This is the second in a weekly series of World Cup history lessons brought to you by our very own “Professor” Guy Bailey. He is not actually a professor; the only professor on staff is Jamie Clary. Well. sort of.
The 1934 World Cup
The second World Cup was to be played in Italy after an efficient total of eight meetings of the FIFA Executive Committee, taken without a ballot of its members and at the expense of Sweden but Italy had the money to put on the tournament and also being under the rule of Il Duce, a man who, regardless of his politics or leadership style, could at least get things done.
Politics, of course, were never going to be far away from a tournament that the Italians were involved with and the biggest casualties were the reigning Champions – Uruguay – who refused to travel to Europe to defend their title in protest at the number of European nations that had refused to travel to South America to play in their tournament four years earlier. So in summary, they protested by doing exactly the same thing that the countries they were protesting about did. Everything clear so far? Good.
The British Home Nations of course, were too preoccupied with themselves to think of taking part. Charles Sutcliffe, FA committee member displayed the same foresight and leadership that is still being displayed by the organization today: “The National Associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have quite enough to do in their own International Championship which seems to me a far better ‘World Championship’ than the one to be staged in Rome”.
A total of 32 teams entered so a qualifying round was introduced – a one-off winner-take-all match which also included the hosts – the first time they had to qualify for their own tournament – The last match, Mexico v USA, was played in Rome three days before the tournament was due to kick off and was won 4-2 by the USA so maintaining their 100 percent qualifying record – another feather in the cap for the so-called soccer hating nation.
The record didn’t last long however. The curious tournament format was a straight knock-out competition and the Americans found themselves facing the hosts. Sadly, they were swept aside 7-1 and the world had to notice the rise of the Azzuri; The rising nations of Eastern Europe started to flex their muscles as Hungary and Czechoslovakia went through and Sweden saw off the previous finalists Argentina 3-2, who then had to face the arduous cruise back home after only one match, both they and Brazil were given byes into the tournament.
The first quarter final saw Italy draw 1-1 with Spain and the first World Cup replay was set; this was a rough house affair with no less than three Spaniards leaving the field injured. This was in the days before substitutes so little wonder the Italians marched on but only by a single goal. Austria, Germany and the Czechs completed the semi-final line-up. Italy crept past Austria 1-0 to make their first final and probably save them and their families a midnight-knock from the brownshirts and the Czechs overcame Germany 3-1 although the Germans would come knocking demanding a replay some five years later.
The final took place at the catchily-titled Stadium of the National Fascist Party in Rome but the pressure started to get to the hosts, 0-0 at half time, and things looked bleak for them as the Czechs went ahead 1-0 on 76 minutes. No greater motivation than a pissed-off looking dictator in the VIP box, the hosts rallied and equalized on 81 minutes to send the Final into extra time. Italy scored again on five minutes into the period and held on to maintain the hosts’ nations’ 100 percent record in the emerging tournament.
Another interesting fact was before the rules were tightened, players were able to represent more than one country in the World Cup, a fact that Italy took full advantage off inviting three of the Argentine team that got to the previous final to change allegiance to their host country, as all three played in Serie A. Vittorio Pozzo, the Italian coach said of the three, possibly with half an eye on the political climate in the country, “If they can die for Italy, they can play for Italy.”
A lot of scholars and historians since have leveled accusations that the officials may have been lent on by the regime to supply favorable decisions to the team – the excellent BBC documentary ‘Football and Fascism’ explores the topic in more detail – but one thing is certain, the Italians got no more or fewer decisions than Manchester United get at Old Trafford over the course of a season and certainly no decisions as bad as the ones that went against Everton in 2007 when they entertained Liverpool in a refereeing performance so bad as to border on the corrupt. And nobody is suggesting that Benitez and Ferguson are fascist dictators, are they?
Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.