Say what you like about Mussolini, but at least he made the trains run on time”, they say. Well, he also knew the importance of football as propaganda, and Italy, having run Uruguay close in 1930, were elected to host the second World Cup finals. There were changes for this tournament. This time around, with it all being held in Europe, there were qualifiers. Italy, having not entered in 1930, had to qualify themselves, and this time the tournament was under-represented by South American teams – even the holders Uruguay didn’t show up, as a protest at the fact that so few European teams had made the trip there four years earlier. Only the USA, Brazil and Argentina made the trip, along with Egypt – the first African entrants. The other big difference was in the layout of the finals themselves, as a straight knock-out competition. The only second chance anyone would get would be if they managed a draw in the first match, in which case a replay would be required. As we’ll see, Italy would be grateful for this, especially considering their record in penalty shoot-outs since they were introduced.
Qualifying Round: I won’t normally go into the details of the qualifying rounds, but this one does deserve a special mention. Italy qualified with a 4-0 defeat of Greece. Although there was due to be a second leg, the Greeks withdrew. Withdrawals were commonplace, especially in the groups of three that made up much of this round. Not so for Portugal, though, who endured a 9-0 drubbing at the hands of Spain but still went ahead with the second leg. They lost again, this time 2-1. Also notable for their presence are The Irish Free State, although they were bundled out by Belgium and Holland.
First Round: A comfortable start for the hosts, who thrashed the USA 7-1. As it happened, none of the non-European teams made it into the quarter-finals, although Argentina ran Sweden close. Notable other results include Czechoslovakia coming from one down to beat Romania, and Austria’s extra-time win against France.
Quarter-Finals: Phew. It was a close thing. In the tournament’s only replay, Italy were held to a draw by Spain, before Giuseppe Meazza scored the only goal in a replay. This sort of nervousness would come to encapsulate Italy’s relationship with the World Cup. In fact, all of the ties were close-run affairs, al won by the odd goal. It was a good time for the nascent Nazi movement, as the soon-to-be-Anschlussed Germany and Austria both won through. The other winners? Czechoslovakia. Hmmm.
Semi-Finals: More nerves for Italy in the semi-final. An early goal from Guaita was enough to see them beat Austria, but only just. In the other semi-final, Nejeldy was the hat-trick hero for the Czechs, as they saw off the supposed “master race”.
The Final – Italy 2 – 1 Czechoslovakia
Ugly looking bunch of buggers, aren’t they? But they needed to be, to overcome a tough Czech team. Italy started the match as clear favourites, on home territory and in front of a fiercely partisan crowd. But they nearly lost it – they fell behind with just twenty minutes to go and the Czechs hit the post shortly afterwards. With ten minutes left to play, Guaita (an Argentine) dummied a shot with one foot and struck with the other, deceiving the Czech goalkeeper. Again the Italians were into extra-time. The winner came in extra-time. Meazza had picked up an injury during normal time, and the Czechs focussed their defensive resources elsewhere. On ninety-five minutes, they paid for their neglect, leaving him un-marked to cross for Schiavio to score. A special mention must go at this point to the Italian defender Luis Monti, who added his winner’s medal to the runners-up medal he’d won four years earlier whilst… ummm… playing for Argentina