In the first round of the tournament the Brazilians had also confirmed their status as favourites for the title: first they had defeated the powerful Soviet Union 2-1, after being 0-1 down until 15 minutes before time, before going on to destroy Scotland and New Zealand 4-1 and 4-0 respectively. In all matches the Brazilians had entertained and scored spectacular goals, but were in the second round drawn in a difficult group with Italy and the defending world champions of Argentina.
The Brazilians started by defeating their Argentinean arch-rivals 3-1 in a match that is more remembered for Maradona’s dramatic red card, and before the last match against Italy, the Brazilian were heavy favourites to progress to the semi-finals, only needing a tie against the Europeans.
Italy on the other hand had not started well: before going to the World Cup the team had been heavily criticized at home for its poor results, and in the World Cup itself this had not changed. In the first round Italy had been in group A with Poland, Perú and Cameroon, and had just squeezed through to the next round on second place (behind Poland) after three ties, in fact becoming the first team in World Cup history to go through the first round without winning a match (and simultaneously Cameroon ended in third place with three ties as well but with one goal less than Italy, and was thus the first team in World Cup history to be eliminated from the first round without losing a match!).
The critique was so massive after the first round that the Italian coach Enzo Bearzot completely isolated the team for the second round, prohibiting any contact with the press. This apparently helped when in their first second round match against Argentina the Italians had improved a lot and won 2-1, but still needed a victory against the strong Brazilians if they were to make it to the semi-final.
The Italian team had a very strong defense centered around the Juventus players Gaetano Scirea and Claudio Gentile, both considered some of the best defenders in the history of football, although very different in style: Scirea was the elegant and fair defender (he never received a red card in his career, something rather unusual for an Italian defender...), while Gentile was the ruff and tough defender who never held back on injuring a player. Behind them they had the ageing Juventus goalkeeper Dino Zoff, who was also captain of the team.
The main problem of the Italian team lay in attack, where Enzo Bearzot had controversially selected Paolo Rossi, who had only recently returned to football after a two-year ban for being involved in a betting scandal. In the first four matches he had not scored a goal and was heavily criticized for being out of shape. It took only five minutes into the important match against Brazil for Rossi to silence his critics.
Brazil started the match somewhat arrogantly, perhaps expecting Italy to defend. Instead, the Italians attacked, and were given the space by the Brazilians. On a high cross from the Juventus’ midfielder Antonio Cabrini, Paolo Rossi came rushing into the area to score on a header, and give the Brazilians the first nail of what would be one of the most thrilling matches in World Cup history.
Brazil was nevertheless not defeated, and after 12 minutes Zico and Sócrates combined beautifully: Sócrates passed to Zico, and ran into the area, receiving a perfectly masked pass from Zico. Rushing towards the end of the line, Dino Zoff was perhaps expecting a cross, and didn’t cover the near goalpost, exactly where Sócrates shot to make it 1-1.
Although Brazil was rated as the favourites to win the cup, they were not strong on every position. The defense was known for being shaky, something Rossi took advantage of after 25 minutes: Atlético Mineiro’s Toninho Cerezo made a sloppy pass in defense which was quickly picked up by Rossi, who made no mistake in rushing into the area and shooting, catching the defense and the goalkeeper on the wrong foot, and bringing Italy 2-1 ahead, a score that held until half-time.
Italy came out more defensively into the second half, knowing that Brazil would attack, and hoping for some deadly counter-attacks. Brazil did indeed put pressure, but the disciplined defense and an extraordinary Zoff were not letting them into the match, while Rossi missed an extraordinary chance to make it 3-1 for Italy. However, halfway into the second half, Falcão received the ball from Junior outside the Italian area during a Brazilian attack; Toninho Cerezo ran towards the right side, attracting the attention of the Italian defense just enough to give Falcão the needed space and time to shoot from outside and equalize for Brazil.
Brazil would be in the next round if the result held, so the Italians did not give up. Only six minutes later AS Roma’s Bruno Conti shot a corner-kick for Italy. The ball was not cleared properly by the Brazilian defense, giving Marco Tardelli the opportunity to shoot. Tardelli’s shot was not particularly hard, but made it through the defense into the six-yard box where none other than Rossi deflected it to make his third goal of the match.
During the last fifteen minutes Brazil pressed ahead, but Italy had a goal disallowed (Antognoni for Italy on an nonexistent off-side). In the last minute of the match Oscar had a chance to equalize with a great header that was spectacularly saved by Dino Zoff. The score of 3-2 for Italy held, and the Brazilian giants had been eliminated by the efficient Italians, and notably by the much-criticized Paolo Rossi, who went on to score two goals in the semi-final against Poland and one in the victorious final against West Germany, earning him the Golden Boot of the tournament and the hero of the Italian World Cup victory. Like a British commentator said after the Brazil match about Rossi’s rise: “You just couldn’t have written it and been believed it if you had been responsible for a work of football fiction.”
Of the many legendary encounters between Brazil and Italy in the World Cup, this was probably the most thrilling.
- 5th July 1982, Estadio Sarriá, Barcelona
- Attendance: 44,000
- Referee: Abraham Klein (Israel)
Goals: 1-0 Rossi (5), 1-1 Socrates (12), 2-1 Rossi (25), 2-2 Falcão (68), 3-2 Rossi (74)
Italy: Zoff; Cabrini, Collovati (Bergomi), Gentile, Scirea, Antognoni, Oriali, Tardelli (Marini), Conti, Graziani, Rossi
Brazil:Valdir Peres; Leandro, Oscar, Luisinho, Cerezo, Junior, Socrates, Serginho (Paulo Isidoro), Zico, Eder, Falcão