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Paolo Rossi: From outcast to hero

Paolo Rossi spectacularly ended two years out of the game by inspiring Italy to victory in the 1982 World Cup.

india Updated: May 06, 2006 18:33 IST

Banned for his alleged involvement in a match-fixing scandal, Paolo Rossi spectacularly ended two years out of the game by inspiring Italy to victory in the 1982 World Cup.

A lithe, skillful striker, Rossi had been marked down as one of Italian football's brightest young talents after a series of impressive displays for the Azzurri at the 1978 tournament.

Quick in thought and deed, 'Pablito' had formed an intuitive partnership with Juventus' Roberto Bettega in Argentina, one that seemed destined to flourish for years to come.

But in 1980, Rossi's world fell apart. Playing for Perugia against Avellino while on loan from Lanerossi Vicenza, he scored twice in a match that finished 2-2.

Yet when it emerged that the result had been fixed, Rossi was hit with a three-year ban, though that was later reduced to two. Despite being out in the cold, he was bought by Juventus for $700,000 in 1981.

Critically short of match fitness, Rossi was nevertheless recalled to the Italian squad as soon as his suspension ended on April 29, 1982, less than five weeks before the start of the World Cup.

"I knew that if Rossi wasn't in Spain I wouldn't have had an opportunist inside the penalty box," said Italy coach Enzo Bearzot, explaining his decision years later.

However during the first phase in Spain, it looked as if Bearzot's gamble on Rossi's fitness was going to backfire dismally.

Another sterile performance against Cameroon, again 1-1, and Italy's press immediately began pointing the finger at Bearzot and his out-of-form striker.

With time running out, Rossi played well in the Italians' opening game of the second round group phase, involved in the first goal as Argentina were beaten 2-1.

Suddenly, against Brazil in a match Italy had to win to reach the semi-finals, Rossi found his goalscoring touch. A well-taken hat-trick sent favourites Brazil to a 3-2 defeat and Italy were in the semi-finals.

Rossi later described his first goal against Brazil, a perfectly timed header to connect with a cross from the left by Antonio Cabrini, as one of the most important of his career.

"It freed me psychologically and also increased my motivation. Like all strikers, once you get a goal you want more as soon as possible," he said.

From that point on Rossi was unstoppable. Both goals in the 2-0 semi-final victory over Poland and the opening goal in the 3-1 win over West Germany in the final saw Rossi finish as top scorer and player of the tournament.

In the mid-1980s Rossi enjoyed great success with Juventus, winning the league, cup, Cup Winners Cup and European Cup against before moving to AC Milan in 1985.

He returned for his third World Cup finals in 1986, but by then a series of injuries had taken their toll and he failed to make a single appearance.