KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Paolo Rossi, Italy’s six-goal leading marksman in their victorious 1982 World Cup campaign, has died at the age of 64.

His story was more fantastic than fiction. Rossi had been born in Prato, Tuscany, but as a teenager Juventus gave him away because of knee trouble. He then made the grade with Lanerossi Vicenza and, when Juventus tried to buy him back, they were outbid by provincial Perugia, who paid a then world record £3.5m.

Rossi, a star with three goals already at the 1978 World Cup, was then banned for two years for alleged involvement in the Totonero betting-and-bribes scandal.

Paolo Rossi . . . historic hat-trick against Brazil

Juventus bought him back and with them he won two Serie A titles, a European Champions Cup and a Coppa Italia but his career highlight was accomplished at the 1982 World Cup.

He was only three matches out of his ban when Italy coach Enzo Bearzot took him, controversially and barely fit, to the finals in Spain.

Rossi scored a decisive hat-trick in a second round victory over Brazil which secured a semi-final against Poland. Rossi struck both goals in a 2-0 win and then provided Italy’s first in the 3-1 victory over West Germany in the final. Italy thus secured their third World Cup but first since 1938.

Golden Boot

He won the Golden Boot as the six-goal top scorer and Golden Ball as the player of the tournament. Later that year he was voted European Footballer of the Year by France Football and World Player of the Year by World Soccer.

Rossi remains Italy’s joint highest scorer at the World Cup with Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri. He was included in the 1986 World Cup squad but did not play. He had totalled 20 goals in 48 internationals when injury ended his playing career a year later at 29.

His widow, Federica Cappelletti, posted a photo of herself and her husband on Instagram here along with the words “per sempre” – “forever”. Later she added: “There will never be anyone like you, unique, special.”

Tributes poured in from across Italy and abroad.

The Italian football federation (FIGC) said flags would fly at half-mast at its headquarters in Rome and its technical centre in Florence.

FIGC president Gabriele Gravina said: “Pablito’s passing away is another moment of deep pain, a wound to the heart of all fans that is difficult to heal. We lose a friend and an icon of our football.

Former Italy Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tweeted: “In our hearts, forever. Farewell Pablito.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino messaged: “Ciao Pablito, symbol of joy, generosity, success and symbol of pride for all of us Italians abroad. Hero. Legend.

“Paolo Rossi was a pure-blooded forward, who knew how to excite us all with his play and, especially, with his goals. His love for football was immense, and he transmitted it to all of us.”

** Paolo Rossi: born September 23, 1956; died December 9, 2020.