World Cup Tales: Did Il Duce Fix It? Italy, 1934

9 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   June 5, 2010  |     67

When Joao Havelange claimed, in 2008, that the 1966 and 1974 World Cups were fixed, his claims were largely laughed out of court. Depending on who you listened to, he was either deliberately misconstruing events or demonstrating little more than the first signs of senility. What was, however, curious about his comments was what he missed out. No mention was made of the 1978 tournament, which many have pointed to as being a tournament of less than sturdy moral fibre (and was, coincidentally, the first held under Havelange’s tutelage) and, even more curiously, none was made of the second World Cup of all, which was held in the Italy of Benito Mussolini in 1934.

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that FIFA decided to hold the second World Cup (and the first to be held in Europe) in a fascist, totalitarian state. After all, they held the 1978 World Cup in one and the decision to hold the 1982 tournament in Spain was made while General Franco was still very much alive. Questionable decisions over the hosting of World Cup tournaments are part and parcel of the history of the game. However, when reading back over the history of the 1934 competition, it occasionally starts to feel as if FIFA at the time were in thrall to Mussolini, allowing him to take near personal control of the competition, which is all the more ironic considering that Il Duce himself didn’t have any great interest in the game and was primarily only interested exploiting the tournament for political purposes.

Italy had applied to host the 1930 finals and, when they were instead awarded to Uruguay, withdrew from the entire tournament in a fit of pique. Four years later, Uruguay returned the favour and refused to defend their trophy in Italy. Along with this, the British still weren’t interested and Argentina, runners-up to Uruguay at the 1928 Olympic Games and the 1930 World Cup, sent their amateur team. It’s impossible to quantify exactly, but there is a case for saying that the 1934 World Cup finals were missing three or four of their strongest teams before a ball was even kicked.

In addition to this, the Italians made the absolute maximum that they could from the oriundi, natives of another country with Italian parentage who qualified to play for a country even if they had already represented another nation. Here, Italy’s strong historical and cultural links with Argentina were a definite benefit. There were, broadly speaking, three rules that qualified what was effectively a foreign national to play as an oriundo – they had to be playing in the national league of their new country, they had to be able to prove their family history in their new country for three generations and they weren’t allowed to play against the country that they had formerly represented.

The Italian coach, Vittorio Pozzo, took full advantage of this, fielding three of the Argentinian team that contested the 1930 final against Uruguay. He countered his critics by saying that “if they can die for Italy, they can play for Italy”, referring to Italian conscription laws at the time, although when Italy declared war upon Abyssinia in 1935, several oriundi were caught trying to defect into Switzerland, which, with the benefit of hindsight, somewhat undermined his argument. Of course, all of this was within the rules at the time, but there has also been considerable discussion of whether further coercion was required to get the Italian team over the finishing line in Rome that year.

For the tournament, Mussolini had a second trophy built called the “Coppa Del Duce”, an extraordinary edifice that was six times the size of the actual tournament trophy. Italy started comfortably enough, as the only hosts that have ever had to qualify to play in a tournament in their own country, with a win against Greece, and then opened their tournament with a 7-1 win against the United States of America. In the quarter-finals (the 1934 tournament, the first to feature sixteen nations, was a straight knock-out competition), they came up against Spain and required a replay to progress, but even by the more physical standards of the day, the refereeing of Louis Baert was called into question, with the Swiss newspaper Basler Nationalzeitung saying, of the referee for the replay, Rene Mercet, that “Mercet favored the Italians in a most shameful manner”.

The semi-final saw Italy play Hugo Meisl’s Austrian “Wunderteam”, a team which had beaten Italy two years earlier in the Central European International Cup (a forerunner of the European Championship), and had already beaten a strong Hungary team in the quarter-final. On a waterlogged pitch in Milan, Enrique Guiata, one of the oriundi (and one of those caught trying to flee the country a year later at the outbreak of war) scored the only goal of the match with a goal that was scored after the Austrian goalkeeper was pushed over the goal-line. Again, Italian strong-arm tactics were overlooked by referees, but Italy were in the final against Czechoslovakia.

The Swedish referee for the match, Ivan Eklind, was the same referee as had refereed the semi-final against Austria, and one of his linesmen was Louis Blaert, who had taken control of the first match against Spain. It is widely understood that the refereeing appointments were now being made by Mussolini himself and, the night before the match, Mussolini didn’t hold a reception for the players from both teams or even a morale-boosting meeting with his own players – instead, he held court instead with Eklind.

Rome had been curiously cool towards the World Cup, and even the final itself couldn’t fill the 50,000 capacity
Stadio Nazionale PNF – there were 5,000 empty seats for the match. Again, the refereeing has been described as at best weak, but even with home advantage and refereeing that was at best described as weak (contempory accounts describe a two-footed lunge in the Italian penalty area that was as clear a foul as could be imagined which went unpunished), Italy laboured and, with fourteen minutes to play, Czechoslovakia took the lead with a goal from Antonín Puč. Italy, however, came back five minutes later with a goal from Raimundo Orsi, which forced the game into extra-time, during which a lone goal from Angelo Schiavio won the match for the host nation, and for Mussolini. Mission accomplished.

The question was asked at the time of whether Italy could have won the 1934 World Cup without the assistance of the referees. The answer came four years later, when Pozzo’s team successfully defended their title in France, but even this victory was tainted when, under Mussolini’s instruction, the team took to the pitch for their quarter-final match against the host nation in Paris in all-black, the colour of the fascist ruling party. Still, though, they went on to win the final with a 4-2 win against Hungary. This was the victory that Pozzo’s team deserved. While much evidence of the 1934 tournament suggests that Mussolini pulled sufficient strings to get the team over the finishing line, the 1938 win was fair and square, although the Austrians weren’t there (they had to withdraw after the German Anschlüss) and Spain withdrew because of their civil war.

The retrospectively inevitable Second World War came just over a year later and the next World Cup would not be played for another twelve years, by which time the world would be a different place. FIFA finally tightened its regulations on player eligibility in 1964, stating that players could only represent one country over the course of their career. The oriundi still exist – Mauro Camoranesi won the 2006 World Cup for Italy, having been born in Buenos Aires to an Italian father – but players can no longer effectively be “signed” by international teams, as they frequently were during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Indeed, after their team’s shocking performance at the 1966 World Cup, all foreign players were banned from Italian football until 1980, at which point the rules started to be relaxed.

As with Argentina in 1978, though, the question marks raised over the refereeing of the 1934 World Cup raises enough issues for us to be able to question the validity of Italy’s win in 1934. Since then, however, the national team has gone on to win a further three trophies under their own steam, an achievement that only Brazil has bettered or even equalled and, no matter who wins this year’s in tournament, Italy are guaranteed to hold onto their place behind Brazil in the overall league table of World Cup winners. Ultimately, though, the crude intrusion of politics into football blighted much of the game during the 1930s. It is a tradition that continues, albeit in a somewhat subtler fashion, to this day.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • June 13, 2010 at 9:25 pm



    great page!!!

    great articles on background and history of the world cup!

  • January 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm


    Let’s face it.corruption has been a fact of life in italian football ever since the dawn of the game in its country.
    During the 1960s.Its been alleged and proven that Inter Milan under the ownership of Angelo Moratti,bribed referees in seria a and in europe on their route to winning the seria a and european cup titles in that time.
    It continued with other italian clubs in the 70s.
    Then 1980 came the totonero affair.Which saw a illegal betting synidate uncovered by italian police.Which involved fixing games and bribing referees in seria a.This resulted in demotion and points deductions for the clubs involved.
    A similar scandal to the totonero affair happened again in the mid 80s
    And in recent years.Ialian police uncovered evidence that Juventus under the corruptive influlence of their general manager luciano moggi.Rigged the outcome of their own games and others in seria a.As a result.Juventus were relagated to seria b.
    Given their past and present history.For me.The italians should be banned from the world cup,the european championships and the european club competitions for 10 years as a punishment for the ammount of corruption they have spread across the football world.

  • July 27, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Mike Sirco

    What drivel. They{whoever they are} never proved any fixing for the 1934 W.cup.
    Benito could not keep track of his own mistress. Are we to believe he could fix a tournament that he had no real interest in???
    Would Jules Rimet the Fifa president have let him??? It is odd how he is rarely mentioned when these accusations are talked about???

    How about the farcical 1966 W.cup? Stanley Rous as the English president of Fifa had for more ability to fix that tournament than Benito. There was no proportional geographical representation in the choosing of officials, most were Europeans. I believe it was 27 out of 32? Perhaps, it is no coincidence that all the S.American teams were brutalized out of the tournament{Brazil by Portugal}. Ex: In the quarterfinals an English referee denied Uruguay a certain penalty vs. West Germany & then ejected 2 of their players for no reason & than the Germans won 4-0??? While the German referee helped England win 1-0 over Argentina by ejecting one of their players again for no reason. Plus, England’s goal was offside???

    Note, that before & after England hosted they have won NOTHING!!! While since 1970 Italy has won 2 out of 4 world cups & they did not win them as hosts!!!

  • July 27, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Mike Sirco

    Nik, how about some proof???
    There is plenty of proof from English sources{World Soccer mag} about 80% of fan violence over the past 50 years has come from English fans. Do you remember that English teams were RIGHTLY banned for 5 years after the savage behavior from Liverpool’s fans at the Heysel riot in May of 1985???
    Also, Argentina did not fix their tournament. If they had they would not have lost to Italy in the first round which forced their team to play half way across the country at another stadium.

    Again as is often the case when it comes to the self-righteous English they accuse & expect everyone to BELIEVE??? When the finger is pointed at them they become MUTE!!!

  • November 13, 2011 at 4:00 am

    Why the improbable keeps happening in cricket? | coachrahul

    […] contests for money. Before the 1934 football world cup final, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini held court with the referee and it may have had something to do with the result (Italy won). FIFA’s […]

  • June 6, 2012 at 9:19 pm


    Mr Mike Sirco. you say we english are self-righteous….Okay Check out a few points on this then..

    Number 1-why was a decripped,unsafe football stadium chosen for the biggest night in european club football?When the nou camp and the bernabeau stadiums when avaiable?

    Number 2-Why were the liverpool and Juventus fans put right next to each other in the same part of the stadium?seven times out of ten.the likely outcome is their is going to be trouble..UEFA knew this and covered up the truth in the aftermath.

    Number 3-UEFA and the rest of europe were angry and bitter of the english clubs success in europe at the time..And were looking for any excuse to get us out..Right or wrong?

    So mike please don’t tell i’m talking rubbish when I’m not..You know very well Italian football is fiddled..Here’s some more facts check this out….
    In the 1974 world cup in west germany..Its been alleged that italian officials tried to bribe polish players to lose against them,so that Italy would go through to the next round along with poland,and they said no.
    Again in 2010 there had been match fixing allegations in the lower leagues in italian football 4 years after the Seria A match fixing scandal.
    And again only just recently there has been match fixing allegations which seen the arrest and dropout of two players who are part of the italian national team for Euro 2012…
    So what do you have to say about that?I rest my case..I stand by what I orignally said.And a lot of football fans around the world would agree with me..If not ask them yourself mike.

  • July 12, 2012 at 8:31 am


    In 1982 Franco has been dead for nearly 7 years. Now, go on…

  • May 11, 2014 at 4:34 am


    After reading your article, I’m still not convinced the ’34 world cup was fixed, but acknowledge it is possible. Given what I’ve seen over the time I’ve been watching the event, I wouldn’t trust FIFA with my life.

    I find it amusing your statement that Mauro Camoranesi won the world cup for Italy in 2006. I may be reading this wrong. I hope I am. I wouldn’t even put him in the top 10 of Italy’s best players that year. He gets trumped by the likes of Pirlo, Materazzi, Cannavaro, Del Piero, Grosso, De Rossi to name a few!

    You seem to be heavily biased against Italy. The title of your article is centred on the 34 wc, but you mention the 78 wc also. If your article was fair, you would’ve mentioned other world cups too, like Korea 2002, probably the most obvious wc to be fixed in recent times.

  • June 4, 2014 at 3:11 am

    Jimbo J

    According to the “neutral” press of the time, in the first ’34 WC game Italy vs. Spain the Italians were allowed to play with such level of aggression that 3 Spanish players were injured (and couldn’t make the replay) as a result of tackles during the game. As red cards hadn’t been invented nor substitutions were allowed, this represented a tremendous advantage for the Italians. I had been reading these sort of stories about the ’34 WC for a very long time now. Having said that, the way the Italians were cheated in game vs. South Korea in 2002 also defied belief.

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