Tributes pour in for Italy 1982 World Cup hero Paolo Rossi

Dubai: Paolo Rossi, Italy’s goalscoring hero from their victorious 1982 World Cup campaign, has died at the age of 64.

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The celebrated striker’s death comes with the football world still in mourning for Argentina icon Diego Maradona, who passed away late last month.

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Italian TV channel RAI Sport, where Rossi had been working as a pundit, said on Thursday “Pablito” had died of an “incurable disease”.

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“Such terribly sad news: Paolo Rossi has left us,” RAI Sport presenter Enrico Varriale tweeted.

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“Unforgettable Pablito, who made all of us fall in love in that summer of 1982 and who was a precious and competent work colleague in RAI over recent years.” Rossi’s wife, Federica Cappelletti, posted a photo of herself and her husband on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/CImGNuGpSAk along with the words “per sempre” — “forever”.

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“There will never be anyone like you, unique, special …” Cappelletti later wrote in Italian on Facebook.

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Rossi won two Serie A titles, a European Cup and a Coppa Italia with Juventus but will be most fondly remembered for lighting up the 1982 World Cup in Spain with six goals.

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His selection in the Italy squad came after a two-year ban for a match-fixing scandal and was initially criticised by pundits, who wrote him off as out of shape.

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But they were left eating their words when he struck one of the World Cup’s great hat-tricks against Brazil.

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Italy’s 3-2 victory in that classic encounter in the second group phase booked them a place in the semis against Poland, where Rossi again made the difference.

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He sunk the Poles with a brace in a 2-0 win that fired his side into the World Cup decider against West Germany.

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Rossi then scored Italy’s first in a 3-1 victory that gave them their third World Cup title and their first since 1938.

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He won the Golden Boot as the top scorer and Golden Ball as the player of the tournament, a campaign regarded as one of the best individual World Cup performances of all-time.

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He was also awarded the 1982 Ballon d’Or as Europe’s top footballer.

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PERSONAL REDEMPTION

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Born in Prato, Tuscany, Rossi played his entire club career in Italy. He was banned for three years in 1980 as part of the nation’s infamous “Totonero” match-fixing scandal but always denied any wrongdoing.

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The ban was later reduced to two years, allowing him to carve out his slice of World Cup history and win “personal redemption.” “On one hand I felt fulfilled. I said to myself, ‘you’ve made it’,” he said in a FIFA documentary in 2018.

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“On the other hand, I was disappointed that all of this just ended. The World Cup was over.” He also scored three goals at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. With a total of nine goals, he remains Italy’s joint highest scorer at the World Cup with Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri.

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Italians woke on Thursday to media eulogies for one of the country’s favourite soccer sons.

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Rossi was “the one who beat Zico’s Brazil, Maradona’s Argentina, Boniek’s Poland and in the final, the Germany of Rummenigge,” La Gazzetta dello Sport said on its website.

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Former Italy Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tweeted: “In our hearts, forever. Farewell Pablito.” Germany’s former World Cup winner Juergen Klinsmann tweeted: “Dear Pablito, we always remember you!”

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