ROME • Paolo Rossi, Italy’s goalscoring hero from their victorious 1982 World Cup campaign and scorer of a hat-trick against Brazil in one of the most famous matches in the competition’s history, yesterday died at the age of 64.
The celebrated striker’s death comes with the football world still in mourning for Argentina icon Diego Maradona, who died last month of a heart attack.
Italian TV channel RAI Sport, where Rossi had been working as a pundit, said “Pablito” had died of an “incurable disease”.
Rossi’s wife, Federica Cappelletti, posted a photo of herself and her husband on Instagram along with the words “per sempre” or forever in Italian.
“There will never be anyone like you, unique, special…” she also wrote on Facebook.
Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina said Rossi was “indelibly linked to the blue shirt and his style of play inspired many strikers of future generations”.
Rossi, whose lithe figure belied his quickness and agility, won two Serie A titles, a European Cup and a Coppa Italia with Juventus but will be most fondly remembered for lighting up the 1982 World Cup in Spain with six goals.
His Azzurri selection came after a two-year ban for a match-fixing scandal and was initially criticised by pundits, who wrote him off as out of shape.
But Rossi struck one of the World Cup’s greatest trebles and he later called his scoring streak “a personal redemption”, having always denied any wrongdoing.
Brazil, led by Falcao, Socrates and Zico, were the tournament’s runaway favourites and had enchanted the world with their flowing football.
But Italy, via Rossi’s heroics, eliminated the Selecao after a 3-2 upset to move into the semi-finals. He again made the difference against Poland, sinking them with a brace for a 2-0 win.
That set up a final with West Germany and Rossi got Italy’s opening goal in a 3-1 victory that gave them their third World Cup title and their first since 1938.
He won both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball awards, a campaign regarded as one of the best individual World Cup performances of all time and was also awarded the 1982 Ballon d’Or as Europe’s top footballer.
“This came out of the blue,” said former goalkeeper and 1982 teammate Dino Zoff, who is 78. “We’d heard something was wrong but I didn’t think it was that serious.
“I had a wonderful relationship with him, he was a lovely guy. This is something which is difficult to understand.”
Another former teammate, Giancarlo Antognoni, added: “Another piece of history of my beloved football has gone.”
Rossi, who also scored three goals at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, remains Italy’s joint-highest scorer in the tournament alongside Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri.
He was included in the 1986 World Cup squad but did not play and ended his playing career a year later at 30 with Verona.
The one who beat Zico’s Brazil, Maradona’s Argentina, Boniek’s Poland and in the final, the Germany of Rummenigge.
Newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport said that Rossi was “the one who beat Zico’s Brazil, Maradona’s Argentina, (Zbigniew) Boniek’s Poland and in the final, the (West) Germany of (Karl-Heinz) Rummenigge”.
Former Italy prime minister Matteo Renzi tweeted: “In our hearts, forever. Farewell Pablito”, while former Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who managed him at Juve, added: “Bye bye Paolo. Players should never depart before coaches.”