Padraig Whelan·12 November 2022
Padraig Whelan·12 November 2022
Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff has his own unique place in history among World Cup greats; he is the oldest man ever to lift the trophy.
He did so as captain at the age of 40, 14 years after winning the 1968 European Championship, making is the only Italian to hold a winner’s medal for both competitions.
That Azzurri triumph in 1982 often sees others claim the limelight: Paolo Rossi for his sudden scoring streak or Marco Tardelli for arguably the most iconic celebration of all time.
But it wouldn’t have been possible without the veteran at the back. Don’t take our word for it. Even Rossi, the tournament’s Golden Boot winner with six goals, believes that is where the praise should be directed.
“Dino was our most important player in 1982,” ‘Pablito’ recalled. “He was the man who truly represented the team. He was an example to everyone and perhaps myself more than anyone.”
But he claimed the gloves ahead of the next edition in Germany, doing so by setting an international record for most minutes without conceding, going 1,142 in succession from 1972 until 1974 throughout qualifying and other fixtures.
The run finally came to an end in the World Cup as Italy conceded an unstoppable goal in their opener, a 3-1 win over Haiti, and went on to exit the tournament prematurely as a draw with Argentina and defeat to Poland saw them pipped to second in the group.
Things were much improved for the Juventus man four years later as he helped Italy to a fourth-place finish and kept three clean sheets along the way before it came time for his crowning achievement in Spain in 1982.
“He was a level-headed goalkeeper, capable of staying calm during the toughest and the most exhilarating moments. He always held back both out of modesty and respect for his opponents,” his coach at that tournament, Enzo Bearzot, said.
“At the end of the Brazil match, he came over to give me a kiss on the cheek, without saying a word. For me, that fleeting moment was the most intense of the entire World Cup.”
The Brazil match to which he is referring is remembered with reverence in Italy to this day, with Rossi claiming much of the credit for his hat-trick which sunk the tournament favourites 3-2 in the second group phase and saw Italy advance to the semi-final.
But in the final minute of that game, Zoff produced a stunning save low to his left to keep out an Oscar header which even the Brazilians didn’t think he could prevent.
“There was some apprehension for us because the Brazilians celebrated it!” he told FIFA.com. “I was sure I’d saved it and then four or five seconds of fear followed while we waited for the referee’s decision. Only when he confirmed what I knew could I calm down.”
Another shutout followed in the semi-final win over Poland before he helped Italy keep West Germany at bay at the Santiago Bernabéu at the age of 40 years and 133 days to carve out his incredible place in history.
He hung up his gloves a year later, with his World Cup record standing at 17 games played with less than a goal conceded per match, just three losses suffered and one gold medal.