Italy mourns the death of one of the greatest footballers in its history, Gigi Riva, who died on Monday at the age of 79.

Luigi (known to all as Gigi) Riva suffered a heart attack at home on Sunday and was in the hospital since then in Cagliari, the town where he spent almost his entire playing career, between 1963 and 1977.

“A true national monument has left us, Gigi Riva embodied the myth of the free man and the extraordinary soccer player,” said Italian Football Federation president Gabriele Gravina in a statement.

“He will be sorely missed by our calcio,” said Italian League boss Lorenzo Casini.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hailed “a great sportsman who has marked the history of calcio and our national team.”

The Inter Milan and Napoli players observed a minute’s silence before kick-off of the second half of Monday’s Italian Supercup final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The clubs of the Italian championship, starting with Cagliari, his lifelong club, paid tribute to the top scorer player in the history of the Italian national team, “an Italian myth,” according to AS Roma.

Funeral on Wednesday

A minute’s silence will be observed on all Italian soccer pitches before each match from Tuesday until Sunday, according to the FIGC.

His funeral is due to take place on Wednesday in Cagliari, where all Sardinian flags on public buildings have been lowered to half-mast.

The man nicknamed “Rombo di Tuono” (thunderbolt) because of his exceptional striking power, left his mark on the history of Italian soccer.

With 35 goals in 42 appearances for Italy, he was the Nazionale’s all-time top scorer and won the 1968 European Championship with them.

But it was at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico that he wrote the finest pages of his career and of world soccer.

Alongside Gianni Rivera, the striker was one of the key players in Italy’s 4-3 semi-final victory over Germany, regarded as one of the greatest matches in the history of the competition.

Riva scored one of the five goals in an incredible extra-time period that sent Italy through to the final, where they lost to Pele’s Brazil (4-1).

164 Goals in 315 Matches

Born in Lombardy on November 7, 1944, on the shores of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, Riva made his name in Sardinia, scoring 164 goals in 315 matches in all competitions and lifting the Serie A top scorer’s trophy three times (1967, 1969, 1970).

Although he could have joined more prestigious Serie A teams, Riva always remained loyal to Cagliari, to whom he offered his only Italian championship title in 1970, one of the most resounding and unexpected in history, before breaking a leg the following season.

After his playing career, Riva briefly embarked on a coaching career, followed just as briefly by a spell as club president, again with Cagliari.

In 1990, he returned to his other favourite team, the Nazionale, this time as general manager, taking part in five European Championships and as many World Cups, including the 2006 triumph in Germany, before retiring a year later.

Although he lacked the worldwide renown of Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, who passed away earlier this month, Riva was, in the words of Fifa President Gianni Infantino, “a timeless champion (…) the history of soccer is a puzzle that has lost one of its finest pieces.”

Pierre Daccache, with AFP