Paolo Rossi scored six goals in three games for Italy at the 1982 World Cup.
By Michael Lewis
Paolo Rossi, who wrote his name into the record books and found his way into the hearts of Italian soccer fans for his remarkable performance during the Azzurri’s run to the 1982 World Cup title, passed away on Wednesday night.
He was 64.
“A very sad news: Paolo Rossi left us,” RAI Sport presenter Enrico Varriale said on Twitter. “Unforgettable Pablito, who made us all fall in love in that summer of ‘82 and who has been a precious and competent workmate at RAI in recent years. RIP dear Paolo.”
The cause of his death was not immediately known.
If you want to get technical, Rossi’s contribution to World Cup folklore lasted only three games. But what a memorable three games.
After sitting out two years for his involvement in a match-fixing scandal, Rossi caught fire in a quarterfinal round match against favored Brazil in which he scored all of Italy’s goals in a 3-2 victory.
He connected for both goals in the 2-0 semifinal triumph over Poland and the first in the 3-1 win over West Germany.
Rossi won the Golden Boot as the leading goal-scorer of the competition and the Golden Ball as the MVP. He also earned the 1982 Ballon d’Or as the European Footballer of the Year.
Despite his incredible production at Spain ’82, Rossi did not play a minute in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and Italy subsequently was given the boot by France in the second round.
Born on Sept. 23, 1956, Rossi played in Serie A with Como, Vicenza, Perugia, Juventus, Milan and Verona. His professional career lasted until 1987.
He scored 20 goals in 48 international matches.
During his two-year suspension, Rossi did take a stab at indoor soccer in the United States, playing in an exhibition game for the Buffalo Stallions Nov. 1, 1980. He scored a goal and an assist a 9-8 victory over the Philadelphia Fever in the Major Indoor Soccer League game.
“I was very impressed with Rossi,” Stallions head coach told this writer at the time. “He adjusted quickly and easily. He said that he loved the game. … It was a good conditioning game.”
Rossi never pursued an indoor career. He returned to Italy, put the suspension behind him and made some serious and unforgettable history in Spain.