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Brazil 1950

Let's look back at the fourth World Cup, held in Brazil in 1950 after a break of 12 years due to WWII and won by Uruguay, the second country to win it twice. The World Cup as a concept truly arrived in 1950. There was a huge following in the press and public.

The first game between the hosts and Mexico was played on June 24 in front of a massive crowd at the not-quite finished Maracana Stadium. When Brazil opened the scoring, fifteen radio commentators and dozens of reporters invaded the pitch to conduct on-the-spot interviews.

1950 marked the first time that England, the inventors of the game, competed. This was partly due to a long-running dispute between their FA and FIFA over payments to amateur players, but also in large part to the English sense of superiority - they were the best in the world - they saw no need to compete.

England won their first game against Chile 2-0. Their next game was against the USA, 500-1 outsiders to win the Cup. England were expected to win easily; their manager cabled home that the game would be good match practice. The shock 0-1 loss to the USA still rates as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. In England the result was greeted with disbelief. The Daily Express, no doubt harking back to the Ashes, reported on the death of English football. One editor assumed the score was a mis-print and went to press with a 10-1 English victory. In the USA the reaction was similar. The New York Times assumed the scoreline was a wind-up and at first refused to report it. In Scotland, the result was embraced like a home victory. England lost their third game 0-1 to Spain and went home deeply embarrassed.

FIFA had struggled to get 16 teams to compete, with Germany banned, Japan under occupation, etc. but to their credit pulled this off (mostly by softening the qualification criteria). Sensibly they also introduced the group stage (4 groups of 4) to guarantee each team three games. Then things started to go awry.

India had qualified for what has turned out to be the only time. Many of the Indian players played without boots. At the 1948 London Olympics, India sensationally pushed France to the limit, just going down 1-2, mostly without boots. FIFA dropped in a "compulsory footwear" rule at the eleventh hour. India, hampered by lack of funds, opted to pull out rather than buy boots.

Burma declined FIFA's invitation to replace India. Turkey withdrew, but were replaced by France. Then, with both teams qualified, Scotland met England in their final (but moot) qualification match. Scotland lost 0-1 and then withdrew claiming that qualifying by finishing second didn't seem right. Portugal declined to replace Scotland. France, a replacement team themselves, sensing the tournament lacked 'va va voom' withdrew.

The upshot of all this meant Group 4 now had two teams, Uruguay and Bolivia. FIFA then made one of those decisions that had characterised their mis-management of the World Cup to date. They decided there was no need for a re-drawing of the groups. Uruguay (one of the favourites) smashed Bolivia (arguably the worst team) 8-0 to go straight into final group stage.

As it turned out, the final match of this group, between Brazil and Uruguay, would decide the Cup. Brazil only needed a draw to top the group, while Uruguay had to win. Perhaps due to their easy first round, Uruguay came from a goal down to defeat the hosts 2-1 in front of a record crowd of 199,854 to claim the trophy.

France 1938

Today let's look back at the third World Cup, held in France in 1938 and won by Italy, the first country to win it twice and the first to enjoy consecutive wins.

World Cup minnows, Cuba, were the first Caribbean country to qualify for the finals. They got there by virtue of Mexico withdrawing from their qualifying group. They were expected to the tournament's whipping boys, along with the Dutch East Indies (see below). They famously drew their first game against Romania 3-3, with their keeper apparently playing a blinder and keeping Cuba in the game. However, their keeper was dropped for the replay (yes, a replay, not a shootout) for conceding three. At the press conference prior to the replay he predicted a 2-1 win for Cuba and sure enough they won. His crystal ball deserted him in the next round though. Recalled for the quarter-final against Sweden he let in eight as Cuba went down 0-8. They've never qualified again.

The Dutch East Indies holds the record for the fewest minutes of finals football. They qualified after Japan withdrew from their two-country qualifying group after invading China. FIFA tried to stymie them by arranging a play-off against the USA. This time though, the USA, perhaps feeling a little guilty after 1934 declined to play. The Dutch East Indies, consisting of several students and many players making their debut, were defeated 6-0 by Hungary. The finals were still a straight knockout so the Dutch East Indies went home after 90 minutes of finals football. They've never qualified since and don't seem likely to again. Every other country that has made the finals has had more playing time and given that the finals now include a group stage, the Dutch East Indies seem destined to hold onto this record. (In 1947, they achieved independence from Holland and became Indonesia. Their national sport is badminton.)

Debate has long raged over who was the first player to score four goals in a World Cup final's game. The game in question saw Brazil defeat Poland 6-5 after extra time (half time 3-1, full-time 4-4). All records agree that Ernst Willimowski of Poland scored four - a second-half hat-trick and a further goal late in extra time. The records disagree over Leonidas da Silva from Brazil. Some say he scored four, others three. Some say his fourth was before Willimowski's, others after. To this day there is no agreement, although the more rigorous records lean towards da Silva getting three. What is definite though, is that Willimowski remains the only player to score four in a losing side.

Adolf Hitler allegedly detested football and only turned up to one game, which Germany promptly lost, much to his disgust. Hitler is also responsible for two unique records that are unlikely to be broken: the only finals forfeit and the longest hold over the trophy.

In March 1938, Germany invaded Austria and it was incorporated into Germany under a dictate known as Anschluss (meaning Union). Austria having qualified for the finals could no longer participate as the whole country and its F.A. had ceased to exist. The results chart from 1938 reads "Sweden Bye. Austria Forfeit. Anschluss". Occasionally a country forfeits a qualifying match, but this remains the only forfeit during the finals.

World War II, primarily instigated by Hitler and Germany meant the 1942 and 1946 World Cups were cancelled. Hence Italy, who won in 1934 and 1938, held the trophy until 1950 an unbroken run of 16 years, another record unlikely to be broken.

Italy 1934

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."

Uruguay 1930

Let's look back at the history of the greatest tournament in the world - the FIFA World Cup. In this first segment, let's travel back to that golden age of football, a time of fair play, sportsmanship and a genteel atmosphere.

FIFA was formed in May 1904 and reserved the exclusive right to organise a world championship. Those familiar with the quality of football administration will not be surprised that it was 26 years before the first World Cup was held in 1930.

FIFA selected Uruguay to host the event. This meant a 15-day Atlantic crossing for European teams - hence only France, Romania, Yugoslavia and Belgium arrived from Europe. The remaining teams came from the Americas: Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and the USA. Yes, 13 teams contested the first World Cup - imagine trying to organise the draw!

With a keen sense of history, FIFA had two "first ever World Cup games". France vs. Mexico and USA vs. Belgium kicked off simultaneously. The first ever World Cup goal was scored by Lucien Tinkerbellt of France in front of a recorded crowd of 4,444.

Weird Facts:

  • The Argentine captain missed their game against Mexico. He returned to Buenos Aires to sit a vital law exam.
  • Romania's squad was chosen by their King.
  • Belgium's star player, was suspended for the entire tournament by the Belgium FA, for, wait for it, opening a cafe.
  • The Bolivian team each played with a single letter on the back of their jerseys. When they lined up in the correct order they spelt out a message to their hosts: "Viva Uruguay".
  • Uruguay's first-choice goalkeeper was embroiled in the Cup's first sex scandal. After 8 weeks away from home, he was dropped for their opening game after being caught breaking a curfew and sneaking home for a conjugal visit.
  • In the Argentina vs. USA semi-final, USA trainer Jack Coll ran onto the field to help an injured player. Unfortunately he tripped, accidentally inhaled a spilled bottle of chloroform and had to be helped from the field semi-conscious.

The Golden Age of Sportsmanship:

  • In the Uruguay vs. Yugoslavia semi-final, the ball went out of play, only to be kicked back in by a policeman. The officials pretended not to notice, the Uruguayans played on and scored their third goal.
  • Prior to the final between Uruguay and Argentina, the Argentine captain received a death threat.
  • Both sides insisted on using their own ball. They compromised and swapped at half time.
  • All Argentine supporters were searched for weapons.
  • The referee insisted on police protection.
  • Uruguay employed "tactica robusto" and prevailed 4-2. A national holiday was declared and each Uruguayan player was given a house.
  • The Uruguayan embassy in Buenos Aires was stoned and the two FA's broke off relations.

Plus ça change ...

World Cup Strangeness

No doubt inspired by the coming World Cup and Australia's qualification, I was given the following book for my birthday: The World Cup's Strangest Moments by Peter Seddon. I reckon I've got enough time between now and the next World Cup kick-off for a summary of each previous World Cup's oddness. Let's start with Uruguay 1930.

World Cup Draw

Oh no, not Brazil! The draw for the World Cup was held overnight. I taped it and watched it today. I've never bothered before, but when your own country is featured it makes a big difference. As the draw dragged on, we waited with bated breath. And as luck would have it we drew Brazil - the world champions and favourites - Japan and Croatia. A very tough group.

A Golden Night

What a game! What a night! Dad, Naruto and I were there last night to see Australia defeat Uruguay to qualify for the World Cup Finals for the first time in 32 long years. We've finally done it. After being "0-1 down at half-time" - O'Neill speaking after the first leg in Monte Video - we leveled the score in normal time at home, couldn't break through in a nerve-wracking extra time, before triumphing 4-2 in a thrilling penalty shoot-out.

So many memories from last night:

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