Italian soccer great Paolo Rossi has died at the age of 64, according to Italy’s national public broadcaster RAI.
Rossi is best known for leading Italy to World Cup glory in 1982, scoring six goals in the tournament, including a hat-trick against Brazil in the second group stage.
Rossi’s wife, Federica Cappelletti, posted on Instagram a photo of her and Paolo with the caption “Per Sempre,” which translates to “Forever.”
She did not disclose the cause of his death.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest Italian soccer players of all time, he scored 20 goals in 48 appearances for the Azzurri.
He netted both goals in Italy’s World Cup semifinal win against Poland in 1982 and the opening goal as the Italians beat West Germany 3-1 in the final, finishing the tournament in Spain with the Golden Boot as top scorer.
The former Vicenza, Juventus and AC Milan player was also awarded the Golden Ball at the 1982 World Cup for the player of the tournament.
In the same year, he won the Ballon d’Or, which at the time was awarded to the European footballer of the year. Only four Italians have won the prestigious award.
Italian Football Federation president Gabriele Gravina said in a statement on the governing body’s official website: “The disappearance of Pablito is another deep pain, a wound to the heart of all fans, difficult to heal.
“We lose a friend and an icon, who dragged the (1982 World Cup) national team to success with his goals, he took an entire country by the hand, which rejoiced in the streets, for him and with him.”
The FIGC confirmed flags were at half mast at its headquarters in Allegri and its technical center in Coverciano.
In a statement, UEFA – European football’s governing body – said a moment of silence would be held before all of Thursday’s Europa League matches in memory of the former striker.
During his four years at Juventus, Rossi won two Serie A titles, the European Cup and the Coppa Italia. On its website, the club said Rossi was “the hero of an unforgettable World Cup for all of Italy, but for us he was much, much more.”
Prior to the 1982 World Cup, Rossi had been embroiled in the “Totonero” match-fixing scandal. Banned for three years, his punishment was subsequently reduced to two, enabling Italy coach Enzo Bearzot to include Rossi in his World Cup squad.
“When I started playing again after two years out it was really, really tough. And Bearzot’s trust was very important, as well as the support of my team-mates,” Rossi told FIFA’s website in a 2007 interview.
He didn’t score in Italy’s first four World Cup games, but then netted that memorable hat-trick against Brazil.
“Everything suddenly changed,” Rossi told FIFA’s website. “Nothing was going my way and then suddenly everything was going my way. It was suddenly all so easy. Such is the beauty of sport. A goal can change everything. In my case it changed my entire life.”
After his soccer career, Rossi worked as a pundit for RAI.
“Such terribly sad news: Paolo Rossi has left us,” RAI said. “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 is the second well known World Cup winner to die in the space of two weeks, following the death of Argentine national hero Diego Maradona in November.