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1982: Italy - Brazil
05 July 1982: Italy - Brazil 3-2
It was the stuff of dreams for Paolo Rossi and the Italian fans. Enzo Bearzot's Italian side were up against Tele Santana's Brazil, with a place in the semi-finals at stake. For the Squadra Azzurra only a victory would do, while tournament favourites Brazil could make do with a draw.
The rebirth of Paolo Rossi
Having served a two-year ban for match-fixing, Paolo Rossi returned to the beautiful game with relish, determined to make his mark at the 1982 FIFA World Cup™ in Spain. But the 25-year-old got off to a shaky start in the tournament, and his indifferent showings in the Group games soon had the Italian press calling for his scalp.Luckily for Italy, the wily Enzo Bearzot ignored the torrent of vitriolic abuse and retained Rossi in his starting line-up for this all-important game. The rest is history. Rossi emerged as Italy's saviour in a truly epic encounter.
Brazil: the out and out favourites
Tele Santana's Brazil had arrived in Spain hotly tipped to win the tournament, boasting talented players such as Cerezo, Zico, Falcao and Socrates in their ranks. Now, having already defeated the reigning champions Argentina [3-1]in the second round, they only needed a draw to reach the last four…
Brazilian pressure, Italian incisiveness
The early exchanges were scrappy, as is so often the case in such a high-pressure game. Socrates and his team-mates had the bulk of the play, but Italian guile was soon on show.
With 5 minutes on the clock, Gabriele Oriali surged imperiously down the right flank and switched the play to Antonio Cabrini. The Italian number 4 spotted Rossi's run into the penalty area and floated in an inch-perfect cross which the striker headed home with radar-like precision to put the Europeans one up.
Brazil went after an equalizer with a vengeance, which meant leaving their defence short of cover, allowing Bearzot's men to deploy their favourite counter-attacking game. Rossi then turned provider, laying on a chance for Francesco Graziani, but he ballooned the chance high and wide.
The Selecao strike backs
Graziani's glaring miss seemed to wake the Brazilians from their slumbers, and they began to look more dangerous. Their best early chance fell to Serginho on 10 minutes, but the burly centre-forward scuffed his shot wide with only Dino Zoff to beat. Leandro then wreaked havoc a minute later with a trademark dribble before Zoff again showed his class by rushing off his line to repel the danger.
Frustration now crept into the Italian game as the Brazilians imposed themselves. Their defending was frantic at times as the challenges flew in thick and fast, and Claudio Gentile (no surprises there) was the first to see yellow after 13 minutes, the result of an over-zealous tackle on Zico. The rough stuff did not stop there, as Oscar lashed out at Marco Tardelli, but the Brazilian's foul, which was far worse than Gentile's, went unpunished by referee Abraham Klein.
Rossi back on cue
The Brazilians remained camped in the Italian half and looked likely to add a second. But on 25 minutes a defensive lapse proved fatal to their cause. Valdir Peres played the ball out to Leandro, who found Cerezo. Under no pressure, the defender clipped a careless cross-field pass straight into the path of Paolo Rossi, who in true predatory fashion intercepted before despatching a rasping drive into the back of the net. Italy were back in front thanks to another piece of Rossi opportunism and again the favourites had to play catch-up.
It was more of the same after the goal with the Brazilians laying siege to the Italian penalty area. Fancy flicks, dangerous balls, one-twos - no stone was left unturned in their quest to equalise, while for the Azzurri it was a case of all hands to the pump, from captain Zoff downwards, as they bravely defended their slender advantage.
The South Americans were denied a clear penalty on 41 minutes. Zico darted into the box, only to be pulled back by Gentile, who tugged at his shirt with such force that it ripped. The Brazilian maestro turned to the referee, but was amazed to see the Israeli official wave play on.
Memorable second half
The second half provided some of the best football in FIFA World Cup™ history, served up by master craftsmen at the very peak of their powers. It was thrill-a-minute stuff, with chances carved out relentlessly at either end. The crowd lapped it all up, as Brazil continued to dominate with the Italians lying in wait, hoping to deal another hammer blow on the break.
Falcao had a glorious chance to tie the score just two minutes after the interval but his cross-shot took a slight deflection. Bruno Conti for Italy, and Zico and Serginho for the Brazilians were the guilty parties as further chances went begging. Serginho's was perhaps the most glaring miss, as he failed to chip the advancing Dino Zoff.
Cerezo was next to go close, picking up a pass from Junior before unleashing a right-foot thunderbolt that clattered against the left upright.
At last, Brazil drew level - and what a goal it was. Falcao, who had taken over from Junior on the right, feinted a pass to Cerezo, who had made a decoy run. The Roma man continued his run inside and drilled the ball high into the right hand corner past the hapless Zoff.
Punished again by the stalker supreme
Having clawed their way back into the game, Brazil continued to plough forward in search of a third goal - a tactic that would ultimately prove their undoing.
Italy countered on 74 minutes, forcing a corner on the right. Tardelli's centre was initially cleared to the edge of the area, and when it was pumped back into the 6-yard box Peres looked favourite to collect, only for Rossi (who else) to appear from nowhere and slot home a shock third goal for Italy. It was a match-winning strike to silence his fiercest critics.
Last throw of the dice
A goal down for the third time with only a few minutes left to play, Brazil threw everything forward. Italy got behind the ball and soaked up the pressure, but it still could have been the South Americans' day as Santana's men spurned yet more excellent chances in the dying minutes. Rossi could even have added a fourth for Italy on a counter-attack had his deadly accuracy not deserted him for once.
Try as they might Brazil just could not conjure up a third equaliser. Zoff was not to be beaten again. Italy had beaten the favourites and booked their place in the semi-finals - and Paolo Rossi's place in football history was assured forever.