Italy survived the opening round on goal difference and then went on to win the trophy for a third time after a creative Brazilian team had bowed out to them in an astonishing match in the second phase.
Zico, Socrates, Falcao and Eder could not stop attacking and Brazil paid for it when they lost 3-2 to a Paolo Rossi hat-trick. Italy went on to the final and beat West Germany 3-1. Rossi finished top scorer with six goals.
Rossi resurrects Italy
After a laborious start to the tournament, the Italians came alive - thanks to their star striker Paolo Rossi finding his best form - to win their third FIFA World Cup. But this FIFA World Cup is also remembered for two games that have passed into football lore: Brazil vs. Italy and, above all, a certain France vs. West Germany semi-final.
No nation has ever had so much time to prepare a FIFA World Cup tournament. FIFA appointed Spain as the host nation to the 12th FIFA World Cup, which would play host to 24 teams rather than 16, as had been the case previously.
Under the new rules, 13 teams qualified from Europe, three from South America, two from Africa, two from Asia/Oceania, two from CONCACAF (Central and North America), and the list was completed by Spain the host nation and Argentina the FIFA World Cup holder. Certain alterations were also made in how the tournament was organised, the new format incorporating three distinct phases: a first round with six groups of four teams from which the top two teams qualified for the second round; a second round with four groups of three teams from which the top team qualified from each group; and finally the semi-finals and the final.
Although 24 teams now qualified for the finals, the Netherlands, runner-up in '74 and '78, were not among them-the Dutch having been knocked out in the qualifiers by an impressive French side coached by Michel Hidalgo, which, in turn, only qualified for the second round under duress.
The same first round difficulties were encountered by two other tournament favourites: the West Germans-beaten 2-1 by Algeria-sneaked into the second round following a victory over their Austrian neighbours; and the Italians only made it past Cameroon on goal difference.
Suspense at Seville
But after shaky starts, France, Germany and Italy really came into their own, winning all their second round matches, while England and Brazil foundered - the latter knocked out by the Italians in a stupendous game.
In the first semi-final, the Italians (thanks to two goals by a revitalised Paolo Rossi), proved too strong for Poland in a one-sided game. The other semi-final, however was a completely different story. This fabulously dramatic but ultimately cruel game has become one of the most talked-about encounters of all time and one which will be eternally regretted by the French. The Germans took the lead through Littbarski, before Platini brought France level with a penalty. In extra-time the Blues led 3 -1 but Germany fought back to equalise and then won the game on a penalty shoot-out.
The multi-talented Squadra Azzurra comfortably beat West Germany in the final (3-1), helped by another goal from their inspiration, Paolo Rossi. Dino Zoff, the 40-year-old Italian captain, was presented with the FIFA World Cup trophy by the King of Spain, Juan Carlos. And so Italy became, after Brazil, the second country to win three FIFA World Cups.