World Cup Classics 1982: Italy v Brazil

1982 World Cup: Paolo Rossi celebrates heading Italy in front against Brazil in Barcelona

There are classic games and memorable moments. Then there is 1982 Italy v Brazil. Widely regarded as one of the greatest World Cup clashes of all time, the game had everything. Brilliant goals, mistakes, great goalkeeping and non stop attacking football from two superb teams who both played to win. Here is the story of that game:

The 1982 World Cup, my first as an eight year old boy, was a memorable tournament from start to finish. Played over a glorious summer it featured three home nations: England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Holders Argentina did not pull out of the tournament despite the bitter fighting in the Falkland Islands and Brazil were the pre tournament favourites, with many claiming it was their best team since Pele’s glorious side of 1970. The European challenge would come from France and West Germany, while hosts Spain hoped that home advantage could propel them to victory.

Italy had scraped through the first round having drawn three games with Peru, Poland and Cameroon. The press had dubbed them boring and defensive and coach Enzo Bearzot was under pressure to drop star striker Paolo Rossi. The Juventus man, recently returned from a match fixing ban (in which he denied any involvement) was a shadow of the player that had scored three goals in the 1978 World Cup. The Azzurri had finished fourth in Argentina, losing the 3rd/4th Place Play Off 2-1 to Brazil.

In contrast Brazil had thrilled with their superb brand of attacking football beating the USSR, Scotland and New Zealand. In a format never repeated since, instead of knock out games, a series of four groups of three teams would battle it out for a place in the Semi Finals. In the original ‘Group of Death’, Brazil and Italy were drawn with holders Argentina in Barcelona. Only one team could make it through and the holders could boast £5M super star Diego Maradona, who had joined Barcelona just before the World Cup.

1982 World Cup: Diego Maradona tries to shake off Italian man marker Claudio Gentile

On the 29th of June 1982 Italy lined up against Argentina. The holders were expected to win but Italy had a secret weapon. To stop Maradona the Italians man marked him with their toughest defender. Born in Tripoli to Italian parents, Claudio Gentile of Juventus had a fearsome reputation. He lived up to it by kicking, grabbing and fouling Maradona for 90 minutes. In a different era where referees were more lenient, he escaped with just a booking but he would have been dismissed today. With Maradona subdued Italy produced their best performance of the World Cup and goals from Marco Tardelli and Antonio Cabrini gave the Azzurri a 2-1 victory.

Argentina faced Brazil on the 2nd of July knowing that only a victory would keep their hopes alive. A crowd of 44,000 fans were treated to a sparkling display of football by a brilliant Brazilian team. Captain Socrates ran the midfield with strikers Zico and Eder outstanding in a 3-1 victory for Brazil. Maradona frustrated at his lack of protection by referees snapped and was sent off in the 85th minute.

1982 World Cup: Zico celebrates giving Brazil the lead against Argentina in Barcelona

So onto the Sarria Stadium in Barcelona on the 6th of July 1982. A date forever etched in the memory of every Italian and Brazilian. Both teams knew that a victory would take them into the Semi Finals. Brazil knew that a draw was enough for them to reach the last four. However it went against their instinct to sit back and play for a draw and Italy knew they had to attack to take anything out of the game.

1982 World Cup: Italy line up to face Brazil in Barcelona

1982 World Cup: Brazil line up to face Italy in Barcelona

Israeli referee Abraham Klein started the game on a steamy afternoon and after a cagey start Italy took a shock lead. Left back Antonio Cabrini crossed from the left and Paolo Rossi headed Italy into the lead, unmarked at the far post. It was the striker’s first goal in blue since 1979. Tele Santana’s team did not panic, after all they were behind against both the USSR and Scotland but had come back to win both times. However the Italian defence would be a far tougher nut to crack.

On 11 minutes Brazil missed a great chance. Lumbering centre forward Serghino was clean though on goal but dragged his shot badly wide from the edge of the box. BBC commentator John Motson claimed: “The sort of miss that a Sunday morning player shouldn’t be guilty of.” Then just one minute later, Brazilian skipper Socrates waltzed through the Italian defence after Zico’s brilliant turn and pass and beat veteran Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff at his near post. The Brazilian fans who filled the ground exploded into wild celebrations waving their flags and firing flares and horns into the air.

1982 World Cup: Socrates fires home Brazil’s equaliser against Italy in Barcelona

1982 World Cup: Socrates celebrates scoring against Italy in Barcelona

Gentile was then booked for a foul on Zico and his yellow card meant he would miss the Semi Final if Italy made it through. Brazil continued to stroke the ball around in midfield and their play forced the Italians back to their own box. However just as the South American’s threatened to take the lead they fell behind again in the 25th minute. The Brazilian defence and goalkeeper Waldir Peres, their achilles heal were caught out by a loose pass by Cerezo and Rossi fired a shot from the edge of the box straight at Peres, who let the ball squirm through his grasp and Italy took a 2-1 lead. Brazil continued to attack and winger Eder went close flashing a shot across the face of goal.

At half time Italy had a 2-1 lead but few people believed Brazil would not come roaring back in the second half. Zico left the field with his shirt almost ripped in half by Gentile and if anything it made the Brazilians even more determined to sweep the Italians aside in the second half. Socrates, a qualified doctor, began the second half probing the Italian defence and the superb movement of Zico and Eder was causing Italy problems. In the 50th minute Cerezo was played clean through by Zico’s slide rule pass, but 40 year old Dino Zoff raced from his line and smothered his shot. Brazil went even closer a few minutes later, when following a scramble in the box, Zoff saved Serghino’s back heel from point blank range.

It looked like that miss would prove decisive when just 60 seconds later Rossi was clean through against Waldir Peres but he fired wide from inside the box. It was an incredible miss and a huge let off for Brazil. They poured forward, at times playing with four forwards, desperate for an equaliser. In the 68th minute, Falcao the Roma midfielder fired a tremendous shot past Zoff from the edge of the box to make it 2-2. His drive was struck with such force that it flew past Zoff. Falcao in one of the most memorable images from the 1982 World Cup, screamed with joy and raced to the Brazilian bench to celebrate.

1982 World Cup: Roberto Falcao equalises against Italy in Barcelona

Would Brazil sit back and play out the rest of the game knowing a draw would give them a place in Semi Finals? Italy had to attack now but Brazil knew no other way to play but to go forward and try to score more goals. Then incredibly Italy took the lead for the third time. Brazil failed to clear a corner and Rossi completed his hat trick in the six yard box.

1982 World Cup: Paulo Rossi (20) completes his hat trick against Brazil in Barcelona

It was the first hat trick by an Italian since the 1934 World Cup. Shocked, the Brazilians were now less than 15 minutes away from going out of a World Cup they had lit up with their brilliant football. In the 80th minute Socrates had the ball in the net but he was flagged offside. Brazil threw everybody forward but a stubborn Italian defence held firm. Italy scored again as Antognoni fired home from a break away, but the goal was wrongly ruled offside. In the last minute Brazil won a free kick on the left. Eder curled it to the far post and Oscar met it with a bullet header. It seemed a certain goal but Zoff threw himself across his goal and held the ball on the goal line. The Brazilians claimed an equaliser but Zoff had somehow kept the ball out. In injury time Eder whipped in a dangerous corner but Zoff clawed it away. That was their last chance and Klein blew the final whistle to end a pulsating game. Brazil had played brilliantly, full of skill and invention, but they came across an Italian team freed from caution and with a born again striker Paolo Rossi.

The game would be dubbed ‘The Sarria Tragedy’ in Brazil but manager Tele Santana was unrepentant. Applauded by the press at the post match conference he said: “I am proud of the players, we played to win”. The game would haunt Brazilian football for many years. It lead to a change of Brazilian philosophy and their 1986, and 1990 World Cup teams were more physical and defensive, adopting a more ‘European’ style of football.

Critics complained of a lack of skill and attacking football but in the 1994 World Cup Carlos Alberto Parriera, Santana’s assistant in 1982, finally led Brazil to victory, ironically against Italy on penalties in Los Angeles. Like the 1954 Hungarian, and 1974 Dutch World Cup sides, the 1982 Brazil team is still remembered as one of the greatest teams never to win the World Cup.

Tragically Rossi died last year aged just 64 from lung cancer. However he won the 1982 golden boot after his six goals lead Italy victory, after they overcame Poland in the Semi Finals and West Germany in the Final in Madrid. The Italians missed a penalty in the first half, the only time it has ever happened in World Cup Final but ran out comfortable 3-1 winners.

A short documentary on that Brazilian team with interviews and action can be found on youtube:


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