If today’s match were on a movie poster, the tagline might be: Brazil v Italy. Attack v defence. Joga bonito v catenaccio. Good v evil. Brazil are, depending on your preferred metaphor, playing football from the future or playing a different sport altogether. Of the twelve goals they have scored in four consecutive wins, nine have been genuine belters. They have soundtracked España 82 with the unfettered joy of samba beats. (Literally, as their fans give it plenty.) The world has fallen hopelessly in love, our hearts beating to every jazzy syncopation.

Preamble: Italy have engaged a different sense: they have stunk the place out with a clunking, ersatz form of catenaccio. They were lucky to get through the group stage without winning a single game. And although they were better in beating Argentina 2–1 six days ago, only their third win in the last 15 games, that victory was down to well-rationed counter-attacks and Claudio Gentile’s man-marking job on Diego Maradona — not so much a case of persistent fouling as occasional non-fouling. There has been no great attacking fluency. And yet, for all that, in two hours’ time, Italy could be in the semi-finals ahead of Brazil.

The scenario is simple: Italy need a win, Brazil need a draw. It is a nicely contrary state of affairs — the attacking side need the draw, the defensive side the win — but we would still expect both sides to assume their usual archetypes. Most people feel that Italy have two chances today — and slim is unavailable through suspension. If they do pull it off, childhood discoveries about Santa and the Tooth Fairy will have nothing on the distress that will envelop the watching world of football.

Team news: If it’s perfect, don’t fix it: Brazil are unchanged from the team that ransacked Argentina 3–1 on this ground three days ago. This is the fourth consecutive match in which they have named the same XI. Their team includes Roma’s Falcão, the only man on either side who plays his football overseas. Falcão wasn’t guaranteed a place a month ago but he has probably been the player of the tournament. There was talk that the veteran Franco Causio might replace Paolo Rossi, whose last goal for Italy came over three years ago, but they are also unchanged.

Kick-off: 5.15 p.m. local time, 4.15 p.m. for those in England who want to escape work early.

Referee: Abraham Klein (Israel).

Italy: Dino Zoff; Gabriele Oriali, Fulvio Collovati, Gaetano Scirea, Claudio Gentile, Antonio Cabrini; Bruno Conti, Marco Tardelli, Giancarlo Antognoni; Paolo Rossi, Francesco Graziani.

Brazil: Waldir Peres; Leandro, Oscar, Luizinho, Junior; Falcão, Cerezo, Sócrates, Eder; Zico; Serginho.

1 min: Brazil kick off from left to right to the distinctive peep of caxirolas that have been such a part of this tournament. The pitch markings look like they have been done by Jackson Pollock’s marginally more methodical brother. There are straight lines along one part, angled lines across another and little white circles dotted all around the pitch. It’s a seriously hot afternoon in Barcelona, the kind we are contractually obliged to describe as either sultry or steamy.

2 min: The good news for Zico is that he was passed fit to play today. The bad news for Zico is that he’s going to be marked by Gentile. For an attacker that invariably means pain in the post, and usually by special delivery.

3 min: It’s a very open start, at both ends. Whisper it but Italy may have come to play.

4 min: What a chance for Paolo Rossi! A patient move from Italy ended with Cabrini lofting a fine pass down the left for Tardelli, who fizzed a superb cut-back to Rossi, in space 12 yards out. He made a dreadful mess of it. He completely missed his kick, beaten by the pace of the cut-back. Then at the second attempt he fell on his backside after running into Cerezo. That’s Rossi’s tournament in miniature. We know he is a class act but he is having a miserable time. His last goal for Italy was 1,118 days ago, and he looks terribly rusty after his two-year ban for his involvement in the Totonero betting scandal.

5 min: GOAL! Italy 1–0 Brazil (Rossi). Can we edit that previous entry, please?! Precisely 60 seconds after that miss, Rossi has given Italy the lead! It was a beautifully worked goal. Conti circled lazily away from Cerezo near the halfway line, made 15 yards, swerved away from Eder’s token challenge and then swept a regal outside-of-the-foot crossfield pass to the onrushing Cabrini on the left. He coaxed an excellent cross to the far post where Rossi, given far too much space between Luizinho and Junior, planted a decisive header back across Waldir Peres from six yards. Could we have a major shock on here? As things stand, Italy will be playing Poland in the semi-final!

6 min: The good news for Italy is that they are a goal up. The bad news for Italy is that they are a goal up. The last team to stir the beast by taking the lead against Brazil, dear old Scotland, were dismantled 4–1. The kick-off has been delayed because an Italian fan has lobbed a firecracker into the Brazilian penalty area in celebration. The delay is over a minute until, with the camera lingering on the firecracker, a shoe appears from out of shot to hoof it straight back towards the Italian fans. You can have that back!

8 min: Zico is fouled by Gentile, not for the last time we’ll be bound, 30 yards from goal and a little to the left. This is the first chance for Eder, whose storming free-kick against Argentina hit the bar and led to Zico’s opening goal. This time his run-up starts somewhere near La Rambla and he hammers it straight into the wall.

9 min: The left-back Junior is contemptuously dispossessed by Conti, who launches a counter-attack with a long pass to Rossi. Leandro gets there first but then haplessly miscontrols it straight into the path of the striker. Rossi backheels to Graziani, who thrashes his 20-yard shot over the bar. That was pathetic defending from Brazil. The camera cuts to the Italy coach Enzo Bearzot. With his rimless sunglasses, stern visage and bright lilac shirt, he looks like the greatest nemesis Theo Kojak never had.

11 min: WHAT A MISS! The knives have been out for Serginho for most of this tournament and a few more rusty, serrated ones will be unsheathed after this appalling miss. Sócrates started the move with a crisp ball into Serginho, 35 yards out. He was dispossessed by a combination of Cabrini and Collovati, but then, in a whirl of collisions and cartoon clouds, Scirea’s attempted clearance hit Serginho and went to Zico. He played a simple pass to put Serginho through on goal. He was 14 yards out, with just Zoff to beat — and he lummoxed a hopeless shot well wide of the far post. That was desperate. He attacked the ball with all the calmness of control of a teenage boy attacking his first bra and his hamfooted shot bobbled past the post. “The sort of miss that a Sunday morning player shouldn’t have been guilty of,” says the BBC commentator John Motson.

12 min: GOAL! Italy 1–1 Brazil (Sócrates). This is a masterpiece of elegant simplicity. It involved just two players, Sócrates and Zico. Sócrates, just past the halfway line, slipped a straight pass into Zico and kept running. Zico, 25 yards out, with a majestic Cruyff turn ignored Gentile’s burgeoning plan to defile him and then stabbed a sudden, disguised pass for Sócrates down the side of the sweeper Scirea. Sócrates ran off Tardelli, past the slightly flat-footed Scirea, lit up a Ducados and then, from a tight angle, simply passed the ball in at the near post. Zoff will probably feel he should have done better but Sócrates may have given him the eyes.

13 min: That’s a fitting addition to Brazil’s absurd portfolio of goals in this tournament. If scoring a goal is comparable with sex, as so many players say, then Brazil’s work at this World Cup is the greatest porn you will ever see. Who needs Debbie Does Dallas when you have Sócrates Does the Sarrià Stadium?

14 min: Gentile is out of the semi-final! He’s been booked for taking a shortcut through the back of Zico. Yellow cards are usually a bit of an event but you can’t really call this a surprise, can you? Gentile got away with speciality defending against Maradona the other day but Abraham Klein has shown him a yellow card for his first bad tackle. The happiest man in the world might be Poland’s Zbigniew Boniek: if Italy get through to the semi-final, Gentile will not be there to mark him.

16 min: There’s a cracking pace to this game. “I’ve never known anything like it,” says the BBC summariser Bobby Charlton. ‘The most fantastic start to any World Cup match I’ve ever seen.’

17 min: Falcão, inside his own half, plays the ball into Zico and keeps running. Zico holds off Gentile, turns to face him and plays a wonderful angled pass back towards Falcão. With a better first touch he would have been through on Zoff, but the ball bobbled awkwardly and he was pushed wide. Brazil have been so good at these long-range one-twos in the tournament, usually through Zico: Junior’s goal against Argentina, Sócrates’s today and now Falcão’s chance. Forty seconds later, Cerezo’s teasing cross is headed further across the area by Falcão. Serginho is just shaping to blooter a volley into orbit when Collovati stretches to head clear eight yards from his own goal.

19 min: Brazil are playing beautifully now, with the wonderful midfield pair of Cerezo and Falcão galloping forward at every opportunity. This looks a bit ominous for Italy, who are on the back foot for the first time.

24 min: A bit of respite for Italy, with Tardelli fouled 25 yards from goal. Antognoni’s deflected free-kick loops gently into the arms of Waldir Peres.

25 min:GOAL! Italy 2–1 Brazil (Rossi). What an appalling mistake from Cerezo! Italy are back in front! It all came from that Antognoni free-kick. Waldir Peres faffed around a bit and then threw the ball out to the right-back Leandro. He laid it square to Cerezo, 30 yards from the Brazil goal, and he knocked another lazy square pass towards a pocket of Brazilian players. The problem was that they were loitering with all the urgency of civil servants by the coffee machine and had no idea the ball was coming. It also bisected them perfectly. Luizinho was trotting upfield, Falcão wasn’t expecting the pass and it was too late by the time Junior realized what day it was. He dived in; Rossi beat him to the ball, ran to the edge of the area and thrashed a shot straight through Waldir Peres. I know this Brazil team want to be the spiritual heirs to 1970, but there’s no reason to play homage to Clodoaldo’s cock-up against Italy. That didn’t cost Brazil; this one might.

27 min: The fact and manner of the goal don’t seem to have affected Brazil one iota. They have picked up exactly where they left off, playing the same beach football we have seen in the last two weeks. Italy look dangerous, though, in a way they previously haven’t in this tournament.

32 min: Collovati goes down in the area. There’s no suggestions of maimage most foul — I don’t think there was anyone near him — but he’s struggling and the referee has called for a stretcher.

33 min: Eder spanks the free-kick straight into the wall. A few seconds later, with Italy temporarily down to ten, Sócrates almost grabs his second goal! Cerezo curled over a good cross from a deep, narrow position on the right, which cleared a big posse of bodies around the penalty spot. Sócrates, arriving late in space at the far post, headed spectacularly but straight at Zoff from 12 yards.

34 min: Collovati is replaced by Giuseppe Bergomi, who is making his second appearance for Italy. He’s only 18, but has one of the thickest moustaches you’ll ever see.

36 min: Rossi is flattened as he goes for a high ball with Luizinho. The referee Klein, like a father telling his weeping son it’s only a scratch, wanders over, pats him on the side and then lifts a wincing Rossi to his feet.

40 min: A languid relay run down the centre of the field, involving Leandro, Cerezo, Junior (whose nominal position of left-back really is little more than a basis for negotiation) and Serginho, ends with Falcão’s first-time shot from the edge of the area being deflected wide. The resulting corner from Eder flashes right across the face of goal with Zoff flapping.

42 min: Zico becomes the first player to be undressed in a World Cup match. You don’t need me to tell you that Gentile is the one doing the disrobing. He’s ripped Zico’s shirt in half! Sócrates’s through ball somehow found its way through to Zico, who managed to escape Gentile’s wandering hands just long enough to strike an off-balance shot that was beaten away by Zoff. By then he had been flagged offside, so the goal wouldn’t have counted. Zico shows his shirt, which has a huge hole around the right side of the stomach, to referee Klein, but it’s irrelevant as he had been flagged offside. And Klein doesn’t have his sewing kit with him today, so he can’t help.

43 min: There have been some mighty performances in this half: Rossi, Zico, Falcão, Scirea, Antognoni, Cerezo (that shocking mistake aside) and Klein have been particularly good.

44 min: Oriali introduces Sócrates to an advertising hoarding – Caloi bicycles, since you ask – with a gentle shove. Sócrates signals an elbow at Klein with mild irritation. The referee gives him oogatz.

45 min: Graziani combines with Antognoni on the left, gets past a woolly challenge from Cerezo and is denied a simple chance by a vital challenge by Oscar. For all the brilliance of Brazil’s attacking play, Italy have arguably had the greater chances.

45+2 min: A Junior corner from the left causes havoc and almost leads to an equalizer. The ball deflects to Zico on the byline, in front of the near post. He improvises and lobs over Zoff towards the far post, where it hits the under-pressure Serginho on the back before being hoofed to safety by Oriali. That’s an unbecomingly agricultural end to a stunning half of football.

HALF-TIME: Brazil 1–2 Italy. Nobody predicted this scoreline. But then nobody thought Italy were going to come out and play gorgeous football.

46 min: Italy kick off from left to right. It remains unthinkable but Brazil are only 45 minutes away from going out of the World Cup.

47 min: Gorgeous football again from Brazil. Falcão, just inside the Italy half to the right of centre, feeds an angled pass to Junior and sets off. Serginho and Zico drag the defenders the other way, allowing Junior to play a return pass into the area for Falcão, who bursts past Tardelli and then sidefoots just wide of the far post from a tightish angle. Zoff may have had it covered but most credit goes to Scirea, the only man who didn’t buy Serginho’s and Zico’s off-the-ball runs and got across just in time to ensure Falcão had to take the shot under considerable pressure. That was outstanding defending from a brilliant sweeper.

48 min: We talk a lot about what Brazil do with the ball, not unreasonably, but their movement off the ball in this game has been outrageously good, particularly the late runs from midfield of Sócrates and Falcão.

50 min: Brazil have eight men forward in attack — eight! — but Junior wafts a poor pass out of play.

51 min: Oriali wins the ball decisively from Eder, who has hardly had a kick apart from the free ones, and launches another Italian counter-attack. Conti plays the ball to Antognoni, runs on to a beautifully chipped return pass, comes inside Oscar on the left corner of the box but then stabs a weary shot wide of the far post. In his defence he had run 60 yards. In Brazil’s defence … there is no defence. Their play at the back has been awful.

52 min: This game feels more clearly defined than ever: Brazil attack, Italy counter-attack. But actually it’s Italy who are looking more menacing just now. Rossi falls over in the box after a shoulder charge from Luizinho and referee Klein waves him to his feet. That looks the right decision although it was a risky challenge from Luizinho.

55 min: Zoff makes a brilliant save from Cerezo! This chance came out of nothing. Cerezo set off an imperious, leggy run from midfield, into the space vacated by Serginho’s clever off-the-ball run, while Zico protected the ball near the centre circle. Then Zico suddenly played a wonderful long through-pass that took four players out of the game. Zoff, sensing the danger, dragged his 40-year-old limbs kicking and screaming to the edge of his area at pace and blocked Cerezo’s first-time shot. Then he delivered an impassioned bollocking to his defence.

58 min: BRAZIL SHOULD BE OUT OF THE WORLD CUP! Both sides could have scored in the space of a minute! First Brazil. Junior’s chipped ball into the area was not far enough in front of Cerezo for him to go for goal, so he cushioned a header towards Serginho. He challenged for the ball with Bergomi and, as it broke loose, improvised a backheel that was saved by the legs of Zoff. Within 20 seconds, Rossi missed an unbelievable chance to complete his hat-trick. Graziani swerved away from Falcão down the left and, with defenders drawn towards him, crossed low towards Rossi at the far post. Rossi had an entire postal district to himself, eight yards from goal. Peres narrowed the angle and somehow Rossi sliced wide.

59 min: A better free-kick from Eder is well held by Zoff. It was straight at him but dipped nastily at pace just in front of him, a difficult ball to hold, especially as Serginho and Zico were waiting for a rebound.

63 min: Brazil have so many men forward, it’s ridiculous. Junior — the effing left-back — is the main midfield conductor at the moment. Cerezo, on the edge of a packed area, plays the ball back to Junior and runs in behind Tardelli for the return. Junior lifts a golf shot over the top, but it’s a fraction too firm and Cerezo, sticking out his telescopic right leg, can only volley into the side-netting at the near post from a tight angle. Zoff had it covered.

67 min: Paolo Isidoro is about to come on for Brazil, presumably for Serginho, who has been peripheral.

68 min: GOAL! Brazil 2–2 Italy (Falcão). The best player in the 1982 World Cup may well have put Brazil into the semi-final with an outstanding goal. Junior swaggered infield from the left, ignoring a challenge from Conti before stabbing an outside-of-the-foot pass to Falcão, just outside the box to the right of centre. With Cerezo’s long swerving run on the outside distracting Tardelli, Scirea and Cabrini, Falcão had time to run into the D and spank a left-footed shot into the net. Zoff dived to his right but he was beaten for pace as much as anything. Falcão bounces towards the bench, into the arms of his teammates. That was sheer delightful football.

70 min: Isidoro is on for Serginho as expected. It looks like Sócrates is going to play up front. Now the ball is round again, as one Brazilian journalist put it when Serginho was taken off in an earlier game. Although you can safely bet he wouldn’t say it to Serginho’s face.

71 min: Italy have been ragged since the goal. Brazil could put them away with another quick one here. The hitherto faultless teenager Bergomi loses the ball to Eder and for a second Brazil have two-on-one. But Eder tries to go alone and is superbly tackled by the last man Scirea, who then blocks Falcão’s follow-up shot.

72 min: Zico teases Gentile on the right corner of the box, the mouse toying with the cat, before going past him and then Scirea. Bergomi comes across to make a vital clearance.

74 min: Junior finds the marauding Cerezo down the left and his clipped cross is claimed at the second attempt by Zoff, with Isidoro about to pounce.

75 min: GOAL!!! Brazil 2–3 Italy (Rossi). This is unbelievable! Italy are in front again and Rossi has a hat-trick! They had been on their knees since Brazil’s equaliser and then they scored out of nothing. Antognoni’s deep cross was headed behind a little needlessly by Cerezo. Conti drove it towards the edge of the area, where Bergomi, Zico and Sócrates all went up for the header. It came off Sócrates’s head and dropped to Tardelli, who mis-hit a volley through a crowd of players that was turned in from six yards by Rossi. Junior appealed for offside — but he was the man playing Rossi onside because he couldn’t be bothered to come off the near post. It’s the first World Cup hat-trick by an Italian since 1934, when Angelo Schiavio put three past the USA in a 7–1 win. Before this game Rossi had been hopeless! If Italy win, this astonishing turnaround will go straight into folklore.

76 min: Tardelli injured himself in the course of the greatest miskick of his life and has been replaced by Giampiero Marini.

79 min: Oriali is booked for inflicting pain on Eder. He has won that battle emphatically today. Eder strikes the resulting free-kick just wide from 35 yards, although Zoff certainly had it covered.

80 min: SÓCRATES HAS A GOAL DISALLOWED FOR OFFSIDE! He ran on to Leandro’s through-pass and went round Zoff — who admittedly had stopped playing after hearing the whistle — to score. There are no real complaints from Brazil.

83 min: Scirea — the bloody sweeper — goes on a ridiculous surge upfield for Italy and almost finds Rossi. Where’s he going?! There’s no catenaccio here, no bolting of the door; everyone is caught up in the mood of an astonishing match.

84 min: Brazil are on the desperate side of urgent now. The samba beats are going at 78 rpm rather than the usual 45. Eder plays a through ball towards Junior. Zoff charges outside his box to get there first and then completely shanks his clearance. Luckily for him it goes to Oriali. Moments later Isidoro’s cross flicks off the head of Gentile towards Sócrates, whose goalbound half-volley from six yards is magnificently blocked by Conti!

86 min: A good couple of minutes for Italy, with Brazil struggling to get the ball. The tension is ridiculous.

88 min: ITALY HAVE A GOAL WRONGLY DISALLOWED! That should have been it. The tireless Antognoni started and finished the move. He launched another counter-attack before putting Rossi free on the right wing. Rossi ran into the area and slipped it back to Oriali, who played an angled pass across the area for Antognoni to ram home from six yards. The flag went straight up, but replays show he was being played onside, probably by Junior and certainly by Oscar. That’s a terrible decision and one we’ll never hear the end of if Brazil equalise in the last couple of minutes.

89 min: WHAT A SAVE BY ZOFF! They so nearly did equalise and put Italy out of the tournament! Eder was fouled on the left wing and curled the ball beyond the far post, where Oscar came round the back of a crowd of players to thump a header towards goal. Zoff plunged to his left to stop the ball and then, as it slipped from his grasp, stopped it right on the line with Brazil appealing it had gone over. It hadn’t and that might just be it for Brazil.

90 min: Brazil are now playing a freestyle 1–4–5 formation. They win another corner. This is like nothing you will ever see. Falcão, in an inside-right position, plays it into Leandro, who lofts a return pass into the area. Falcão’s flying volley is blocked by Graziani at the expense of a corner.

90+1 min: Eder has to move one of the advertising hoardings to make room to take the corner. He swings it right under the crossbar where Zoff, under considerable pressure, punches clear decisively.

FULL-TIME: Brazil 2–3 Italy. That’s it! Italy have put this astonishing Brazil side out of the World Cup! Their players are almost too exhausted to celebrate. They have given so much. Average at best in this tournament before this game, they’ve elevated themselves into the pantheon with a display that was staunch yet sassy. Brazil, meanwhile... oh Brazil! The most popular team on the planet won’t be lifting the trophy but they do leave Spain with one title: the best team never to win the World Cup. A few older folk in Hungary, Holland and, yes, Brazil will be happy to have that load lifted. And while it won’t make them feel any better at the moment, this brilliant Brazil side can take succor from one thing: they’ve just played their part in the greatest World Cup game ever.


This is an edited extract from And Gazza Misses the Final, published by Constable.