Host na­tion: France Games: 18 Goals: 84 (4.67 per match) Dis­missals: 4 Venues: 10 Win­ners: Italy Top scorer: Leonidas (7 goals)

Sel­dom has a World Cup been so po­lit­i­cally charged as 1938, the dark pall of Fas­cism hang­ing like Vic­to­rian smog over Europe. No­body used foot­ball for po­lit­i­cal gain as can­nily as Ben­ito Mus­solini, who had raided other coun­tries for the world’s pre­mier tal­ent and wanted the na­tion to unite be­hind cal­cio. Nazi Ger­many, mean­while, com­peted as a com­bined team af­ter the An­schluss of Aus­tria. They did so, how­ever, with­out cen­tre-for­ward Matthias Sin­de­lar, the star of Aus­tria’s 1930s Wun­derteam. Der Papierene (The Pa­per Man) re­fused to play for Sepp Her­berger’s Ger­many, cit­ing old age and in­jury. Within six months, Sin­de­lar was dead at the age of just 35: ei­ther mur­dered, poi­soned by a faulty heater or hav­ing com­mit­ted sui­cide, de­pend­ing on who you be­lieve.


Brazil­ian striker Leonidas was the planet’s most skil­ful player, while 1934 run­ners-up Czecho­slo­va­kia still had leg­endary keeper Fran­tisek Plan­icka and tricky winger Oldrich Ne­jedly.


Leonidas’ one-move­ment turn-and-hit in the quar­ter-fi­nal draw with Czecho­slo­va­kia (Brazil won the re­play) proved a sign of fu­ture Samba bril­liance. Italy’s lev­els of over-play­ing bor­dered on the Arse­nal in the fi­nal against Hun­gary, Sil­vio Pi­ola even­tu­ally scor­ing.


French anti-fas­cist demon­stra­tions greeted the salut­ing Ital­ians at ev­ery game and street cor­ner. In the quar­ter-fi­nal against the hosts, the Az­zurri had to wear a change strip. Mus­solini in­sisted that they sport Fas­cist all black (above right), plus the ide­ol­ogy’s fasces coat of arms in­stead of the fed­er­a­tion’s crest. Sub­tle.


In a straight knock­out tour­na­ment, three games still level af­ter ex­tra time went to re­plays. The best of them was a 3-3 draw be­tween Cuba and Ro­ma­nia, with the sec­ond tie won 2-1 by the for­mer. But noth­ing topped Brazil 6-5 Poland in Stras­bourg, a see­saw­ing con­test in which Ernst Wil­imowski scored four and still lost.


With Italy dogged by 1934 cor­rup­tion, Mus­solini was des­per­ate for an above-board Az­zurri vic­tory. So, Il Duce sent a tele­gram say­ing: “Win or die” to cap­tain Giuseppe Meazza. It worked, as they beat Hun­gary 4-2 with braces from Pi­ola and out­side-left Gino Co­laussi.


The Dutch East Indies (now In­done­sia) be­came the first rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Asia, de­spite not hav­ing to qual­ify be­cause Ja­pan and the USA for­feited. Com­plete with a haunt­ing, wide-eyed mas­cot, they lasted only one game, a 6-0 hum­bling by fi­nal­ists Hun­gary. Ouch.

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