"Bravissima Italia!" read the headline this morning across the front page of one of Madrid's boulevard dailies, and the consensus is that Italy deserves to be the 1982 world champion of soccer.
Italy defeated the three pre-World Cup favorities, Argentina, Brazil and West Germany, all in a fairly convincing manner.
By today, the hoopla had wound down. The only signs of yesterday's wild celebrations throughout downtown Madrid by the 20,000 Italians who came to this Spanish capital were a few red, white and green streamers in the streets and a few parked campers from Italy in the neighborhood surrounding the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
But today there is a slightly sour taste in the mouths of many who followed this 12th World Cup, even if Italy's fans are satisfied.
For many here, Brazil was not only the favorite but the best team in the tournament. It came up short only in the second half of its second-round game with Italy, which the Italians won, 3-2.
Brazil entertained with attractive, attacking soccer full of enterprising passes and breath-taking shots on goal. Italy, in its victory over the Brazilians, also attacked impressively. Paolo Rossi, shut out in Italy's first four games, scored all three goals against Brazil and finished as the tournament's leading scorer with six.
But in most of their games, the Italians played the kind of cautious, controlled defensive soccer that relies mainly on a packed defense and an occasional quick counterattack.
The aim of such tactics is to lure opponents into frustrating, all-out assaults on goal; when they have thrown everything into the attack, their own defense becomes vulnerable to the occasional fast break.
Against Argentina, the Italians used this tactic expertly. They concentrated on breaking down the Argentine attack, often with brutal fouls, although the Argentines also mixed it up a bit.
The result was a 2-1 Italian victory. It was also a victory that featured many of the worst aspects of the feared Italian "catenaccio," the name applied to the tactic of packing the defense and waiting for the opponent to come at it.
Rinus Michels, former Dutch national team coach and coach of many other clubs, including the Los Angeles Aztecs, said after that game that the "lesser team won, with anti-football," an expression commentators used often that day.
Argentina's Diego Maradona "was on the ground more than he played," Michels said. "Italy won that one with destructive tactics, pure and simple."
Catenaccio also was applied to Italy's 2-0 semifinal win over Poland. Still, against Poland and in Sunday's 3-1 final victory over West Germany, the Italians did open up their offense markedly after obtaining a two-goal lead. An extreme catenaccio would have dictated a purely defensive posture at that point.
Italy's championship and Brazil's early exit from the tournament are main reasons why the 1982 World Cup represented a victory for cautious, defensive soccer.
The West Germans showed a willingness to attack often in many of their games, but they also had a tendency to be too cool, calculating and overtly cautious in key situations.
In its thrilling 4-3 overtime victory over France in the semifinal and, to a lesser degree, in its convincing 2-1 win over Spain in the second round, West Germany showed flashes of the "total soccer" that won it the 1974 World Cup. In those two games, defenders Hans-Peter Briegel, Uli Stielike and occasionally the Foerster brothers, Bernd and Karl-Heinz, were in the opponents' half of the field as often as their own.
But in the final, and more so in the opening round, the Germans were cautious. Never was this more evident than in the first round against Austria, which one Dutch paper called a "cynical match."
The West Germans' 1-0 victory was a clean game. But it was cynical in that neither team took any chances once it was clear that both would reach the second round as long as the score did not change.
This was done at the expense of the enterprising but inexperienced team from Algeria that stunned the soccer world with its first-round upset of West Germany. The Algerians surely have learned that it doesn't always pay to put everything into the attack in a major tournament such as the World Cup.
Algeria led Chile, 3-0, in its last first-round match, a result that would have forced the Austrian-West German match to take on a different character. But the Algerians kept coming at the Chileans, and the result was two second-half goals by Chile.
Algeria was symbolic of another interesting development in this World Cup: the emergence of the small or supposedly weak soccer countries. Algeria, Cameroon and Honduras all narrowly missed making the second round. In addition, Kuwait and El Salvador played at least one good match each against big-name competition from Europe and South America.
But the bottom line is that none of these teams' were clever enough to play the cautious type of game that put West Germany and Italy into the final.