Football

Italy became the first nation to successful defend the FIFA World Cup in 1938

The 1938 FIFA World Cup was the third staging of the World Cup, and was held in France from 4 to 19 June 1938

Because of anger over the decision to hold a second successive World Cup in Europe, neither Uruguay nor Argentina entered the competition. Spain meanwhile could not participate due to the ongoing Spanish Cival War.

It was the first time that the hosts, France, and the title holders, Italy, qualified automatically. Title holders were given an automatic entry into the World Cup from 1938 until 2006, when this was abolished.

The knockout format from 1934 was retained. If a match was tied after 90 minutes, then 30 minutes of extra time were played. If the score was still tied after extra time, the match would be replayed. This was the last of the two World Cup tournaments that used a straight knockout format.

Five of the seven first round matches required extra time to break the deadlock; two games still went to a replay. In one replay, Cuba advanced to the next round at the expense of Romania. In the other replay, Germany, which had led 1–0 in the first game against Switzerland, led 2–0 but eventually was beaten 2–4. This loss, which took place in front of a hostile, bottle-throwing crowd in Paris, was blamed by German coach Sepp Herberger on a defeatist attitude from the five Austrian players he had been forced to include; a German journalist later commented that “Germans and Austrians prefer to play against each other even when they’re in the same team”. This remains, as of 2014, the only time in World Cup history in which Germany failed to advance to the final eight (they did not enter in 1930 and had been re-admitted only after the 1950 WC).

Italy retained the World Cup crown in 1938

Sweden advanced directly to the quarter-finals as a result of Austria’s withdrawal, and they proceeded to beat Cuba 8–0. The hosts, France, were beaten by the holders, Italy, and Switzerland were seen off by Hungary. Czechoslovakia took Brazil to extra time in a notoriously feisty match in Bordeaux before succumbing in a replay; the South Americans proved too strong for the depleted Czechoslovak side (both Oldrich Nejedly and Frantisek Planicka had suffered broken bones in the first game) and won 2–1. This was the last ever match to be replayed in a World Cup.

Hungary destroyed Sweden in one of the semi-finals 5–1, while Italy and Brazil had the first of their many important World Cup clashes in the other. The Brazilians rested their star player Leonidas confident that they would qualify for the final, but the Italians won 2–1. Brazil topped Sweden 4–2 for third place.

Rumor has it, before the finals Benito Mussolini was to have sent a telegram to the team, saying “Vincere o morire!” (literally translated as “Win or die!”). This should not have been meant as a literal threat, but instead just an encouragement to win. However, no record remains of such a telegram, and World Cup player Pietro Rava said, when interviewed, “No, no, no, that’s not true. He sent a telegram wishing us well, but no never ‘win or die’.”

The final itself took place at the Stade Olympique de Colombes in Paris. Vittorio Pozzo’s Italian side took the lead early, but Hungary equalized within two minutes. The Italians took the lead again shortly after, and by the end of the first half were leading the Hungarians 3–1. Hungary never really got back into the game. With the final score favoring the Italians 4–2, Italy became the first team to successfully defend the title and were once more crowned World Cup winners.

Because of World War II, the World Cup would not be held for another 12 years, until 1950. As a result, Italy were the reigning World Cup holders for a record 16 years, from 1934 to 1950. The Italian Vice-President of FIFA, Dr. Ottorino Barassi, hid the trophy in a shoe-box under his bed throughout the Second World War and thus saved it from falling into the hands of occupying troops

With seven goals, Leônidas is the top scorer in the tournament. In total, 84 goals were scored by 42 different players, with two of them credited as own goals.

Leonidas scores an over head kick at the 1938 world cup

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