Azzurri rally to edge Czechs to gold
Redressing the balance after South America's finest had dominated the inaugural FIFA World Cup™ in Uruguay, European teams had the upper hand at Italy 1934. All eight quarter-finalists, indeed, hailed from the old continent.
The backdrop to the tournament was a complex one. Just as Adolf Hitler was to do at the Berlin Olympics two years later, Italy's dictator Benito Mussolini used the event for propaganda purposes, attempting to extol the virtues of his fascist state. Il Duce's hopes for an Italy-West Germany Final were thwarted by Czechoslovakia, who beat the Germans to set up a showdown against the host nation at Rome's Stadio Nazionale del Partito Nazionale Fascista, since renamed the Stadio Flaminio. FIFA.com recreates the events of 10 June 1934, when Gli Azzurri survived a real scare from the Czechs to lift the Trophy for the first time.
Getting their own back on Italy for refusing to take part in the first FIFA World Cup four years earlier, holders Uruguay decided to stay at home, as did England once again. Brazil sent over a third-string side, although it did feature the talented Leonidas da Silva, while Argentina fielded an amateur squad. In all, 16 teams contested the tournament - 12 of them from Europe - with A Seleção, La Albiceleste, USA and Egypt making up the rest of the field. All the games were knockout matches.
The Italy side featured several naturalised South American players, including the Argentinian duo of Luis Monti and Raimundo Orsi. The former was a redoubtable defender; the latter a skilled forward. Together they would provide the foundations for the hosts' success.
La Nazionale thrashed USA 7-1 in the first round but had to work considerably harder to dispose of Spain in the quarter-finals, drawing 1-1 and then edging through 1-0 in the replay. They repeated that scoreline in a high-quality semi-final against Austria's Wunderteam, which featured the brilliant Matthias Sindelar.
Meanwhile, a well-balanced Czechoslovakia outfit spearheaded by the lethal Oldrich Nejedly made solid progress, overcoming Romania 2-1 in the opening round and Switzerland 3-2 in the last eight, before dashing German hopes with a 3-1 win in the semis. Nejedly ended the tournament as leading scorer with five goals.
The Final took place in stifling heat, with temperatures soaring above 40ºC. Making light of the conditions, Italy started brightly, pushing Czechoslovakia back into their own half but failing to make a first-half breakthrough. The main reason for that was the superb form of goalkeeper Frantisek Planicka, who pulled off excellent stops to deny Giuseppe Meazza and Giovanni Ferrari. Nevertheless, the Czechs should have fallen behind when Angelo Schiavio found himself in front of an empty net only to shoot over.
After pursuing the same high-tempo pressing game at the start of the second half, the hosts began to run out of steam. On the hour mark the advancing Antonin Puc was flattened by Attilio Ferraris' barely-legal challenge, an indication of Italy's growing discomfort. Then, with only 19 minutes remaining, the unthinkable happened. Making a rapid recovery, Puc ran on to Stefan Cambal's pass, shook off Eraldo Monzeglio and beat Giampiero Combi with a cross-shot. The 55,000 crowd greeted the goal with silence.
In the minutes that followed Italy continued to totter. Jiri Sobotka had the chance to kill the game off but shot wide from ten yards out, with Frantisek Svoboda then blasting over when well placed. As grumbles of discontent began to echo around the stadium, Orsi came to Italy's rescue. Breaking down the wing, he sent in a cross that Ladislav Zenisek only half-cleared. Seizing on the loose ball, Orsi fired the equaliser past Planicka to the relief of the home fans.
Falling back into defence in the closing minutes, Karel Petru's men clung on gamely to force extra time. Within five minutes of the restart, however, Italy were in front. Schiavio was the hero of the hour, latching on to Enrique Guaita's cross to steer the ball home and clinch the Trophy.
Making a late tactical switch, Italy coach Vittorio Pozzo pushed Schiavio into the centre-forward position to allow Meazza to drop into a withdrawn role, one in which he felt more comfortable. The change worked to perfection, with the former snaffling Italy's winner. A one-club man, Schiavio ran out for his hometown Bologna for 16 seasons, scoring 247 goals in 337 matches before retiring in 1938.
A bronze-medal winner at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, Schiavio was never an undisputed first-choice for his country, though he still managed to rack up 15 goals in 21 appearances between 1925 and 1934. The last of those goals was his winner against Czechoslovakia. He later coached Italy in two different spells: from 1953 to 1956 and from 1957 to 1958.
Along with Mario Pizziolo, Schiavio was one of the last surviving members of that FIFA World Cup-winning team. The duo died within days of each other in April 1990, just a few short weeks before the country staged the tournament for the second time in its history.
What they said
"Our success is a reward for hard work, moral steadfastness, a spirit of self-sacrifice and the unshakeable desire of a group of men," Italy coach Vittorio Pozzo.
"I was exhausted when I scored the winning goal, so I lay down on the grass for a few moments to get my breath back. It was my last match for the national side and football changed completely after that. At that time nobody knew what tactics were. What mattered were your legs and your heart," Italy forward Angelo Schiavio.
"Even though we lost, we returned home as heroes. We travelled back by train and there were thousands of fans applauding us at every station," Czechoslovakia goalkeeper Frantisek Planicka.
What happened next
Having drawn on their pride and motivation to win the day in 1934, Italy would add individual trickery to their arsenal with the emergence of young talents such as Giovanni Ferrari and Silvio Piola, both of whom would shine in France four years later.
Only a few months after being crowned world champions, Italy took on England in a memorable encounter at Highbury. Though the English press had predicted a thumping victory, the home side eventually scraped home 3-2 against a team that played virtually the entire game with ten men after Monti went off injured early on.
Gli Azzurri would not lose another game en route to successfully defending their title at France 1938, underlining their superiority in the meantime by winning the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Berlin 1936.
Double joy for Pozzo's Italy
Four years on from becoming kings of the sport on home soil, Italy mounted a commanding defence of their crown at the 1938 FIFA World Cup France™. Though Brazil, spearheaded by Leonidas, had emerged as a force to be reckoned with, it was a tournament dominated once more by European teams.
With FIFA having yet to introduce the rule preventing the same continent from hosting consecutive FIFA World Cups, France beat off the challenge of Argentina to be named hosts in August 1936. The decision was made in tribute to the work of Jules Rimet, 33 years the FIFA President and the competition's founding father.
Unlike Uruguay and Italy before them, the French fell short in their bid to win the Trophy in front of their own fans, with Gli Azzurri beating them in the last eight en route to a date with Hungary in the Final. FIFA.com relives the events that led up to the decider and the match itself, played out in front of a 45,000 crowd at the Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir, situated in the Parisian suburb of Colombes.
Thirty-six sides entered the qualifying competition, although only 26 of them actually took part in it. Among the absentees were Spain, embroiled in a civil war; England, who were still refusing to take part in the event; and Argentina and Uruguay, both of whom pulled out for differing reasons. For the first time, both the hosts and the holders qualified automatically for the tournament.
A total of 14 other countries earned the right to join them in France, 12 of them European teams. Absorbed by the Anschluss, Austria pulled out before the competition kicked off, however, with their best players representing Germany instead. Brazil were the only South American side on show, while Cuba represented what is now the CONCACAF Zone. Completing the field were Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia), the first Asians to participate in the world finals.
Vittorio Pozzo's Italy side were the big favourites. The defending world champions had won Olympic gold in Berlin two years previously and arrived in France unbeaten in 18 matches. A tightly knit and accomplished side, they also had the inspiration of the legendary trio formed by Giovanni Ferrari, Giuseppe Meazza and Silvio Piola to draw on.
Though they began slowly, labouring to a 2-1 win over Norway in extra time, La Nazionale hit their stride against quarter-final opponents France, Piola scoring two second-half goals in a 3-1 victory. A 2-1 defeat of Brazil then took them through to the Final.
Hungary were no less impressive. Opening up with a 6-0 rout of Dutch East Indies, Alfred Schaffer's side scored two goals without reply to end the challenge of Switzerland, who had knocked out the Germans in Round 1. That was the prelude to a magnificent 5-1 demolition of Sweden in the semis, a result that took their goal haul to 13 in only three games.
The tournament showpiece provided a sharp contrast between Hungary's technical and elegantly precise brand of football and Italy's faster and more direct style, one that depended heavily on their individual gifts. Expressing their distaste of Benito Mussolini's regime and the straight-arm salutes of the Italy players, the Parisian crowd gave their wholehearted support to the Hungarians. Undeterred, the wily Pozzo used their hostility to spur on his players, who began the game at a typically sprightly pace.
Gli Azzurri were rewarded for their early domination when, after only six minutes, Gino Colaussi took advantage of some negligent Hungarian defending to put them ahead. Though Pal Titkos pulled the Magyars level almost immediately, Italy's superiority gradually began to tell. With Meazza directing operations, the holders snuffed out what little threat the Hungarians continued to pose up front and showed their own potency in front of goal. Further strikes from Piola and Colaussi gave them a commanding 3-1 lead at the interval, by which time they had even managed to win over the crowd with their all-action play.
As Italy eased off in the second half, Hungary managed to cut the deficit with 20 minutes remaining, the goal coming from the great Ferencvaros forward Gyorgy Sarosi, the scorer of an improbable 351 goals in 382 matches. The men in blue were not to be denied, however, and Piola rounded off the afternoon's scoring with his second eight minutes from time. Villains at the start of the day, the victorious Italians lifted the Trophy to popular acclaim, their status as worthy champions contested by no-one.
The scorer of 364 career goals, well clear of Giuseppe Meazza's 338, Silvio Piola is the most prolific Italian marksman in history. No fewer than 274 of those goals came in Serie A, and a further 30 in 34 international appearances. Although Brazil's Leonidas was the top scorer at France 1938 with seven goals, the Lazio legend was his team's deadliest finisher, hitting five goals in total, all of them decisive.
The first was an extra-time winner against Norway in Round 1. In the quarter-finals, he scored two more as Italy quashed France's hopes, before popping up in the Final with another brace, one of them a classy volley.
Piola retired from international football at the age of 38. By the end of his lengthy club career, which stretched over 24 seasons, he had chalked up 537 games, a tally only bettered by Dino Zoff and Paolo Maldini. He died on 4 October 1996.
What they said
"They win everything, these blessed Italians," France President Albert Lebrun.
"I may have let in four goals, but at least I saved the lives of 11 men," Hungary goalkeeper Antal Szabo refers to the telegram Mussolini sent to the Italy team before the Final, which contained the words 'Win or die'.
What happened next
With the second world war breaking out in 1939, it world be 12 long years before the next FIFA World Cup was staged. The 1942 competition had been scheduled to take place in Brazil or Germany, and when the tournament returned in 1950 it was the South American country that earned the right to stage it. By then, however, much would change for the two 1938 finalists. Italy failed to advance beyond the group phase, while the Hungarians did not even qualify.