European football mourns 'Pablito', whose famous hat-trick against Brazil at the 1982 FIFA World Cup launched Italy to a third triumph.
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A moment of silence will be held at the start of all UEFA matches on Thursday in memory of the late, great Paolo Rossi, whose goalscoring heroics helped carry Italy to victory at the 1982 FIFA World Cup.
Rossi, who has died at the age of 64 after a long illness, enjoyed a brilliant career at both club and international levels. However, he is best remembered for scoring a legendary hat-trick in Italy’s shock 3-2 elimination of favourites Brazil at the 1982 tournament in Spain.
'Pablito', who had looked out of form in failing to find the net in his first four games, went on to score both goals in Italy’s semi-final win over Poland before claiming the opener as Italy beat West Germany 3-1 in the final. Rossi finished as the tournament’s top scorer and was awarded the 1982 Ballon d’Or.
"I'm very sad," said Italy’s 1982 captain and goalkeeper Dino Zoff. "I don't know what to say, it was a bolt from the blue. We have always had a great relationship with Paolo, he was nice, intelligent. The [times] with him were wonderful, he was very nice, clever – he had everything. This is really difficult to take in."
Zoff also starred alongside Rossi in a highly talented Juventus side, where the diminutive forward with razor-sharp finishing skills lifted the 1984 European Cup Winners’ Cup, the UEFA Super Cup in 1984/85, the 1985 UEFA European Cup as well as two Serie A titles, in 1982 and 1984, which sandwiched a Coppa Italia triumph.
Rossi was Serie A's leading marksman in 1977/78 with 24 goals for Vicenza, who only just fell short of pipping the Bianconeri to the league championship. The Tuscan-born attacker also played for Como, Perugia, Milan and Verona in Serie A before going on to a successful career as a television pundit and commentator.
UEFA Executive Committee member and Poland great Zbigniew Boniek expressed his sadness at losing a former Juve team-mate. “I admit I’m crying right now. Paolo was in the group of my 'real friends'," he said. "I didn’t just win alongside you, I lived with you too.”
Rossi’s iconic status in Italian and European football was clear in 2004, when he placed 12th in the UEFA Golden Jubilee – an online poll conducted as part of UEFA's 50th anniversary celebrations, ranking the best European footballers from the previous five decades. Rossi was the top-ranked player from the period between 1974 and 1983.
Relatively small for a striker, Rossi compensated with a refined technique with both feet, fast reflexes and an incredible instinct for goal, always finding himself in the right place at the right time to apply the decisive final touch. His quick-silver reactions were also evident when he laid on Italy's winning goal against Argentina at the 1978 World Cup – the hosts' only defeat in the competition – via a one-two with Roberto Bettega.
In Italy the expression “Gol alla Paolo Rossi” to describe an apparently easy goal from a rebound or a loose ball in the box, is still widely used.
"The departure of 'Pablito' is another deep pain, a wound to the heart of all fans that's difficult to heal,” said Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president, Gabriele Gravina. "We lose a friend and an icon of our game. Dragging the 1982 team to success with his goals, he took by the hand an entire country which rejoiced in the streets, for him and with him. He has indissolubly linked his name to the Azzurri and has inspired, with his style of play, many forwards of future generations."
In total, Rossi played 48 times for the Azzurri, scoring 20 goals.