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EXCERPT | July 19, 1982

Rise of the Azzurri

Italy won the World Cup for the first time since 1938

The 1982 World Cup final pitted the game's top striker, West Germany's Karl-Heinz Rümmenigge, against the tournament's improbable goal-scoring sensation, Italian striker Paolo Rossi. Clive Gammon reported for SI.

To the rockets' red glare, to the howling of 87,000 manic fans in the humid bowl of Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium—and before possibly the biggest TV audience in history, more than two billion viewers in 130 nations—R√ºmmenigge, head high, face stoical, slipped away to his team's dugout and his own thoughts. It was 25 minutes into the second half of his nation's game against Italy in the final of the 1982 World Cup.

For him, the showdown in Spain was over. The first rockets of the night, 15 minutes earlier, had been sent up by Italian partisans to cheer a striker other than Rümmenigge. Rossi had just put his country ahead 1--0. And it had been a clumsy and uncharacteristic foul by Rümmenigge himself that resulted in the free kick that in turn led to the chipped ball Rossi had headed home with delicate ease.

Now, as R√ºmmenigge came out, the score was 2--0, and the rockets were ascending again. By withdrawing, R√ºmmenigge admitted what the crowd had long sensed, that his strained right thigh muscle could respond no more. For the rest of the game, like a broken gunfighter who no longer goes out on the street, he watched as the blue-shirted Italians—the Azzurri—now confident, later brilliant, cut his team to pieces and in magnificent style won the World Cup 3--1. In winning, Italy stepped proudly beside Brazil, the only other three-time champion.

Rossi's tournament-high six goals earned him the Golden Boot award. In 2006 Italy beat France to win its fourth World Cup title.

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The Global Game

1986

Diego Maradona, Argentina's 5'5" striker, scored five goals in the tournament and captained his team to a 3--2 victory over West Germany in the final in Mexico City.

1994

Brazil, after 90 scoreless minutes, prevailed on penalty kicks 3--2 over Italy in the final at the Rose Bowl. The championship was the fourth of Brazil's five World Cup titles.

2002

Landon Donovan led a surprising U.S. team to both an opening 3--2 upset of Portugal and a trip to the quarterfinals for the first time since the inaugural World Cup in 1930.

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Photograph by STEVE POWELL/GETTY IMAGES

HEAD MASTER Nobody had expected much from Rossi (lying on the ground)—who had just returned from a two-year suspension for allegedly conspiring to fix matches—but he scored six goals in the World Cup's final three games, one on this header that opened the scoring in the triumph over West Germany.

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LEO MASON/SIPA/SPECIAL FEATURES

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SIMON BRUTY

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PASCAL GUYOT/AFP

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MICHAEL BUSH/UPI/LANDOV (HEAT)

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CHUCK SOLOMON (UTLEY)

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DAVID WALBERG (PLAYER)

TWO PHOTOS

AKRON BEACON JOURNAL/MCT/LANDOV (FANS)

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FRED VUICH (LEAKE)

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MARCELO SAYAO/EPA (BRAZIL FAN)