Sports

Legendary Italy striker Paolo Rossi dies

THE ICON . . . Italy’s Paolo Rossi (left) gets away from Brazil’s Junior during the 1982 World Cup finals where he shot to global fame after scoring a hat-trick against the Samba Boys. Rossi died yesterday at the age of 64

ROME. — Former Italian footballer Paolo Rossi, who led the national team to victory in the 1982 World Cup, has died aged 64.

The celebrated striker’s death comes with the football world still in mourning for Argentina icon Diego Maradona, who passed away late last month.

According to Italian media, he passed away after battling a long illness.

His wife Federica Cappelletti posted on Instagram a picture of them together with the words “Per sempre” (“forever” in Italian).

She did not disclose the cause of his death. Italian media are reporting that he had a long illness.

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Rossi’s death was also announced yesterday morning by Italian TV channel RAI Sport, where he had been working as a pundit.

“Such terribly sad news: Paolo Rossi has left us,” RAI Sport presenter Enrico Varriale tweeted.

“Unforgettable Pablito, who made all of us fall in love in that summer of 1982 and who was a precious and competent work colleague in RAI over recent years.”

The Italian football federation (FIGC) said flags would fly at half-mast at its headquarters in Rome and its technical centre in Florence.

“Pablito’s passing away is another moment of deep pain, a wound to the heart of all fans that is difficult to heal,” said FIGC president Gabriele Gravina.

“We’ve lost a friend and an icon of Italian football.

“In spurring the national team on to success in 1982, he had Italians celebrating in squares across the country, both for him and with him.

“He indelibly tied his name to the Azzurri and, through his style of play, inspired numerous strikers of future generations.”

A statement from Vicenza, who Rossi helped win promotion to Serie A in 1977, said: “Sometimes there are simply no words to express the pain we are all experiencing.”

Milan, where he played in the 1985-86 season, said Rossi would “forever be in our memory”.

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Rossi won two Italian Serie A titles, a European Cup and a Coppa Italia during his playing career but will be most fondly remembered for his six goals at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

After failing to score in the opening four games of the tournament, Rossi scored a hat-trick against Brazil in the second group stage to send Italy through to the semi-finals, where he scored a brace in a 2-0 win over Poland.

The former Juventus and AC Milan striker opened the scoring in the final as Italy beat West Germany 3-1 to claim their third World Cup — and their first since 1938.

He was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1982, becoming only the third Italian to win the award at the time.

Born in Prato, Tuscany, Rossi played his entire club career in Italy. He was banned for three years in 1980 as part of the “Totonero” match-fixing scandal but always denied any wrongdoing.

The ban was later reduced to two years, allowing him to return to the Italy squad ahead of the victorious 1982 World Cup campaign.

He also scored three goals at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, and with a total of nine goals, he remains Italy’s joint-highest scorer at the World Cup with Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri.

Rossi was the top scorer and the best player of the 1982 tournament in Spain.

His memorable hat-trick eliminated favourites Brazil in a match many fans see as one of the greatest in World Cup history.

The former Juventus and Milan player is widely regarded as one of the best forwards of all time and is most famous for his heroics at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

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In the final he scored the opening goal as Italy defeated West Germany 3-1. Earlier in the tournament, in what is still considered one of the best World Cup performances, he scored a hat-trick to beat Brazil 3-2 and send one of the favourites out early. Rossi won the tournament’s Golden Boot and Golden Ball and, in the same year, the Ballon d’Or.

“On one hand I felt fulfilled. I said to myself, ‘you’ve made it’,” he said in a 2018 FIFA documentary. “On the other hand, I was disappointed that all of this just ended. The World Cup was over.”

He also scored three goals at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. With a total of nine goals, he remains Italy’s joint highest scorer at the World Cup with Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri.

Rossi nearly missed the competition after being banned from football for two years for his involvement in a match-fixing scandal.

At club level, the striker was also a prolific goalscorer for Vicenza. He also played for a number of other Italian Serie A outfits, including Juventus and Milan.

In 2004, he was named by Brazilian legend Pelé as one of the top 125 greatest living footballers.

After retiring from football in the late 1980s, Rossi worked as a pundit for Sky, Mediaset and Rai.

Italians woke yesterday to eulogies for one of the country’s favourite footballing sons. Rossi was “the one who beat Zico’s Brazil, Maradona’s Argentina, Boniek’s Poland and in the final, the Germany of Rummenigge,” La Gazzetta dello Sport said on its website.

Tributes continued to flow on social media, with the former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi tweeted: “In our hearts, forever. Farewell Pablito.”

Jürgen Klinsmann was among world football figures to share his condolences. “Dear Pablito, we always remember you!” he tweeted. Rossi is the second World Cup winner to die in the space of two weeks following last month’s death of Argentinian great Diego Maradona from a heart attack. — BBC Sport.

HERALD