Continuing Football Italiano’s build-up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Andrea Tallarita takes a look at the Azzurri’s all-time top 20 players.
No 20 – Paolo Rossi
Paolo Rossi is a notoriously difficult player to categorize, given a controversial career which included a two-year ban for alleged involvement in the 1980 betting scandal, but there is one quality he possessed which even the most casual onlooker will detect – he was decisive. Few players in the history of the Azzurri have made such a concrete contribution to any tournament as Rossi did to the 1982 World Cup, which returned the title to the peninsula after forty-four years of drought. The fact that he scored six goals and ended up as top-scorer in the tournament is a crude number which does not do him justice. The tally includes a hat-trick against Brazil, a feat which only a handful of world players can boast. That alone is worth a career.
Rossi was a primapunta, akin in nature to the contemporary Filippo Inzaghi, but with finer ball control and greater versatility (among other things, he started his career on the wing). In many ways he represents one of the most endearing aspects of Italian football, since he pulled both Brazil and Germany down to their knees not with fancy footwork, only with a great sense of positioning and lots of heart. Rossi is the Azzurri proletarian, the underdog with no shame. His luminous achievements with the national team are backed by a solid career with his clubs, but they fall away before the epic moment of 1982, and he will be forever treasured in the memory of Italians as the man who stained Brazil’s face with tears.