Today’s saddening news of the death of Enzo Bearzot, Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning coach, prompted me to go on a trawl of video footage from that famously exotic tournament. Played in the searing heat of the Spanish summer, it was a competition that brings to mind vivid colours, iconic players, and stadia that bubbled and sweltered with sunny enthusiasm. I was not alive to witness the tournament first hand, but tales of Sócrates, Zico, Michel Platini, Paolo Rossi and countless others have afforded it an almost mythical status in my consciousness.
While Telê Santana’s Brazilians may have been the overwhelming favourites to win the 1982 World Cup, their football taking the breath away at times, it was to be Bearzot’s talented, mature and determined Azzurri who lifted the trophy on the 11th July in the magnificent surrounds of the Santiago Bernabéu. After a decade of disappointing performances in major tournaments, Bearzot had returned Italy to the pinnacle of the international game and restored belief in the set of philosophies which constitute Calcio.
It is often noted that the eventual champions in a great many World Cups have been “slow starters”, but Bearzot’s Italians took that well-worn cliché to new heights with some genuinely dreadful performances in the group stage. A goalless draw with Poland was followed by embarrassing 1-1 ties with Peru and Cameroon, two countries with very little in the way of reputation or history at the top level. The Italian press went for Bearzot’s jugular, demanding improvement as the team scraped through to the Second Round on goal difference, finishing second to a distinctly uninspiring Polish side.
Italy’s fortunes, however, were completely transformed as they took on Brazil and Argentina in their Second Round pool. Bearzot appeared to have come to a greater tactical understanding of his team by the time the Azzurri took on reigning champions Argentina, his players seemingly more willing to fight for their pride than they had been in the opening three games. A 21 year-old Diego Maradona was efficiently shackled by Claudio Gentile as Marco Tardelli and Antonio Cabrini scored the goals which put Italy in pole position to qualify for the semi-finals. It was to be the next game, however, an encounter with Brazil at the Camp Nou, which would launch the team’s World Cup campaign into the stratosphere.
Brazil, laden with a host of the world’s very best players and playing some supremely aesthetic football, were widely expected to overcome Italy, but Bearzot’s men put in their finest display to overcome A Seleção in one of the most famous games in the history of the World Cup. Having taken the lead early through a resurgent Rossi, Italy found themselves quickly pegged back after Sócrates had capped a quite beautiful move by sweeping the ball beyond Dino Zoff.
The Azzurri could have crumbled under the pressure, but Rossi scored again on twenty-five minutes to put his team ahead going into half-time. A goal from Falcão levelled the game with twenty minutes to play, but Rossi completed his hat-trick and sealed an incredible Italian triumph with an opportunistic finish fifteen minutes from time. Bearzot’s team were through to the last four.
Poland were comfortably beaten in the semi-final, a brace from the untouchable Rossi inspiring Italy to a 2-0 win. The team’s performances were now a million miles away from the disappointments of the group stage, the accomplished Azzurri arguably being the favourites going into the final against a fit, dangerous and highly functional West German outfit. While the Germans enjoyed the better chances during the early stages, it was Italy who took the lead through Rossi just before the hour mark, the Juventus striker’s stooping header beating the infamous Harald Schumacher in the centre of his goal.
Italy asserted their increasing dominance ten minutes later as Marco Tardelli finished a superb passing move and ran wildly across the field screaming with primal, unadulterated delight. Alessandro Altobelli made it 3-0 towards the end; Paul Breitner’s late West German consolation making little impact on proceedings. Bearzot and Italy had done it. They had sealed the third World Cup triumph in their country’s proud history.
Not only had Bearzot conquered two of the finest teams of the age in Brazil and West Germany, he had revived the fortunes of a great footballing country in the process. Italy could be intensely proud of its national team once more, a brave team that had been dragged into the modern era by its charismatic manager. For that alone, Enzo Bearzot will forever be held in the very highest regard amongst football fans in Italy and across the globe. May the wise old man of Italian football rest in peace.