Italian soccer great Luigi ‘Gigi’ Riva died on Monday at the age of 79, according to the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).
Taken ill over the weekend, Riva received treatment for a suspected heart problem, according to multiple reports.
Nicknamed ‘Rombo di Tuono’ (‘Roar of Thunder’) – a nod to his shooting and physical strength – Riva is Italy’s leading all-time national team goalscorer, a title he has held since 1973 after passing Giuseppe Meazza.
In total, Riva scored 35 times in 42 games for his country.
In a statement, FIFA President Gianni Infantino called Riva a timeless champion: “From today the history of football is a puzzle without one of its best pieces. Have a good trip, beloved Gigi.”
Riva made his international debut aged 20 and was part of the side that won Italy’s first ever European Championship. He more than played his part, opening the scoring in the final against Yugoslavia, which Italy won 2-0.
He also played a starring role for Italy two years later at the 1970 World Cup, scoring twice against host Mexico in the quarterfinal before finding the net in the 4-3 semifinal win against West Germany in a match dubbed the “Game of the Century.”
Five of the game’s seven goals were scored in extra-time as Italy advanced to the final, where they were eventually defeated 4-1 by Brazil and the legendary Pelé.
“As a player, he was the greatest Italian striker in history and one of the best in the world,” said former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi.
“When I worked with him in the national team, I met a man even greater than the footballer, an extraordinary person. He gave his life for football, we must all be grateful.”
At club level, Riva is synonymous with Italian side Cagliari, which is based on the Italian island of Sardinia.
He joined the club at the age of 19 after making his professional debut for Serie C team Legnano-Ivrea. He netted 208 goals in 378 games for the Sardinian team and was the first player in Rossoblù history to receive an Italy call-up.
Riva helped Cagliari attain promotion to Serie A for the first time in the club’s history in his first season with the team and won the Scudetto – the Italian league title – in the 1969/70 campaign. It remains the only Serie A title triumph in Cagliari’s history.
“He took Cagliari up there to touch the clouds, where no one had ever managed to go,” the club said in a statement titled “Forever Gigi Riva.”
“But even more than a simple, extraordinary sports champion, he was for Sardinia and the Sardinians an example, a symbol, an icon,” added the Cagliari statement.
“The identification between Gigi and Sardinia was total, unfiltered. It had the taste of a genuine and absolute love that nothing could ever erase.”
Riva called time on his playing career in 1976 due to injury.
After retirement, Riva had a brief spell as Cagliari’s president during the 1986/87 campaign and served as Accompanying Director of the national team.
He held various roles with the Azzurri between 1988 and 2013 and was part of Marcello Lippi’s backroom staff at the 2006 World Cup, helping Italy to become world champion for the fourth time after beating France.