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France 1938

2010-05-06 12:26
Hosts: France
Champions: Italy
Runners Up: Hungary

The 1938 FIFA World Cup was the third staging of the World Cup, and was held in France from 4 June to 19 June. France was chosen as hosts by FIFA in August 1936, causing outrage amongst the Uruguayan and Argentinian teams, who boycotted the event because of the second consecutive European location. Italy retained the championship, beating Hungary 4–2 in the final.

The tournament was again held in a knockout format, similar to 1934. This was the last tournament where there was not a group stage. Germany, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Cuba and Brazil were seeded for draw taking place in Paris, on 5 March 1938.

Five of the first round matches required extra time to break the deadlock; two games still went to a replay. The replays saw Switzerland oust the team of Germany, to which some Austrian players had been added for political reasons, with a score of 4-2, while Cuba managed to advance to the next round at the expense of Romania.

Sweden advanced directly to the quarter-finals due to Austria's withdrawal, and they proceeded to beat Cuba 8-0. The hosts, France, were beaten by the holders, Italy (wearing a provocative all-black 'fascist' strip), and Switzerland were seen off by Hungary. Czechoslovakia took Brazil to extra time in a notoriously feisty match in Bordeaux before succumbing in a replay; the South Americans proved too strong for the depleted Czechoslovak side (both Oldrich Nejedlý and František Plánicka had suffered broken bones in the first game) and won 2-1.

Hungary destroyed Sweden in one of the semi-finals 5-1, while Italy and Brazil had the first of their many important World Cup clashes in the other. The Brazilians rested their star player Leônidas confident that they would qualify for the final, but the Italians won 2-1. Brazil topped Sweden 4-2 for third place.

The final itself took place at the Stade Olympique de Colombes in Paris. Vittorio Pozzo's Italian side took the lead early, but Hungary equalised within two minutes. The Italians took the lead again shortly after, and by the end of the first half were leading the Hungarians 3-1. Hungary never really got back into the game. With the final score favouring the Italians 4-2, Italy became the first team to successfully defend the title and were once more crowned World Cup winners.

Notable Facts
FIFA's decision during the celebration of the 1936 Summer Olympics to hold the tournament in France caused outrage in South America where it was believed that the venue would alternate between the two continents. Instead, it was the second tournament in a row to be played in Europe. As a result neither Uruguay nor Argentina entered the competition. Spain became the first country to be out of the World Cup because of a war (the Spanish Civil War).

Some argued that Hungary - or at least its goalkeeper - allowed Italy to win, as a measure to save the lives of the Italian Team, which had received telegrams by Benito Mussolini with "Vincere o morire!" (mistranslated as "Win or die") written on them. Hungarian goalkeeper Antal Szabó expressed his relief following his side's defeat against Italy despite letting in four goals in the loss. Referring to Mussolini's pre-match threats, Szabó quipped "I may have let in four goals, but at least I saved their lives". Actually, this is not the case. "Win or die" was a typical slogan of encouragement from fascist era, meaning "Victory or bust!" or "do your best to get victory". The fascist regime held sporting heroes and champions in high regard, greatly using them in their propaganda machine, so an act like the one suggested by Szabó was not realistic. Szabó's words may have been perhaps an honest misunderstanding.

Due to World War II, the World Cup would not be held for another 12 years, until 1950. As a result, Italy were the reigning World Cup holders for a record 16 years, from 1934 to 1950. The Italian Vice-President of FIFA, Dr. Ottorino Barassi, hid the trophy in a shoe-box under his bed throughout the Second World War and thus saved it from falling into the hands of occupying troops.

Golden Boot
Leônidas of Brazil, with 7 goals.

Jan Riha from Czechoslovakia (L) and Brazilian Da Guia Domingos vie for the ball during a first round match in the 1938 World Cup. (AFP)
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