Tuesday, November 10, 2009 ESPNsoccernet: February 17, 5:20 PM UK
World Cup 1938
John Brewin and Martin Williamson
Winners Italy Teams 15 Teams in qualifiers 37 Notable absentees Argentina, England, Spain, Uruguay Surprises Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Cuba Golden Boot Le˘nidas (Brazil) - 7 Stats A total of 84 goals were scored (4.67 per match); Hungary (15) scored the most Format Straight knockout, replays for drawn matches Number of matches 18
• The host and holders automatically qualified for the first time
• Numbered shirts were used for the first time
• Austria qualified but had to withdraw after they were annexed by Germany in March 1938
• Ernst Loertscher of Switzerland became the first player to be officially credited with an own goal, playing against West Germany
• Italy captain Giuseppe Meazza's shorts fell down after he scored a penalty in the semi-final. He took the kick with one hand holding them up
• On the eve of the final, the Italian players reportedly received a telegram from Benito Mussolini that simply said: "Win or die." The Hungarian goalkeeper is reported to have said after the match: "I may have let in four goals, but at least I saved their lives."
Just as Mussolini had in Italy in 1934, Hitler used the 1936 Olympics as a weapon of propaganda. So, to avoid any further political chicanery, FIFA chose a 'neutral' venue: the federation's birthplace, France. But, as before, there were some high-profile absentees.
Argentina, who had expected to be the host as part of alternation between South America and Europe, refused to travel. Uruguay were still staying away, leaving Brazil as Latin America's sole representative. They would make quite an impact.
As in 1934, and despite the distances some teams had travelled, it was a knockout competition from the start. The first round saw holders Italy get lucky against Norway, when they won in extra-time having had a Norwegian goal disallowed for offside. The tie of the round, the tournament and perhaps any World Cup saw Brazil beat Poland 6-5 with Brazilian striker Le˘nidas scoring a hat-trick and Wilimowski grabbing four but still ending on the losing side. Elsewhere, the Germans, incorporating many of the 1934 Austrian Wunderteam, lost in a replay to Switzerland.
Hosts France perished at the hands of Italy in the quarter-finals, while Brazil's Le˘nidas scored two goals in a two-match thriller with the Czechs. The Brazilians were playing wonderful football while Le˘nidas was shaping up to be the man of the tournament. Believed to be the inventor of the overhead or bicycle kick, he was a samba-style Brazilian player of the type the world would become used to.
But then the Brazilian management made one of the craziest decisions in World Cup history when, having played those gruelling two matches with the Czechs, they decided to rest Le˘nidas and fellow striker Tim to keep them fresh for the final. Such over-confidence was their downfall as the Italians, with Giuseppe Meazza still starring, beat them easily. A late goal from Romeo was Brazil's only consolation.
Le˘nidas, known as 'The Black Diamond', returned for the third-place match with Sweden and, sure enough, he scored a brace as Brazil recorded their highest finish yet in the championships with Le˘nidas as top scorer. Without the farcical 'resting' decision, it could have been so much more.
In the final, the Italians faced Hungary, a surprise package, playing a similar brand of flowing football to that of the Wunderteam. With the Italians having defeated France, home fans were well and truly behind the Magyars and hoped they could spring a surprise. But with centre-forward Silvio Piola in superb form, Italy were even better than they had been four years earlier. Piola and Gino Colaussi scored two each as the Hungarians were swept away by the superior tactical nous of Italian coach Vittorio Pozzo.
Having taken the lead, they defended in numbers but, when Hungary got back into the game with Gyorgy Sarosi to make it 3-2, Piola scored the decisive goal.
Pozzo had moulded two largely different teams and won the championship twice. Though in later years he would be criticised as being the puppet of Mussolini's Fascist Italy, he would eventually be remembered as Italy's greatest ever coach. Sadly, it was to be the last championship for 12 years as war broke out around the world. When football resumed, the map of world football had changed considerably.