"One of the best, if not the best striker I have ever met," according to former Italy team-mate Sandro Mazzola, Luigi Riva was only 29 when he played his 42nd and final Italy game at the 1974 FIFA World Cup finals. Over 40 years have passed since, but his record of 35 goals for the Azzurri still stands as 'Rombo di Tuono' – the Roar of Thunder – turns 70 today.
Born in Leggiuno, a small village in northern Italy, Riva spent almost his entire club career at Cagliari Calcio, scoring 164 goals in Serie A for the Sardinian side, and leading them to the Scudetto in 1969/70 with 21 goals that season. "We were a family at Cagliari – it would not have been the same in a top club," Riva said, explaining his decision to reject a switch to a higher profile outfit. Brave, powerful, skilful and blessed with a fearsome left-footed shot, Riva scored some key goals for club and country; UEFA.com recalls his finest moments.
Italy 2-0 Yugoslavia
10/06/1968, UEFA European Championship final
Angelo Domenghini's goal ten minutes from time forced a replay in the 1968 final in Rome. Ferruccio Valcareggi's side were a different proposition 48 hours later, with Riva – one of five changes to the lineup from the original fixture – scoring with his famous left foot on 12 minutes after a mis-hit Domenghini shot was transformed into a through ball. For Yugoslavia, there was no way back.
Italy 4-3 West Germany (aet)
17/06/70, FIFA World Cup semi-final
The first 90 minutes at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium ended 1-1, and it was 2-2 in extra-time when Riva controlled a pass from Cagliari team-mate Domenghini on the edge of the area, beat his marker and then fired the ball across Sepp Maier and in. Gianni Rivera scored the winner after another Germany equaliser, but Riva's goal is crucial to the legend of a match known in Italy as 'the game of the century'.
Italy 3-0 East Germany
22/11/69, FIFA World Cup qualifying round
The win that took Italy to those 1970 finals owed much to Riva's famous diving header – which featured in the credits for Italy's most popular sports programme, La Domenica Sportiva, for years afterwards. "I saw the cross coming and knew I could not delay for even a fraction of a second," he recalled. "I dived and made as powerful a connection as I could, and then I heard the roar of the Stadio San Paolo."
Italy 5-0 Cyprus
01/11/67, UEFA European Championship qualifying
Riva's international career did not start well; he broke his leg during his third match with Italy, a friendly against Portugal in March 1967 – the first of a series of bad injuries for the striker. Seven months later, however, he returned to take on Cyprus and hit a hat-trick to open his Italy account, with the third goal – a powerful volley – the pick of his haul.
Vicenza Calcio 1-2 Cagliari Calcio
18/01/70, Serie A
Riva was known for acrobatic finishes, with the overhead kick at Vicenza during Cagliari's Scudetto-winning campaign perhaps the most spectacular of them all. "For me that goal remains a one-off," remembers former team-mate Pierluigi Cera. "He hit the ball in the air with his left foot and put it under the top corner. A real beauty."
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