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From bribery ban to Ballon d’Or: Paolo Rossi’s highs and lows

10 December 2020   |   8:22 pm
Football is mourning the death of Paolo Rossi, the prolific striker whose goals led the Azzurri to World Cup glory in 1982. Here are the stand-out moments from the career of one of Italy's greatest players

Italian player Paolo Rossi holds a stopwatch and a whistle and as he referees a friendly football match between France and Italy as part of the Monaco International television festival and the needs of a show. – Paolo Rossi, a hero of Italian football who inspired the national side to victory in the 1982 World Cup, has died aged 64, Italian media reported on December 10, 2020. (Photo by Eric GAILLARD / AFP)

Football is mourning the death of Paolo Rossi, the prolific striker whose goals led the Azzurri to World Cup glory in 1982. Here are the stand-out moments from the career of one of Italy’s greatest players, who has died at the age of 64:

Inauspicious start
Rossi made his debut with Juventus in 1973 but the early years of his career were compromised by injury, needing three operations on his knees. He was farmed out to Como, where he made his Serie A debut, and then loaned to Serie B side Vicenza for the 1976-77 season, moving from the right-wing to center-forward. It proved a momentous switch. Rossi was Serie B’s top scorer that year, firing Vicenza to the promotion, and he led the Serie A scoring charts the following season, earning a call-up to Enzo Bearzot’s Italy squad for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Rossi shone in the tournament, scoring three goals as the Italians finished fourth.

Totonero scandal
Despite his World Cup heroics, Rossi again struggled with injuries in the following season, and Vicenza were relegated, loaning their star player to Serie A side Perugia. Their disaster struck as Rossi became embroiled in the ‘Totonero’ match-fixing scandal and was banned for three years, later reduced to two as he continually protested his innocence. The ban ruled Rossi out of the 1980 European Championship, where hosts Italy finished fourth. However, he was rehired by Juventus and returned in time for the tail-end of the Turin team’s victorious 1981-82 season, earning a spot in Italy’s 1982 World Cup squad.

World Cup gold
An out-of-shape Rossi and Italy started the World Cup slowly, with three straight draws in the first group stage. However, a 2-1 win over Argentina was followed by the most memorable match of Rossi’s career, when he hit a hat-trick as Italy downed star-studded Brazil 3-2 to reach the semi-finals. There, Rossi was again Italy’s sole scorer in the 2-0 win over Poland, and in the final, he hit the opener as the Azzurri swamped West Germany 3-1. Italy’s third World Cup title, and first since the 1930s, owed everything to Rossi, who won the Golden Boot for top-scoring with six goals, the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, and that year’s Ballon d’Or.

Heysel tragedy
After the World Cup, Rossi enjoyed his most successful club spell with Juventus, where he formed a formidable partnership with Michel Platini and Zbigniew Boniek. Juventus won the 1983 Coppa Italia, the 1983-84 Serie A title and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, and the 1984 UEFA Super Cup. Rossi also top-scored with six goals as Juventus reached the 1983 European Cup final, where they lost to Hamburg. However, Rossi’s final game for Juventus was marked by tragedy. At the 1985 European Cup final, where Juventus beat Liverpool, 39 fans died in a stampede and wall collapse following crowd disturbances. Season-long spells at Milan and Hellas Verona followed before Rossi retired in 1987.

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