Dutchmen had won the hearts of the crowds with their football, but to the eternal disappointment of the fans, failed to triumph. It was a similar story in '78 Argentina, where Holland once again went down in the summit clash, this time to the host.

However, Cruyff, to the disappointment of many, had pulled out of the squad before the finals in Argentina. He will be remembered though as one of football's foremost icons.

HE was the tragic hero of Brazilian football. Given the sobriquet 'White Pele' for his captivating gifts, Zico, sadly, never figured in a World Cup winning squad.

Zico was the kind of midfielder who could change the course of a match in a hurry. The Brazilian midfield in the early and mid 80s glittered with riches and Zico was the brightest star.

Along with Zico were Socrates, Falcoa and Cerezo - all of whom were players with 'vision'. They could create goals out of nothing, conjuring 'magic' passes.

Midfield is the heart of any side, and Brazil was certainly 'ticking' at the right place, with the 'terrific four' providing little respite to the defence. Yes, in the true Brazilian tradition, they were all attacking.

Yet, out of this classy four, Zico came closest to being a striker for his ability to find the target with regularity. His 66 goals in 88 matches for Brazil reflect just that.

He was fast, was extremely quick on the turn, could shoot with either feet and was dangerous with headers. In fact, like Pele, he became famous for his acrobatic strikes - bicycle and banana kicks.

Injury prevented him from performing to potential in Argentina '78. It was a different story four years later.

Indeed, it was a travesty that the Brazilian side of '82, the finest bunch from the Latin American nation after Mexico '70, returned empty-handed from Spain, done in by a Paolo Rossi hat-trick in a do-or-die second stage encounter.

Even a draw would have taken the Brazilians to the semifinals, yet, true to their instincts, they kept attacking even after the scores were level and it was Rossi who finally clinched it for Italy.

Brazil, with Zico in all his glory, had entered the duel as the strong pre-match favourite, defeating holder Argentina 3-1 in a famous encounter with that distinct Latin American flavour. Not surprisingly, Zico scored against old rivals.

Four years on too, Brazil and Zico's World Cup campaign ended in tears. Zico, injured, had played little part in Brazil's progress to the quarterfinals, however, with the last eight duel against France balanced on a razor's edge at 1-1, Brazil replaced Miller in the later stages of the second half.

Zico had hardly got a feel of the ball in the tournament and here he was in the midst of a humdinger. However, the gifted player opened up possibilities with his first touch, and soon the referee pointed to the dreaded spot.

Brazil was in with a great chance of making it 2-1 and progressing to the semifinals. Zico himself was to take the penalty kick. And the man who found the target from the most difficult of angles, shot straight to French goal-keeper Bats. The Brazilian supporters and Zico stared in sheer disbelief.

France went on to win the epic encounter 4-3 on penalties, and Zico could not quite hold back the tears at the end of it all. He was indeed the tragic hero.

HE was a swashbuckling striker who often cut a swathe through the defence and then finished the moves with clinical strikes. Mario Kempes was a poacher par excellence.

A swift, direct customer who made goal-scoring a habit. Kempes not just got goals, he nailed them when it mattered.

The occasion could surely not have been bigger than World Cup '78 where host Argentina was fancied. The military regime in the country was keen to see the country triumph, for that would divert the attention of the people from the travails at home.

They were looking for a saviour. Kempes was the man. With the huge stadium in Buenos Aires bathed in colourful confetti, Kempes often surged ahead, his long mane flying back. It was a breathtaking sight.

Such was his speed, that he was always dangerous on the breaks, often running the defence ragged. And like most natural born strikers, he shot at the first opportunity.

Kempes did not taste too much success in the first round, but it was a different story in the second, where he hounded the defenders with his threatening runs.

Kempes was on the mark twice against Poland, and came up with a brace again, in the controversial match against Peru. He had smelt blood.

There were allegations that the Argentina-Peru game was fixed to allow the home side to progress to the final at a better goal average than Brazil. However, the charges have not been proved since.

In the final, came Kempes and Argentina's finest hour. He gave finishing touches to a move started by the mercurial Osvaldo Ardilles to signal his first goal. Then, in the extra-time, with tension gripping the air, Kempes bulldozed his way past three Dutch defenders and finished his searing run by placing the ball into the cage. The crowd roared, Argentina had won the World Cup. And Kempes was the hero.

PAOLO ROSSI could so easily have missed the '82 World Cup. A bribery and match-fixing scandal raging in Serie 'A' almost put an end to his career.

He was found guilty, punished, however, the ban was relaxed to enable him compete in the World Cup, for his value as a marksman for Italy was immense. Rossi came back from the dead.

The Rossi story brings to the fore all the swings in fortunes in the life of a footballer. Here it is possible to rise from the depths of despair to heady heights.

Rossi, who had dazzled in Argentina '78 too, did just that in Spain. Looking back, it's interesting how the critics wrote him off.

His last minute selection to the Italian team came under severe criticism and it was felt that he would be too rusty having hardly played any competitive football in the months leading up to the World Cup.

And he did look out of place in the first round games, feeling his way through to big time football again following a harrowing period, where he must have seen darkness all around him.

All that changed in the second round. The diminutive forward's strike one, two and three spelt doom for Brazil. It was opportunism at its very best.

Rossi could smell goals like most great poachers and had this habit of sneaking through almost unnoticed to the right place at the right time. The Italian's second strike was also his best.

Spotting a lapse in the defence, he streaked through, and finished with a furious drive. A telling strike.

And then, after the scores were level at 2-2, Rossi settled the issue with a deadly strike with only minutes remaining. Italy was through to the semifinal.

He beat the custodian twice in the last four clash against Poland, and, out of nowhere, Rossi now had five goals in two matches. Sensational stuff.

Then, his scorching header from a close range paved the way for Italy's eventual 3-1 victory over West Germany in the summit clash. A villain not too long ago, Rossi was now the toast of Italy.