Nicknamed Spillo ("Needle") for his slender build. Altobelli was one of the most effective Italian forwards of the late 1970s and 1980s. Following spells at Latina (Serie C) and Brescia (Serie B), he was signed by Internazionale, for whom he played 466 times, scoring 209 goals (128 in Serie A) and contributing to his team's scudetto of 1980. For Italy he was capped 61 times, scoring 25 goals: the most notable of which is the third goal in the 1982 FIFA World Cup final, won by Italy against West Germany. He became the second ever substitute to score in a FIFA World Cup final (after Dick Nanninga in 1978 and with Rudi Völler being the only one to repeat this feat ever since in 1986). Altobelli also played at Euro 80, the 1986 FIFA World Cup, and Euro 88, where he played as the team's captain. He made 4 sub appearances scoring just after coming on in a 2–0 win over Denmark in the group stages.