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Riva, Italy men's all-time leading scorer, dies at 79

Luigi Riva Italy Luigi Riva - Getty Images

CAGLIARI, Sardinia (AP) — Gigi Riva, the all-time leading goalscorer for Italy men's national team who was known as the “Rombo di Tuono” (Rumble of Thunder), has died. He was 79.

The Italian soccer federation (FIGC) confirmed Riva died on Monday as tributes started flooding in for the player, who earned his nickname because of the potency of his shot with 35 goals in 42 appearances for Italy.

“I’m shaken and profoundly saddened, Italian soccer is grieving because a real and proper national hero has left us,” FIGC President Gabriele Gravina said. “Gigi Riva was the embodiment of a great man and an extraordinary footballer: his pride, his class and his sense of fairness united generations.

“Thanks to him we won the European Championship in 1968 and the World Cup in 2006 (as team manager)."

Riva was taken to the cardiology unit at Brotzu Hospital on Sunday after collapsing at home and the Cagliari hospital issued a statement on Monday evening saying his condition had improved. But he died shortly afterward.

“He had a serious coronary heart disease,” doctors at the hospital said in quotes reported by Gazzetta dello Sport. "This morning specialists recommended an angioplasty surgery. He decided to think about it. Nothing made us think he would worsen suddenly.

“He had been informed of the risk of death ... he seemed serene and good-tempered, very calm. He was in agreement with the statement on how he was doing, knowing that the city and the nation wished him well.”

Riva spent almost his entire career at Cagliari after joining the Sardinian team as a teenager, refusing several lucrative offers to join other clubs — especially when he was at the top of his game and Cagliari was struggling.

He helped Cagliari to its only Serie A title in 1970 and remains the club’s record scorer, with 205 goals in 374 matches. He was also honorary president of the club, and was president from 1986-87.

Several Italian clubs posted messages of condolences on social media. Cagliari simply wrote “For ever GIGI RIVA” above a large photo of the player. It also added a black ribbon to its social media profiles before issuing a heartfelt tribute.

“He took Cagliari up there to touch the clouds, where no one had ever managed to go,” it said. "But even more than a simple, extraordinary sports champion, he was for Sardinia and the Sardinians an example, a symbol, an icon.

“The identification between Gigi and Sardinia was total, unfiltered. It had the taste of a genuine and absolute love that nothing could ever erase. Not even the end of an existence. From today we are all lonelier. With our roots torn out. As if a piece of ourselves has also gone. As if we had awoken from a long, intense, wonderful dream, from which we never wanted to wake.”

As a player, Riva helped the Azzurri win the European Championship in 1968 and finish runners-up at the World Cup two years later — losing to Pelé's Brazil in the final.

He was also team manager of the national side from 1990-2013 and was instrumental in Italy winning its fourth World Cup in 2006.

Former Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who was part of that World Cup-winning team, was one of many to pay tribute to Riva.

“You were among the greatest footballers of our Italy and a giant away from the playing fields,” Buffon wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "You offered me a guide and a reference point in Azzurro and we shared the difficult moments, the losses, as well as the most beautiful victory.

“Continue to give me your advice even from up there. Goodbye Rombo di Tuono!”

Many others from outside the world of soccer also expressed their emotions at the death of one of the country's best ever players.

“So many Italians, and I among them, learn the sudden news of Gigi Riva's death with real pain,” Italy President Sergio Mattarella said.

“His sporting successes, his great character, the dignity of his behavior in every circumstance earned him the affection of millions of Italians, even among those who didn't follow soccer.”

A minute’s silence will be held before the start of all soccer matches in Italy this weekend in tribute to Riva.

There was also a minute’s silence before the start of the second half of the Italian Super Cup final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Monday. However, the crowd at Al-Awwal Park Stadium appeared unaware of what was happening — although a photo of Riva and the words “Ciao Riva” (Goodbye Riva) were displayed on the big screens — and booed, prompting the players to start clapping.


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