World Cup 1982 is often remembered for the greatest team never to win one, Brazil, or Italy who looked barely fit to deserve a place yet recovered to win the thing. For me, it was a World Cup of incidents, shock events, OMG moments. Most have them, some more than others (2002) but Spain 1982 seemed to have more than its fair share. This series considers the ten moments which shocked the World Cup 1982.
So far we’ve had the farce of a draw, Argentina’s ignominious defence of their title, Hungary’s record score, shock results, Kuwait’s sulk, match fixing, Maradona’s red card, Italy’s remarkable fall and rise and Schumacher’s assault on Battiston. This final part is included as it lived up to its hype as the greatest World Cup match ever.
The Best World Cup Match Ever
Italy thought they’d already played in the best World Cup match ever, when they beat West Germany 4-3 in a pulsating Semi-Final in Mexico 1970. But this game probably trumped that, mainly on account of the players involved.
I covered the story of Italy’s Jekyll and Hyde World Cup in Part Four and so they went into this match on the back of their 2-1 victory over Argentina, their first victory of the tournament. They were much improved from their dire displays in the First Phase, even Paolo Rossi had shown signs of the old Rossi despite still not finding the net.
Brazil were a far different prospect. They were flying, playing some of the best football the world had seen since the Dutch in 1974 or Brazil of 1970. They had captivated the watching world with some sumptuous football. They were a bit late to get going against USSR coming from a goal down to win comfortably. They were also a goal down against Scotland yet came back to win 4-1 and then hit four without reply against New Zealand. But it was the manner of their goals which had caught the imagination. They were resounding 3-1 winners over Argentina in their first match of this Second Phase, which meant they could afford a draw to reach the Semi-Finals. The world had been crying out for a Brazil side in the Final, they were disappointing in ’74 and while they were patchy in ’78 they were cheated out of a place in the Final.
Amongst the clamour for their crowning there were doubts. They were playing the most amazing attacking football, sometimes outrageous in its brilliance and simplicity, but they were reckless at the back. Manager Tele Santana adopted a 4-5-1 formation, way before it became fashionable, yet at times there were more than six attackers as Junior was a very attacking full back on the left with Leandro also doing his fair share of going forward on the right. In those days we hadn’t really heard of wing-backs and so when these players went forward there wasn’t always cover at the back. Added to the fact the keeper certainly wasn’t best around with Brazil still suffering from the trend of keepers being failed outfield players.
The format for the Second Phase was flawed, which was probably why it was only adopted for this World Cup. Of the six First Phase groups the top two sides went into a further four groups of three teams. Some groups had two First Phase winners and others had one. Another inequality was the winners of the first fixture then sat it out the next. So when Italy arrived at the Sarria Stadium they had, had five days rest compared to just two for their opponents. Both sides had beaten Argentina with Brazil having a goal advantage. Don’t let anyone tell you this was a Quarter-Final as Brazil could qualify with a draw.
Both teams were unchanged and there wasn’t a spare seat in the ground. The stage was set for the finest attacking force against the stubbornest of defences.
The opening exchanges mainly involved Brazil knocking the ball about confidently but each time the ball went up to Serginho he was unable to keep possession. Five minutes in Conti dropped back to the halfway line on the right to pick the ball up from Oriali. He was able to run well into the Brazilian half before he hit the ball with the outside of his left foot all the way over to Cabrini on the left wing. The Italian number four took a couple of touches and then curled in a cross to the far post where Rossi was there to head it in. Junior was supposed to be marking him but just let him go. 1-0.
Over six hours of football and finally Rossi had opened his account for the tournament. It clearly lifted the cloud which had shadowed him ever since he took the field in Vigo three weeks previously. The goal came just a minute after Tardelli had found himself some space on the left near the bye-line, pulled the ball back where Rossi was free in the area but the striker somehow swung his foot and completely missed the ball. It looked for all as if we were going to have another ninety minutes of torture with the once great player struggling to work out what the words of the song were or when his cue was to come in.
As with the Argentina game, Italy looked more confident once they’d scored and were now knocking the ball around rather than just sitting back. Then with eleven minutes gone Serginho, who had initially looked to have lost possession yet again, found himself in a great position. The ball had bounced off him to Zico but he misread when Zico knocked the ball into space to run onto and Serginho thought it was a pass for him. Through on goal he somehow skewed his shot wide from about eight yards out. Zico remonstrated with him as allowing the number ten to go on and have a shot would more than likely have resulted in a goal.
So often happened during this tournament there were bound to be people shouting at their telly’s “for goodness sake, Serginho, get out of the way”. If only Careca or Reinaldo had been fit.
But within minutes all this was forgotten. The one thing you knew about this Brazilian side was they created so many chances, if they missed one then you could be certain there would be another along soon after. This one was just another example of the brilliance of the play, the fluidity of the movement. Socrates had just played Leandro in on the overlap down the right but his cross into the far post was claimed by Zoff, under pressure from Serginho. Zoff rolled it out to Conti on the right just inside the Italian half and he looked to switch the play to the left wing, forgetting he was supposed to fill the left-wing role too. So the throw to Brazil gave them the advantage as Leandro found Socrates just inside his half. The languid, long-legged captain drifted into the Italian half then played a pass along the ground to Zico, who was tightly-marked by Cabrini. Zico backheeled it to slip his man and saw Socrates had continued his run. He played him in, leaving Collovati wrong-footed, and Socrates took one touch then slid the ball in from an angle beating Zoff at his near post. It was simplistic, yet deadly in its efficiency and Brazil were now level, sending a message to Italy that they would have to do it all again to keep this team out. 1-1.
Twelve minutes in and already the game was living up to the hype. Needless to say it wasn’t long before Gentile was booked for a cynical tackle from behind on Zico. The next ten minutes followed a pattern of Brazil in possession trying to engineer openings by moving their opponents about the pitch. Back then Italian football was fairly structured and rigid and so Brazil’s ability to have players switch positions was interesting to watch as the Italians had to dispense with the traditional man-marking tactic. Italy just couldn’t keep the ball either, in a combination of loose passing or when they did find their man there would always be a player in a yellow shirt who would nick it off them.
Finally Tardelli was able to run at the defence and was brought down by Cerezo in a central position about twenty-five yards out. Antognoni’s free-kick was charged down by Junior and what followed probably typified this Brazilian team as an alter ego to Socrates equaliser. Waldir threw it to Leandro at right back and he chested it down and passed it square to Cerezo. Cerezo, soon to move to Italy, controlled the bouncing ball and then, without looking, continued to pass the ball square in a move they’d played many times during the past three weeks. But this time Rossi, of all people, was wise to the move and nipped in to pinch possession and drove towards the area. Just outside the box he fired a shot which Waldir should’ve done better to keep out and Italy were 2-1 up. Having watched Rossi up to this match you just couldn’t imagine him with that level of anticipation and power in his shot, but this was a man rejuvenated by his opening goal. It showed how lax and carefree Brazil could be in defence and suddenly this policy of scoring more goals than they’d concede was put to the test as they’d conceded two goals in a game for the first time in the tournament.
Twenty five minutes gone and we really had a game on our hands now. This was a message to Brazil they couldn’t afford to be sloppy and yes the Italians did have it in them to come back from conceding. The goal took the sting out of Brazil a little. They were less gung-ho, a little more hesitant.
With ten minutes to go Zico threw himself to the ground under pressure from Gentile, who instead of remonstrating with the referee just shook Zico’s hand as if it was all part of the game. As Brazil were getting ready to take the kick Collovati went down in the area. This didn’t seem to be as a result of any challenge, he was hobbling as Italy were organising the wall. Initially, the referee signalled for a stretcher but then the defender hobbled to his feet. The free-kick came to nothing but in the follow up Falcao floated a ball to the far post and Socrates was able to head it, unchallenged, but directed it straight at Zoff. Bearzot then decided to make the change, taking off Collovati and bringing on Giuseppe Bergomi for only his second cap having made his debut against East Germany just two months before the tournament.
The remainder of the half was punctuated with fouls, with the stop-start nature of the game favouring the Italians. At one point the attacking nature of Brazil was illustrated when the two players furthest forward with Serginho were the two full-backs, but still few chances created.
At the break Italy still lead 2-1. Brazil had been behind in their first match against a decent Soviet side so I doubt many contemplated defeat for them. For me as a fourteen year old boy I loved Brazil. I loved the sheer joy and freedom in their play. The effortless way they moved about the pitch and the way they moved the ball. They’d come back, wouldn’t they?
Italy kicked off the second half and were clearly happy to just knock the ball about. Two minutes in and Junior, in central midfield, put Falcao in on the right-hand side of the area and his shot narrowly went past the far post with Zoff beaten. Six minutes in and Italy had a good shout for a penalty. The ball was played up to Rossi on his own on the right. He got into the area where Junior stood in his way. He knocked the ball past the defender to get to the bye-line and ran into him, or at least that’s how the referee saw it. He looked as if Junior just blocked him off slightly, but with no teammate in the area to pass to the ref must’ve thought Rossi was just looking for it. Replays from behind the goal suggest Rossi had a case.
Brazil went straight up the other end and won a free-kick in a central position about thirty yards out, when Serginho was tackled from behind by Bergomi. Odd why the Italian didn’t receive the same punishment as Gentile had done earlier in the game for the same offence. Zico’s subsequent free-kick sailed over the bar.
Leandro then had a long range shot after he was allowed to run about twenty yards unchallenged, but he shot straight at Zoff, who calmly patted the ball down and caught it again. The Italian keeper did well a few minutes later when Cerezo was put through and he raced off his line to intercept in the top left-hand corner of his area. Almost immediately Falcao floated a dangerous looking ball into the area for Zico and Zoff was again on hand to catch the ball. Brazil were turning the screw yet Italy’s captain was dealing with it all. Not bad for a forty year old.
They were swarming all over Italy, who just couldn’t get out of their own half. Junior now turned up on the right and bent a cross in with the outside of his right foot, but this time Zoff chose to punch the ball away. Eder kept it in on the left and then found Junior again in central midfield. His teasing ball in found Cerezo, who headed it towards Serginho, but the big striker was impotent again and the chance was gone. As the ball bounced he even tried to backheel it but Zoff was there. Cabrini then turned defence into attack and Graziani on the left played a good ball into the area and suddenly there was Rossi, completely free. But instead of steading himself he tried to shoot off balance and skewed it horribly wide.
It was a golden chance to win the game, complete his hat-trick yet it seemed the enormity of the situation had overtaken him. Just as we were hoping to catch our breath, Brazil went straight down the other end and again won a free-kick in a central position about thirty yards out. Eder took it this time and kept his shot low but Zoff was again equal to it, smothering the ball on the line.
Yet another attack and Cerezo combined beautifully with Socrates but his shot from six yards out hit the outside of the post and went wide. Manager Tele Santana decided to get Paulo Isidoro prepared to come on for Serginho as the striker was incapable of holding the ball up. Then after sixty eight minutes, Junior surged forward down the left and then cut inside. As he did Socrates made a run into the area taking two defenders with him, allowing Falcao to move into space on the right. Junior found the midfielder who took one touch, which allowed the defence to all shift to their left. Cerezo then made a run round the outside of Falcao, providing a dangerous outlet. Falcao then feinted right, turned to his left as three defenders were now wrong-footed covering Cerezo. Falcao was now on the edge of the area and able to fire in a shot which Zoff just couldn’t get near. 2-2.
The celebration was a mixture of joy and relief. Brazil had been relentless for about ten minutes and this was a great example of how, as a team, they could manoeuvre their opponents. For Zoff he was beside himself at how his defence could just open up like that. Santana then carried through his substitution and Brazil were expected to go on and win the game from here. Paulo Isidoro was a much more mobile striker, shorter than Serginho and more likely to play with his head forward rather than Serginho who always seemed to have his back to goal. Italy had been hanging on and now surely Brazil would go for the kill.
Almost immediately Brazil were on the attack again as Leandro, who spent a ridiculous amount of time in the opposition half for a full-back, played Zico in but once again his radar was slightly out as his shot went over the bar. Then Eder dispossessed Bergomi just outside the area but his shot was blocked and the ball ran to Falcao who hit it first time but again a defender was in the way. The breakthrough wouldn’t be far away now, we thought.
Ironically Brazil then had a chance which may have suited the man who’d just gone off. Cerezo provided yet another overlap, this time on the left for Junior, and his cross was dropped by Zoff. But this time there was no one challenging him so he just scampered after the ball to retrieve it.
Now you remember me mentioning Brazil’s defensive frailties? You remember how Italy’s second goal was a result of lethargy at the back? Well, with just over quarter of an hour to go, Antognoni swung a right-foot cross in from the left but it was overhit and Cerezo was at the far left of the area with no one near him. He just needed either to clear the ball, or control it and deal with it, or even just leave it as there was no one behind him, but he chose to try and head the ball back to his keeper. The backpass was still legitimate back then so he didn’t have to head it. He was at full stretch, running backwards and so the ball just went out for a corner as Waldir couldn’t get there in time.
His decision was crucial. Italy now had a corner. Conti took it and swung it to the edge of the area. The ball dropped for Tardelli who swung a left boot at it and it bounced to Rossi on the edge of the six yard box and he hit it on the turn and helped it into the net. 3-2.
Who could believe it? Here was a man who was a shadow of the player he’d been four years ago. A month ago he seemed a million miles away from this World Cup. During the matches leading up to this moment he’d been a bit part player, a liability, a risky gamble for Bearzot which had backfired. Yet here he was with a hat-trick against one of the finest sides world football had ever seen. Would the Italians ever give in?
Before the re-start Tardelli had to be helped off with cramp and Marini came on. Within minutes Oriali went down with a similar complaint. There were only two substitutes permitted in those days so he had to stay on. It would be a nervous fifteen minutes trying to defend this lead.
Oriali then fouled Eder about thirty yards out and received a booking for his troubles. Eder took the free-kick, giving himself a run up of about fifteen yards but his shot went just wide. Soon after Brazil had the ball in the net, but Socrates was ruled offside when Leandro played him in. Then with ten minutes to go the Italians had a spell of possession allowing their supporters to give it the ole’s. They had given up on their team a week earlier, yet now they were world beaters.
Into the final five minutes and this was where Brazil began to look tired, heavy legged, whereas their opponents grew in strength and determination. The tackles were firm and successful and they ran into the corners forcing their opponents to work to get the ball back. Both Socrates and Zico had been quiet for a while, with Socrates spending more time up front since Serginho went off. The rhythm had gone.
Italy then had a goal chalked off for offside, although the decision looked harsh. Rossi was clear on the right, pulled it back to Marini who laid it on for Antognoni at the far post and he fired it in, but the flag had gone up. There seemed little complaint from the defenders but Brazil were still in it.
Brazil then had a free-kick wide on the left which Eder swung left-footed into the area. The ball cleared the defence and found Oscar at the far post where he headed, almost apologetically, at goal and Zoff got down smartly to his left to grab the ball. For a second it looked as if he hadn’t quite got hold of it and it was rolling over the line, but he managed to gain control of it in time. These were nervous times for Italy.
The whole Italian team was camped in their own half as Brazil desperately searched for an equaliser. Brazil forced a corner but Eder hit it far too hard and it went beyond the area. Previously the ball had been caressed by the feet of the Brazilians, but now their touch was far too heavy and laboured. They won another corner on the right as the Italian bench pleaded with the Israeli referee to blow for time. It was swung in right under the cross bar but Zoff cleared it and then finally, to the relief of Italians everywhere, the ref signalled time was up. Cue the celebrations.
Italy had been immense. They had taken an early lead and then each time Brazil brought themselves level, they came back at them. Rossi was the hero but they had defended well and Brazil finally ran out of ideas. Looking back it seems the extra rest had a factor in Italy’s favour but everyone who witnessed the match felt it had been an exhausting affair. It rightly lived up to the pre-match hype and Italy were now into the Semi-Finals. For Brazil, it was the end of a beautiful romance with the World Cup once again. It deserves it’s place as the best World Cup match ever.
ITALY (2) 3 (Rossi 5, 25, 74)
BRAZIL (1) 2 (Socrates 12, Falcao 68)
ITALY: Zoff (Juventus); Gentile (Juventus), Scirea (Juventus), Collovati (AC Milan) [Bergomi (Inter)], Cabrini (Juventus); Conti (AS Roma), Tardelli (Juventus) [Marini (Inter)], Oriali (Inter), Antognoni (Fiorentina); Rossi (Juventus), Graziani (Fiorentina)
Manager: Enzo Bearzot
BRAZIL: Waldir (Sao Paulo); Leandro (Flamengo), Oscar (Sao Paulo), Luizinho (Atletico Mineiro), Junior (Flamengo); Socrates (Corinthians), Zico (Flamengo), Falcao (AS Roma), Cerezo (Atletico Mineiro), Eder (Atletico Mineiro); Serginho (Sao Paulo) [Paulo Isidoro (Gremio)]
Manager: Tele Santana