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Quattro Stelle: 1982 - Group Stage


Quattro Stelle returns with the eighth post in a weekly series highlighting Italy’s four World Cup wins from qualifications to the finals. Read the seventh post here.

Prelude
For all of the changes in format and the scandal that rocked both Italy and this World Cup draw, Spain 1982 got off to a smooth start. It never ceases to amaze me how the beautiful game just quietly and simply rises above everything else off of the pitch to provide great sport, unparalleled entertainment, and every great once in a while a classic match that goes down in the books of history.



This tournament saw Argentina coming in as the favorites, featuring the debut of one Diego Maradona. West Germany were also strong, as the reigning Euro champions, even if Bernd Schuster was out with an injury. Brazil were also favored, with Coach Tele Santana bringing a bit of a dream squad to the tournament, including Zico, who was rated the best Brazilian player since Pelé.

This Azzurri squad was surprisingly talented, although maybe underrated going into the tournament. Coach Enzo Bearzot’s Squad: Goalkeepers: Dino Zoff, Ivano Bordon, Giovanni Galli; Defenders: Giuseppe Bergomi, Antonio Cabrini, Fulvio Collovati, Claudio Gentile, Gaetano Scirea, Pietro Vierchowod; Midfielders: Giancarlo Antognoni, Giuseppe Dossena, Giampiero Marini, Gabriele Oriali, Marco Tardelli, Franco Causio, Bruno Conti; Forwards: Daniele Massaro, Alessandro Altobelli, Francesco Graziani, Paolo Rossi, and Franco Selvaggi.

First Round
Italy’s first match on June 14th was vs. Poland and played in Vigo at the Estadio de Balaidos in front of 33,000 people. Referee Michel Vautrot of France cautioned both Marini and Scirea in a frustrating match that saw Tardelli hit the crossbar on an open net opportunity in the 80th minute, amongst many other chances. To be fair, at least Dino Zoff celebrated his 100th cap with the Azzurri with a clean sheet, even if Poland’s keeper also kept it scoreless.

Next up was Peru on June 18th, also in Vigo, in front of a crowd of 25,000. This time, Conti scored in the 18th minute, but Italy were unable to shake all of the negative criticism of the Italian press and maintain the lead. After Austrian referee Franz Wöhrer cautioned Tardelli in the 52nd minute, Peru finally broke through the Italian defense and scored the equalizer in the 84th minute, finishing the game in Italy’s second draw in two games at 1-1.

Italy vs. Cameroon

The last game of the first round saw Italy kick off against Cameroon on June 23rd in front of 20,000 people, again in Vigo. Bulgarian referee Bogdan Dotchev oversaw a first half that saw Italy again spoil chances like the wide open net shot from Conti in the 11th minute. Perhaps it was the media pressure, but Italy seemed nervous and frustrated the first half, which ended scoreless. A 60th minute goal from Graziani should have been a confidence builder, were it not equalized just one minute later by Cameroon, even if the Italians were looking for an offside call. Still, unable to shake off the curse of the draw, Italy finished 1-1 for their third draw in three games.

Yet three draws and only two goals were enough to go through in second place in their group, Group 1, scoring a single goal more than Cameroon to boast goal differential. Poland managed the only win in the whole group with a 5-1 punishing of Peru in their third game to take a comfortable first place lead in the group.

The Italian press had been critical of the Azzurri going in, especially for the inclusion of Rossi, just off of suspension for a match fixing scandal. But with each poor showing, the pressure built, until finally the players declared a silenzio stampa, or media blackout, a new term that meant the players refused to talk to the media for the duration of the tournament. One reason for it was when, in Barcelona, Rossi & Cabrini, who were roommates, were spotted on their hotel balcony both shirtless, and thus accused of being more than roommates. So the team elected the shy and quiet Dino Zoff to address the media at press conferences following the games, and that was all the flesh-eating media got.

Second Round
Italy were put into the “Group of Death,” Group C, with Argentina and Brazil for the second round. Between the three squads, they held six World Cup titles, Brazil with three, Italy with two, and Argentina the defending champions. These matches were amongst the most exciting of the tournament, with plenty of goals and the most attractive football of the tournament.

The defending champs Argentina vs. Italy

Italy’s first match was vs. Coach Luis Menotti’s Argentina side and the new phenomenon, Maradona, on June 29th at Estadio Sarriá in Barcelona to a crowd of 43,000. Referee Nicolae Rainea of Romania had his hands full during the first half with five yellow cards: Gentile in the first minute and Rossi in the 25th for Italy, and yellows in the 32nd by Kempes, 35th by Maradona, and Ardiles in the 39th. Italy’s game plan was to mark Maradona excessively, a job given specifically to the not-so-gentile Gentile. This effort saw a scoreless first half.

So Bearzot changed the game plan for the second half, switching completely from the hard-nosed defensive game and mark-Maradona-at-all-costs game plan to a purely offensive game, which completely caught Argentina off guard. It paid off with a goal from Tardelli in the 56th minute. And another great offensive play from three Juventus teammates, Rossi, Tardelli, and finally Cabrini, who scored a powerful left-footed shot in the 68th minute. Argentina fought back, converting a powerful free kick in the 83rd minute, but it was not enough as Italy pulled off the upset, two to one.


THE Match: Brazil v. Italy
Some games are really good, others epic. Brazil vs. Italy on July 5th at the Estadio Sarriá in Barcelona before a crowd of 44,000 definitely falls within the second category. It was Tele Santana’s Selecao vs. Enzo Bearzot’s Azzurri. Brazil captain Sócrates facing off against Italy captain Dino Zoff, the oldest player to play in the World Cup at age 40. Referee Abraham Klein of Israel could not have been selected for a bigger game, this one would determine which team went to the semifinals from Group C.

The game did not disappoint. Rossi scored in the fifth minute on a header assisted by Cabrini. But Brazil answered back in the 12th minute with a goal by Sócrates. Gentile was cautioned in the 13th minute, and then Rossi scored his second of the match in the 25th. Italy were able to contain Zico and the rest of the Brazilian offense while still creating more scoring chances, ending the 1st half ahead on the scoreboard and in control of the game.

But Brazil got a nice pep talk at the half and came back to gain control, with Falcao scoring in the 68th to tie up the game with a left footed shot that Zoff tried desperately to save. Brazil could have played for the draw, and that would have seen them go through as group leaders. But they got greedy and went for the win, which was ultimately their undoing. Rossi completed his hat trick with a goal in the 74th to send Brazil back home and the Azzurri on to the semifinals. Oriali’s yellow in the 78th probably didn’t even raise an eyebrow, Italy were focused on the win. Now, the Italian media could no longer criticize Bearzot for Rossi’s selection, or even the Azzurri for not playing up to par. One match to silence them all, Italy went from underperforming question marks to serious contenders, having sent two of the favorites packing. This team of media-labeled misfits were going to the semifinals.







This is part eight of a 12 week series I originally wrote for the now defunct Italy World Cup Blog five years ago. The series will now appear here weekly as a tribute to the Azzurri teams of the past.


Our next match is a friendly
International Champions Cup
FC Bayern vs. AC Milan
Wednesday, July 27 • 9:00pm EDT
Soldier Field, Chicago, USA