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Italy 1934

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Let's look back at the second World Cup, held in Italy in 1934 and won by Italy, their first win.

The Cup had caught on and FIFA we spared the indignity of having to approach countries to play. This time 32 teams applied for the 16 spots leading to the introduction of qualifiers. FIFA also had the chance to demonstrate their organisational skills. Sadly, they failed once again.

FIFA's first mistake was insisting that Italy, the hosts, qualify. Italy at the time was governed (dictated) by one Benito Mussolini, not the sort of chap you wanted to upset. Italy defeated Greece 4-0 in Milan in the first leg. Incredibly they then "persuaded" Greece there was no need to play the return match. Effectively Greece conceded the game. Turns out the Italians built a property in Athens for the Greeks as payment. FIFA turned a blind eye. The game in Milan remains the only qualifier ever played by a host nation.

FIFA's next mistake was to turn the finals into a straight knockout. So eight teams went home having played a single game. Not too painful for the 5 European teams, but the USA and South America's big two (Argentina and Brazil) all crossed the Atlantic (a long journey in those days) for 90 minutes of football.

FIFA's third mistake really takes the cake though. Mexico qualified by comfortably defeating Cuba in a 3-game series. However, following the completion of all the qualifiers and the formulation of the groups, the USA applied to join the tournament. Instead of telling them to get stuffed, FIFA bent over backwards to help them. They insisted Cuba meet the USA in a sudden-death playoff. Bizarrely the play-off was held in Rome just three days before the WC started. The USA won 4-2. Cuba ended up travelling to Italy, playing "at" the Wold Cup, but not "in" it, the only country ever to suffer that fate. There was some poetic justice though: Italy defeated the USA 7-1 in the first round and sent them packing.

Statistically the chances of dying by murder, suicide or "mysterious circumstances" are each said to be 1 in 5000, ie. pretty low. Incredibly three men who participated in the three opening games of WC 1934, all played on the first day of the tournament and in different cities suffered this fate. USA Manager, Elmer Schroeder, was found dead hanging from his own window blind cord in 1953 - his death has never been explained. Austrian Matthias Sindelar committed suicide in 1939. Argentinean Alberto Galatea was murdered by his own son in 1961 - the only case of World Cup patricide on record.

Luisito Monti, who played in the losing Argentinean side in the final of WC 1930, and largely blamed by the people for the loss had an Italian father. Unwelcome at home he moved to Italy and won four scudettos with Juventus. He was also selected for Italy. He had a blinder of a tournament and played a big part in Italy winning the Cup for the first time. He is the only player to play in two World Cup finals for two different countries.

Mussolini is alleged to have threatened l'Azzuri with "win or die". Monti is quoted as saying "I had to win the final [in 1934]. If I'd won the final in Uruguay in 1930, the Uruguayans would have killed me. If I'd lost the final in 1934 the Italians would have killed me."