In the first two parts of this series, we looked back at how Enzo Bearzot and Italy had managed to escape from Group One of the opening phase of Espana ’82 by the skin of their teeth. They had then overcome reigning World Champions Argentina in a game they couldn’t afford to lose. Now, they had to go one better. They had to beat a supremely confident and skillful Brazil side to make it to the semi-final stage.
Game 2: Sarria, Barcelona, 5 July: Italy 3-2 Brazil
FIFA must still look back at this game and shake their heads. It would be remembered for decades to come as one of, if not THE greatest game of football ever played at a World Cup Finals. Yet, instead of being staged in a stadium worthy of such an occasion, such as Camp Nou several miles away, the drama was played out in a decrepit Sarria arena which would be bulldozed 15 years later. The 44,000-capacity crowd in attendance that day couldn’t have cared less! They created a truly electric atmosphere.
Due to having a better goal difference (3-1 to Italy’s 2-1) after the opening fixture against Argentina, Brazil knew they only needed to avoid defeat to march into the semi-final stage. For Italy, Enzo Bearzot had arrived at the defining moment of his managerial career. What any manager would want most going into such a crucial game is a settled side, with no injury worries. Bearzot got his wish. The side he named to face the might of Brazil was as follows:
Gentile, Collovati, Cabrini;
Oriali, Antognoni, Conti, Tardelli, Graziani;
Given the supreme threat that players like Zico, Eder, Falcao and Socrates represented, Scirea knew he might be busier than usual in the sweeper role. Antognoni was pulled back into a more conventional midfield role in a 1-3-5-1 configuration designed to try to wrestle control of the crucial central area away from Tele Santana’s star-studded midfield.
A Leaky Back Line…
As you’d imagine, Brazil came into the game brimming with self-confidence. However, they had only managed to keep a single clean-sheet in the tournament to date, when winning 4-0 against a New Zealand side who were almost in open awe of their opponents, ready to swap shirts before a whistle had sounded.
It took Italy just five minutes to expose the Brazilian defence, and it was Paolo Rossi who finally ‘broke his duck’ to score the goal. Some lovely build-up play down their right side eventually saw Conti play a pass across the pitch with the outside of his boot to the marauding Cabrini. The Juventus left-back looked up and swung a delicious cross to the back of the six-yard area where Rossi had inexplicably been left all alone by Junior. The Juventus striker met the ball firmly with his forehead and planted his header past the stranded Waldir Peres. “Easy peasy”.
Except that Italy could only hold their lead for seven minutes. Under constant pressure from a plethora of attacking talents in yellow shirts, it was Dino Zoff and his defenders who ended up red-faced on this occasion. The imposing samba captain Socrates was allowed far too much space to run into. He carried the ball forward fully 30 yards unchallenged, before playing a sumptuous one-two with Zico. Picking up the neat return flick just 25 yards out, Socrates continued running unopposed into the right side of the Italian penalty area, and then beat Zoff at his near post with a fierce right-footed drive. It was all too easy. 1-1.
Back on level pegging, the Brazilians’ penchant for over-playing caused their downfall once again. Just twelve minutes later, Peres collected a deflected free-kick from Antognoni and threw it out to right-back Leandro. He knocked it inside to Toninho Cerezo, but the midfield man was far too casual with his subsequent pass. His ball across his own penalty area ran between Junior and Luizinho, allowing the alert Rossi to intercept it, step past Junior and fire unerringly past the hopelessly exposed Peres. 2-1.
That shock jarred the South Americans into life, and they battered against the ‘blue Italian wall’ relentlessly in search of an equaliser. However, it was well into the second period before their efforts bore fruit. By then, the rhythm of the Italian defence had been upset by an injury to Fulvio Collovati, substituted off on 34 minutes for Inter Milan team-mate Giuseppe Bergomi. They had also run into Dino Zoff in top form. The veteran keeper pulled off a number of crucial saves to preserve the Italian advantage, including a brave dive at the feet of Cerezo on the edge of his penalty area to prevent a certain goal.
After 66 minutes Rossi squandered a glorious chance to give Italy a two-goal lead, side-footing wide of goal when it looked harder to miss than score.
The Brazilian equaliser just two minutes later started with an outrageous piece of skill by Falcao, who took down and laid off a Dino Zoff goal-kick to Luizinho in one slick movement- literally “blink and you miss it” stuff. Luizinho played it out to Junior, who came forward down the left side, before skillfully cutting inside Conti onto his right foot and passing it across the edge of the Italian penalty area to the feet of Falcao again.
As he pondered what he should do, Cerezo and Socrates made superb dummy runs to either side of the penalty area, dragging the Italian defenders with them, which allowed Falcao the time to take the ball onto his favoured left foot and hammer it home past a stranded Zoff.
Falcao’s celebration was that of a man who knew he might just have sent his country through to a World Cup semi-final; if the score remained at 2-2, Brazil would progress.
Just Bolt the Door…!?!
However, it wasn’t to be. In Brazil, this game would go down in infamy, later dubbed “the Disaster of Sarria”. The Samba Kings simply didn’t have it in their make-up to ‘shut up shop’ and grind out the draw they needed. That weakness cost them everything.
Against the general run of play, Italy broke and won a corner on 75 minutes. Bruno Conti launched the kick left-footed into the box, where Bergomi knocked it down for Marco Tardelli to swing his left boot at it. The shot wasn’t going to trouble Peres…. except that Rossi was waiting on the six-yard line to redirect the ball past the hapless balding keeper. The lazy Junior had stayed back on his goal-line and played everyone onside. The goal clinched a hat-trick for Rossi, and it left Brazil staring at elimination.
Predictably the yellow shirts swarmed forward, desperate for another equaliser. In doing so, they left themselves vulnerable to the counter-attack. Minutes later the Italians countered down the right side. Rossi found Oriali inside the box. His clever pass between the two Brazilian centre-backs allowed the magnificent Giancarlo Antognoni to drive right-footed past Peres for 4-2… except that it was disallowed for offside, a decision which still looks highly dubious on TV replays 38 years later.
There was just time left for Zoff to pull off one of the saves of the tournament, getting down smartly to his left to smother a point-blank bullet header by Oscar from an Eder free-kick, right on his goal-line.
Already Feeling Like Champions…
When referee Abe Klein blew up for full-time, the Italians celebrated as if they had actually just won the World Cup itself. In some ways, they had. The side they had just eliminated were easily the biggest threat they would encounter on the road to the Final in Madrid. Enzo Bearzot, years later, admitted that he “already felt like we were Champions of the World after the Brazil game.”
For Brazil, there was no consolation. They would take their place in history as almost certainly the most gifted team ever NOT to win the World Cup. The problem was that their star-studded midfield couldn’t make up for the huge deficiencies that existed in both their defense and forward line. Upfront, the lumbering Serginho resembled an overweight giraffe on roller skates. At the back, Waldir Peres was just the latest in a succession of Brazilian keepers who probably habitually dropped the soap in their bathroom showers. A more truthful description for Brazil 1982 might have been “the greatest midfield never to win a World Cup”.
Back in the victorious dressing-room, Italian Federation President Antonio Matarese found himself less than welcome when he went to congratulate his countrymen on their stunning triumph. One player reportedly opened the dressing-room windows, shouting “it smells of shit in here!” when he appeared at the door. Matarese wasn’t the only one who had to retract earlier disparaging comments; virtually the whole paparazzi had to do a rapid ‘about face’ regarding the abuse they had heaped on the players and manager only days earlier.
Not that their retractions made any difference; neither Bearzot nor any of his players were willing to provide a single quote or agree to an interview for any media outlet, Italian or otherwise. Their blackout would remain in place until the tournament was completed.
Semi-Final: Camp Nou, Barcelona, 8 July: Poland 0-2 Italy
After the celebrations of Sarria died down, Bearzot and his men started preparing for a semi-final clash with familiar foes: Poland. Having already met in the First Phase, there were no surprises waiting for either side, though the suspension of the talismanic Zbigniew Boniek was a huge, huge blow to the Poles. Boniek had scored a superb hat-trick against Belgium in the first game of the Second Phase. However, he had then picked up a needless booking in the subsequent 0-0 draw with the Soviets that had seen Poland win Group A.
For the first time in the tournament, Bearzot was forced into a change in his starting line-up too. Claudio Gentile had picked up a knock against Brazil, and was replaced by the equally capable Giuseppe Bergomi in the back three.
Bergomi, Collovati, Cabrini;
Oriali, Conti, Tardelli, Graziani;
The game kicked-off in front of a very disappointing crowd of just over 50,000 in the cavernous Camp Nou, though the early evening kick-off time (5.15pm local time) probably didn’t help boost the attendance either. By now hosts Spain had completed a disappointing campaign, eventually ousted from the tournament by West Germany, who had emerged from a tough Group B ahead of both the Spanish and England. The hosts’ exit had dampened the enthusiasm of some locals, as had the unexpected demise of the much-loved Brazilians three days earlier.
Back in Italy, however, most of the shops in the major towns and cities had voluntarily closed for the afternoon; World Cup fever had finally gripped a football-mad nation after their unexpected victory over Brazil. The shop-keepers knew they’d be wasting their time keeping their doors open- everyone was at home in front of their television sets, praying for another Azzurri win.
To be quite honest, and despite this being a semi-final game of a World Cup tournament (and therefore the second most important game of the tournament after the Final itself, and for the players involved one of the most important games of their entire careers) Italy versus Poland has almost been totally forgotten about over time. That is in no small part due to what would take place later the same evening in Sevilla, when France clashed with West Germany in the other semi-final game.
For one Italian player, this match was one of both personal triumph and tragedy. With new-found confidence in their attacking ability, the Azzurri carried the game to Poland from the first whistle, penning the East Europeans in their own half for long periods. The man chiefly responsible for ‘conducting the orchestra’, as he had on several occasions in earlier games, was Fiorentina maestro Giancarlo Antognoni. On 22 minutes, it was his well-flighted free-kick to the near post area which allowed Paolo Rossi to head Italy into a deserved lead.
However, just six minutes later, Antognoni’s tournament was over. Replaced by Gianpiero Marini due to sustaining a foot injury, he would now miss a World Cup Final that he had been instrumental in helping Italy to reach.
Cruising to the Bernabeu…
The game continued in a similar vein, even without Antognoni. The Poles simply couldn’t put sustained pressure on the men in blue shirts, with Bruno Conti now the fulcrum through which a lot of Italian possession and creativity went through.
Having withdrawn the tiring Graziani for Altobelli on 70 minutes, Bearzot was no doubt a relieved man when that man Rossi put the game ‘to bed’ three minutes later. By now the Poles were struggling to contain Rossi and Conti. Altobelli, with fresh legs, carried the ball forward on a swift counter-attack, before laying it outside to the left for Conti. The Roma man pushed it past a tired Polish defender before crossing exquisitely with his left boot. At the back of the area, the Polish defence had gone AWOL, allowing Rossi time to fall onto his knees as he dived to head the ball into the back of the unguarded Poland net.
It was as comfortable a semi-final victory as Bearzot could have hoped for, 2-0 totally flattering the Poles. Against all the prophecies of gloom and doom that had followed swiftly after the lacklustre showings in the opening couple of matches, the Italians had well and truly “turned a corner”, and now sat back to see who they would face in the Final showdown in Real Madrid’s refurbished Santiago Bernabeu ground on 11 July.
“Humble pie” was now getting consumed by the oven-load amongst the paparazzi. Legendary Italian midfielder Gianni Rivera, who had been critical of the team earlier, wrote in Rome’s La Repubblica, “I will wear the habit of a penitent and follow the procession of Saint Bartholomew in repentance at my home village.”
Paolo Rossi had taken just one week to go from “Public Enemy No. 1” (especially in Italy) to the “Darling Boy” of a grateful nation. He would never have to buy a bottle of wine or a pair of shoes in his country ever again.
Don’t let anyone ever dissuade you about the power of this beautiful game we love!!
France vs. West Germany
The second semi-final in Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium between France and West Germany is a game that has almost become legend. The Germans were a very hard-working team with just a smattering of truly gifted players: left-sided midfielder Pierre Littbarski and strikers Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Klaus Fischer. By contrast, France, led by enigmatic captain Michel Platini, were littered with sublime talents: Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse, Dominique Rocheteau, Didier Six…
Whereas the French were widely admired for their fluid ‘easy on the eye’ style, the Germans were largely disliked. They had been party to the shameful “disgrace of Gijon” earlier in the tournament, when they had conspired with Austria to “manage” their final Group game to arrive at the 1-0 result which sent both countries through to the Second Phase at Algeria’s expense. The only good thing to emerge from that disgrace was that FIFA learned their lesson, for once. Since that day, the concluding games in round-robin group phase tournament football are played at exactly the same time.
This semi-final clash (played in the midst of a heat-wave that had sent temperatures soaring throughout Spain for much of the last few weeks) turned into a war of attrition, which should ultimately have suited the Germans more. They led through an opportunist goal after 17 minutes by Littbarski, who looked out-of-place as the highly skilled operator in such a workmanlike team. With Rummenigge (then European “Footballer of the Year”) benched due to a slight thigh strain, Littbarski was easily the biggest threat to France.
Klaus Fischer had charged in to challenge on-rushing French keeper Jean-Luc Ettori after Fischer himself had failed to control a superb through-ball from Paul Breitner. The ball rebounded kindly to Littbarski on the 18-yard line and he kept a cool head to thump it low through Ettori’s legs before the keeper could reset himself. It was a great finish.
Ten minutes later France were level. Bernd Forster bear-hugged Rocheteau as he tried to get on the end of a knock-down in the German area; Platini made no mistake from the penalty spot, sending Harald Schumacher the wrong way.
Schumacher on Battiston: the worst foul of all time.
The defining moment of the game, and without doubt the most cynical, despicable assault I have ever seen on a football pitch arrived on the hour mark. French manager Michel Hidalgo had introduced midfielder Patrick Battiston for ineffective forward Bernard Genghini after 50 minutes. Ten minutes later, Battiston was sent through on goal by a superb defence-splitting pass from Platini.
As the Frenchman ran onto the bouncing through-ball, Schumacher came racing out of his area. However, he had no chance of getting to the ball ahead of Battiston. Battiston knocked the ball past the big German, but he wasn’t getting any further himself. Schumacher deliberately threw himself, arms up, elbows up, knees up, into the unsuspecting Battiston at head-height. It was a sickening, disgraceful assault.
As the ball trundled wide of the post, Patrick Battiston lay unconscious. The paramedics raced onto the pitch, and he was eventually carried off to hospital, where his injuries were akin to those of a car-crash victim: two missing teeth, three cracked ribs and damaged spinal vertebrae.
The referee gave a goal-kick, and didn’t even speak to Schumacher! Years later, that decision by a FIFA official still ranks as one of the worst I have ever witnessed. Had this happened on a public street, Schumacher would have done jail time for it.
By the time France’s Manuel Amoros hit the crossbar in stoppage time, I doubt there was anyone who didn’t want France to win the game (unless you were German, I guess). The French had been much the brighter team, but the scoreline remained locked at 1-1, and so 30 minutes extra-time was required. During the first period of that time, the French moved up a gear and took a 3-1 lead thanks to goals from Marius Tresor and a great finish from little Giresse. Surely that was it over?
Alas, no, it wasn’t. Jupp Derwall had brought on the half-fit Rummenigge for a tiring Hans-Peter Briegel, and the big blonde-haired Bayern Munich hitman showed his class by reducing the deficit with a cool finish from six yards after 102 minutes. Three minutes into the second period of extra-time, Fischer produced his specialty, an overhead bicycle kick, to spectacularly level the score at 3-3 again.
After 120 minutes of grueling action, the sides couldn’t be separated.
Therefore, to penalties we went… and heartbreak for France. Didier Six missed the chance to give the French a commanding 4-2 lead. After Pierre Littbarski had instead leveled the shoot-out at 3-3, it was left to centre-back Maxime Bossis to see his sudden-death shot saved by Schumacher. Horst Hrubesch then sent West Germany through to face Italy in Madrid, 5-4 on penalty kicks.
Final: Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, 11 July: Italy 3-1 West Germany
It had been a long, draining road to Madrid for Enzo Bearzot and his men. Now that they had reached their goal of making it to the decider, the formidable final hurdle posed by West Germany was going to be a very difficult one to negotiate. The manager had lost the considerable creative services of the unlucky Giancarlo Antognoni to a foot injury, and that may ironically have helped him make the decision to completely alter his tactical set-up for the biggest game of his life.
Gaetano Scirea continued to operate behind the defence, Bearzot using the Juventus man as an orthodox ‘sweeper’, but now behind a four-man defence that saw Claudio Gentile operate as a conventional right-back.
Gabriele Oriali was asked to play in the defensive-midfield role Scirea occasionally filled, with Bruno Conti switched to the right of a three-man midfield behind lone striker Paolo Rossi, with second striker Francesco Graziani again withdrawn to a left-midfield berth he’d played throughout the tournament. Marco Tardelli would be the central threat in a fluid 1-4-1-3-1 formation.
Gentile, Bergomi, Collovati, Cabrini;
Conti, Tardelli, Graziani;
Jupp Derwall had a strong panel of players to call upon too, though the exertion they had had to expend to overcome France had no doubt left the German players more weary-legged than they would have liked. His big call was to start captain and leader Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The Bayern star striker had sustained a thigh strain in the Phase II game with England; it was the sort of injury that needed recovery time which Derwall couldn’t afford him. The German team lined up as follows:
Kaltz, K. Forster, B. Forster, Briegel;
Rummenigge (c), Littbarski;
Uli Stielike operated much like Scirea did for Italy, a sweeper who liked to emerge from the back with the ball. The Forster brothers from VfB Stuttgart formed a solid central defensive pairing and Paul Breitner was the heartbeat of their team, knitting everything together. On the wings, Manny Kaltz and Hans-Peter Briegel played very much as modern wing-backs, spending as much time in forward positions as they did at full-back.
Cagey, cagey…and even more cagey.
As is inevitably the case in the biggest match of all, the opening half in Madrid was a cagey affair with little by way of goalmouth action. In fact, the most noteworthy event in the opening half-hour was the sight of Francesco Graziani in agony with a broken collarbone after only seven minutes. He was replaced by Alessandro Altobelli. Altobelli, despite mostly operating as a lethal striker for Inter Milan, was predominantly left-footed, so fitted into Bearzot’s system at left-midfield nicely.
Then Antonio Cabrini was presented with a golden chance to give Italy a valuable lead. The Azzurri were awarded a penalty by Brazilian referee Arnaldo Coelho for a foul on Conti. Normally allowing Cabrini a chance from 12 yards meant a certain goal. However, on the biggest stage of all, the Juventus man agonisingly steered his kick wide of Schumacher’s right-hand post.
The Germans looked the more dangerous as the half came to a close but went into the break with nothing to show for their efforts. Breitner was ever more menacing, breaking from midfield, but Gentile was tasked with stopping him, and was more than up to the task.
Jupp Derwall must have been a worried man at half-time. The score may have still been 0-0, but his side looked weary, with Rummenigge particularly struggling to have an impact.
The Italians continued their ‘pass and move’ football after the interval, and as the hour mark approached were finally rewarded. The ever-dangerous Oriali came forward with the ball, but was cynically taken down by a tired, clumsy challenge from behind by Rummenigge. Tardelli played the resultant free-kick quickly out wide to the right to Gentile before the Germans could get organised. Gentile swung an inviting low ball into the German penalty area, where Paolo Rossi stooped bravely on the six-yard line to head Italy into a deserved lead.
Derwall responded to going a goal behind by withdrawing Dremmler for the more attacking Hrubesch. However, less than ten minutes later his side were in even more trouble.
Desperate to claw their way back into the game, the Germans poured forward, but when Scirea stepped out and helped Rossi to rob Breitner, they were exposed on the counter-attack. Scirea came forward and combined well with Conti and Bergomi to the right of the German penalty area, before coolly laying a ball across the edge of the box for the oncoming Marco Tardelli. He spun the ball up with his right foot before half-volleying it into the opposite corner with his left boot. Tardelli wheeled away theatrically in celebration, a celebration which is now considered one of the most brilliant releases of emotion ever captured in sport.
Interviewed years later, Tardelli recalled:
“After I scored, my whole life passed before me- the same feeling they say you have when you are about to die. The joy of scoring in a World Cup Final was immense, something I dreamed about as a kid, and my celebration was a release after realising that dream. I was born with that scream inside me, that was just the moment it came out.”
Altobelli gets a finger wagging from the President!
More importantly, it gave Bearzot’s men a cushion against a tiring and demoralised German side. Derwall immediately withdrew talismanic captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge for Hansi Muller; Rummenigge had played through a thigh problem, but was now visibly flagging.
Ten minutes later, it was all over. The phenomenal Bruno Conti, surely the “Man of the Tournament”, broke on another swift counter-attack down the right-wing. With hardly a white shirt in sight, he had plenty of time to make his way into the German area before picking out the unmarked Altobelli near the penalty spot. Altobelli drew Schumacher out before switching the ball past the exposed keeper onto his favoured left foot and smacking it through a retreating Manny Kaltz’s legs into the empty net.
Italian President Sandro Pertini was in attendance at the Final as a ‘guest of honour’ and sat beside King Juan Carlos I of Spain. He had famously wagged his finger towards the German delegation after Altobelli had scored, indicating his belief that the victory was now finally secured by his countrymen. He was right.
West Germany did pull a goal back two minutes later. Briegel was fouled on the left side of the Italian area by Conti; from Hansi Muller’s resultant free-kick, the ball eventually fell to Paul Breitner, who volleyed home right-footed past a stranded Zoff from 15 yards. Breitner didn’t even bother to celebrate- he knew it was little more than a consolation.
Bearzot brought on veteran soldier Franco Causio with a minute left. It was the gesture of a man with compassion. Causio, on the verge of retirement, would get to appear on the biggest stage, if just for a few moments, and claim his winners’ medal.
When referee Coelho blew for time a few minutes later, Italy were World Champions. It was an impossible dream realised by Enzo Bearzot and his squad, against all the background ‘noise’ of a match-fixing scandal, fines, bans and paparazzi furore.
Legacy and Legend…
As captain Dino Zoff hoisted the gleaming golden orb, at 40 years of age he became the oldest player to do so. It’s a record which is unlikely to ever be beaten. He is still the only Italian to have ever been both a World Champion and a European Champion, having won the latter competition in 1968.
Paolo Rossi, having blanked in the first four games of the tournament, and despite being the arch-villain in the eyes of the Italian media, ended up with the Golden Boot. He netted six goals in the final three games (versus Brazil (3), Poland (2) and West Germany) to pip rival Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to the award. It was a spectacular vindication of Enzo Bearzot’s persistent faith in the Juventus striker. His performances in Spain won him the “European Footballer of the Year” award for 1982.
In the years that followed, the achievement of those Italian players in overcoming the handicaps and hurdles placed before them, as well as turning their form around after a very poor opening few games, has seen most of them become renowned in Italy and further afield.
The likes of Zoff, Scirea, Cabrini, Tardelli, Rossi and Conti are considered amongst the best players Italy has ever produced in their respective positions. It is a sentiment I wouldn’t disagree with. In terms of repeated brilliance, Bruno Conti’s performances in successive games against Argentina, Brazil, Poland and West Germany might be the greatest ‘four in a row’ at the highest level of the game that I’ve ever seen. The man was beyond belief in those games, carrying his team forward with almost unbreakable willpower.
In 2004, Brazilian legend Pele was asked to name the 125 greatest living footballers; in his list he included Dino Zoff, Paolo Rossi, Giuseppe Bergomi and Franco Baresi, all of whom were at Espana ’82 representing Italy.
Alas, tragedy befell Gaetano Scirea, the inspirational sweeper for both Juventus and the Azzurri. Whilst working as a scout for his beloved Juventus in Poland in September 1989, he was killed in a head-on car crash with a truck.
Enzo Bearzot remains the longest-ever serving manager of Italy. He was Azzurri boss from September 1975 to June 1986, selecting the team on 104 occasions. He is also recognised as one of the most astute tactical managers of all time, able to mould his team set-up to both enhance the abilities of his own players and expose the weaknesses of his opponents.
Bearzot passed away on 21 December 2010, at the age of 83. Every year, the winner of the “Manager of the Year” award in Italy is presented with the “Enzo Bearzot Award”, named in his honour. He won the greatest World Cup tournament of all time, with a side that nobody fancied until after they’d disposed of Zico’s Brazil.
I hope you enjoyed this three-part review of Italy’s victory at the Espana ’82 tournament. It remains one of football’s greatest ‘triumph from adversity’ stories.