The Amazing Story of Italy's 1982 World Cup Hero Paolo Rossi

Matteo Bonetti@@TheCalcioGuyContributor IMay 27, 2014

Tony Duffy/Getty Images

Paolo Rossi wasn't your typical striker. He wasn't the epitome of a modern-day No. 9, nor was he even considered as a champion before he made history. He was small, frail and lacked the technique that some other Italian heroes had.

Rossi began his footballing life with Juventus, but he wouldn't play a match with them until eight years after he was first signed. After undergoing three various knee operations in the early stages of his career, the striker born in Prato was loaned to Serie B side Como.

Only a year after that, he would go on to score 21 goals and help his new club, Vicenza, to Serie A promotion.

Jun 1985:  Portrait of Paolo Rossi the Italian Centre Forward during a Summer tour of Mexico.  \ Mandatory Credit: David  Cannon/Allsport
David Cannon/Getty Images

It was then that he started getting noticed as a potential option for the Italian national team. The successive season, he netted 24 times with Vicenza and became the first striker to be the Capocannoniere in the top two divisions in consecutive seasons, further showing his potential as a player who could make the difference in the top flight as well.

This fine domestic form led Enzo Bearzot to call him up to the Italian national team during the 1978 World Cup, where he went on to score three goals in the competition. It was the perfect experience for the event that would ensue four years later.

The events at the 1978 World Cup are hardly the main point of any Paolo Rossi story. It was what he would do later in his career that is still whispered about in quiet alleyways around Italy and throughout the world.

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In 1980, Rossi found himself engulfed in the now-infamous scandal known as Totonero while he played for Perugia. The striker was suspended for three years from football but had his sentence shortened to two seasons instead. Rossi maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal.

Paolo Rossi Key Stats

Shortly after, Rossi signed for Juventus and would be called up to the 1982 World Cup, much to the complaint of the media who said he was out of shape and simply not fit enough to be part of an Azzurri squad that wasn't expected to seriously challenge for the trophy.

During Italy's first three matches in the competition, Paolo Rossi was diabolical, wandering aimlessly around the pitch and not being an influence in any shape.

After Italy knocked out Argentina with a 2-1 victory, Rossi would go on to score one of the most memorable hat-tricks in history against a superior Brazilian side, as Italy triumphed 3-2 in that match that would go down as one of the most exciting in history.

Italy made it to the World Cup semifinals against Poland. In this match, the striker went on to net a brace, which was good enough to get the Azzurri to the finals where they'd face Germany.

In one of the most remarkable stories in football, Paolo Rossi, a striker who was only recently banned from football and hopelessly out of shape, went on to bravely carry a nation to glory as he managed to score the first goal in Italy's 3-1 win against Germany in the final.

With six goals in the entire competition, Paolo Rossi won the Golden Boot and went on to achieve superhuman status among Italians, and his career is still proudly boasted about.

Throughout his career, Rossi would score 20 goals in 48 total matches with the Italian senior side. He's one of those few players who will be remembered almost exclusively for his contributions in the World Cup rather than in the domestic league, where others make their fame.

It's one of the most remarkable stories in sports, and one that is made even more memorable by the fact that it happened during a tournament as prestigious as the World Cup.

Paolo Rossi became an Italian hero in the most unusual of circumstances. The Azzurri can only hope that this year someone will replicate this Italian legend and carry their country to the ultimate prize once again.

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