World Cup early years
IN June next year the World Cup will finally arrive in Africa, after 80 years of travelling between America, Europe and, in 2002, Asia.
Now that Africa has finally been chosen to stage the finals, the tournament – so long the property of Europeans and South Americans – can properly be called the World Cup.
Fifa, world football’s governing body, was founded in 1904 but it took the organisation no less than 26 years to start the World Cup. One major obstacle was World War I and its acrimonious aftermath, another was the Olympic football tournament, considered to be the proper world championship by many people right up until the 1950s.
In 1926, Henri Delaunay, Fifa general secretary and right-hand man to president Jules Rimet, insisted on the necessity of the World Cup by saying that “today international football can no longer be held within the confines of the Olympics, and many countries where professionalism is now recognised and organised cannot any longer be represented there by their best players”.
Two years later, at the Amsterdam Olympics, Uruguay was chosen as the venue for the first World Cup, ahead of Italy, Spain, Sweden and Holland, partly in honour of a majestic Uruguayan side that had swept to victory at the 1924 and 1928 Olympic tournaments with a flamboyance that took the Europeans by surprise.
In addition, Uruguay promised to pay the travel and hotel expenses of the visiting teams. Even so, only 12 countries bothered to make the trip. Most of the Europeans, including the four unsuccessful bidders, stayed at home, put off by the prospect of a tedious three-week boat trip.
All the matches were staged in Montevideo, the only time that just one city has hosted a World Cup. The impressive Estadio Centenario, whose name honoured 100 years of Uruguayan independence, was not ready for the early games because of heavy winter rain.
As expected, Uruguay and Argentina – who had met in the 1928 Olympic final – also reached the 1930 final. Thousands of Argentinians wanted to cheer on their team and special boats had to make the trip across the River Plate.
They would return home disappointed. Argentina, led by the fearsome Luis Monti, went into a 2-1 lead but were overwhelmed in the second half by an electricfying Uruguayan attack. The hosts won 4-2, Montevideo went wild – and the World Cup was born.
The 1934 finals were awarded to Italy and the Mussolini regime was desperate for the Azzurri to triumph. And triumph they did, thanks to the wily managership of Vittorio Pozzo, home support, and Argentina-born stars Monti, Enrique Guaita and Raimundo Orsi.
This talented trio were the first of 12 players to turn out for both Argentina and Italy, until this was banned by Fifa in 1963.
It was Orsi who saved Italy in the 1934 final against Czechoslovakia, making it 1-1 with an astonishing free kick just nine minutes from full time. Angelo Schiavio scored the winner for Italy in extra time, to the delight of the watching Musssolini.
The following day Orsi tried, but failed, to repeat his free kick for the benefit of photographers and journalists.
Uruguay had refused to go to Italy because of the Italians’ absence in 1930. Uruguay also refused to take part in 1938, in protest at the tournament being again awarded to a European country, France, instead of alternating across the Atlantic.
Sixteen teams took part in 1934 and eight cities were used. Brazil and Argentina made the long trip only to play one game, because a straight knockout format was used instead of a group system.
Pozzo changed his team drastically for the 1938 tournament in France but triumphed again, beating Hungary 4-2 in the final with two goals apiece from Gino Colaussi and Silvio Piola.
Sadly, it would be the last World Cup match until 1950 because of World War II.
The 1950 tournament, held in