1938 World Cup – Italia
by World Cup 1938
It wasn’t home, but the Azzurri didn’t really have to travel far to defend their title – just over the border to France it was. The tournament had been whittled down to 15 teams after Austria, no longer the Wunderteam with Meisl’s death, had declined the invite with other things to worry about, such as being annexed by Nazi Germany – though some would join the German team. (For this, their opponents Sweden would get a first round bye.) Politics and football – never far apart.
This was also their chance to dispel any notion that they weren’t deserving of their 1934 victory and at least separate their football from Mussolini’s politics. That they would. However, they’d have to do it with new faces – though Pozzo was still around, only four players took part in both World Cups. Thankfully, Meazza and Ferrari were included in that exclusive group.
Picking up where they left off in Rome with those new faces, it was a 2-1 win in extra time via Silvio Piola, Italian legend and Serie A’s greatest goalscorer, to set up a meeting with hosts France. This was a rather big game, what with France hoping to continue the tradition of host nation supremacy and all – not to mention the winner would draw either Brazil, a high-flying favorite, or Czechoslovakia, who had a bone to pick with Italy.
Though the tournament was abroad, Mussolini’s grasp was never far away. Instead of the House of Savoy blue, he requested the Azzurri wear black shirts, putting his fascist ideals on tour. Once again it would be Piola, scorer of the winner and third in a game that ended 3-1 – a game which also included some rough goalkeeping.
And this brought forth perhaps one of the biggest, and more arrogant, personnel missteps in World Cup history. Brazil and Czechoslovakia had participated in a rough’n'tumble 1-1 draw in which they saw two reds on the 12th of June, which then necessitated the replay two days later on the 14th, with the semifinal to be played on the 16th. An absolute scheduling nightmare. Brazil won the replay 2-1 to head to the semis, but after over 200 minutes of World Cup football in 48 hours, Brazilian coach Adhemar Pimenta famously stated he was “resting Leonidas for the final”. Leonidas was, of course, their best player, one of the best players in the world, and scorer of six goals already in the World Cup, including four in the Hollywood action flick known as Brazil 6 – Poland 5 from the opening round.
It would backfire enormously according to FIFA: “a costly error of judgement as the Azzurri prevailed 2-1 in a disappointingly low-key contest”.
With that, Italy were back in their second straight final, to be played in Paris against Hungary. It was the two “old” horses from ‘34, Meazza and Ferrari, who ruled the day. A brace apiece for Gino Colaussi and again Piola, who would fall second to Leonidas on the scoring charts with six, after intricate work and silver platter service from the men sitting inside on either side of Silvio. It’s one of the better replays from the early, early World Cup days, and you can see just how little the goalscorers had to do for their final heroics.
They’d repeated as champions, something only since achieved by Brazil in ‘58 & ‘62, while becoming the first side to win on foreign soil. More importantly, they proved they were well deserving of their crown as football’s kings, with an awfully impressive two-for-two ratio. And once again it was Pozzo, Italy’s great leader – not that Mussolini guy – who’d taken them to glory.