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WORLD CUP: Rossi explodes into life as Italy wins 3rd title

(AP Photo/File)

By PAN PYLAS

Associated Press

Italy has a reputation of being a slow-starter at the World Cup, not least because of its exploits at the 1982 tournament in Spain.

The team barely advanced after drawing its three group games against Poland, Cameroon and Peru, scoring only twice. With an unbalanced 24-team format at that World Cup, third place was enough for some to make it through to the second group stage.

But few gave the Azzurri much of a chance to go further, not least because its reward was to be grouped against defending champion Argentina, now reinforced with a young Diego Maradona, and Brazil, the team that had lit up the first round.

After beating Argentina 2-1, Italy knew that only victory against Brazil would confirm its place in the semifinals.

Brazil was playing the most exhilarating football, and a first World Cup triumph in 12 years looked likely. The goals were abundant even though Brazil arguably didn't have a quality striker. Why would that matter, anyway, when the team was blessed with an array of attacking midfielders in Zico, Socrates, Falcao and Toninho Cerezo?

But in that match, the hitherto out-of-form Paulo Rossi exploded into life.

Rossi, who had just returned from a suspension for alleged match-fixing, hadn't scored in Italy's first four games and coach Enzo Bearzot was under intense pressure to drop him.

Bearzot's faith was rewarded after Rossi scored a hat trick that saw Italy beat Brazil 3-2 in one of the great World Cup encounters. No Brazil team since has ever matched the attacking intent of coach Tele Santana's side.

With another two goals in the semifinals against Poland, Rossi was on fire and a third World Cup triumph for the Azzurri was looming.

In the final against West Germany, Rossi put Italy ahead with his sixth goal in three matches. Midfielder Marco Tardelli soon doubled the lead, his celebration one of the most memorable in World Cup history. Alessandro Altobelli added a third to give Italy a surprisingly easy victory despite a late consolation goal from Paul Breitner. The 3-1 victory ensured Italy won the World Cup for the first time in 44 years.

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AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Updated June 12, 2018

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