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Apr 30, 2014

World Cup History: 1934

Winners: Italy
Teams: 16
Teams in qualifiers: 32
Notable absentees: Uruguay, England
Surprises: Egypt
Golden Boot: Oldrich Nejedly (Czechoslovakia) -- 5
Stats: A total of 70 goals were scored (4.12 per match); Italy (12) scored the most
Format: Straight knockout, replays for drawn matches
Number of matches: 17

Innovations
• The host team had to qualify
• Replays were introduced for drawn matches

Controversies
• Uruguay, the reigning champions, refused to enter the competition in retaliation for Italy not participating in the first tournament four years earlier

Trivia
• Luis Monti, who played for Argentina in the 1930 final, turned out for Italy in the 1934 final
• The final qualifying match between USA and Mexico was played in Rome three days before the first round proper
• Italy's Luigi Allemandi had been banned for life for taking a bribe but was reinstated in time for the finals
• Italy's replayed quarterfinal against Spain took place less than 24 hours after the first game had been drawn


The official 1934 World Cup poster.
The official 1934 World Cup poster.

The 1930s was the era of Fascist government. In Benito Mussolini, Italy had a leader who was eager to use any means necessary to further the message of his Italian empire. So, when FIFA awarded the 1934 World Cup to the Italians, it was seen as an ideal propaganda tool for Il Duce -- and Italy had to win at all costs.

Luckily, in Vittorio Pozzo, Italy had a visionary coach. Il Vecchio Maestro -- or the Old Master -- was a well-travelled student of European football and was one of the first true tactical coaches.

After the success of the first tournament, many more nations wanted to take part. The British sides, at loggerheads with FIFA, still refused to turn out and only four non-European nations -- USA, Brazil, Argentina and Egypt -- applied, but a qualification stage was now necessary. However, holders Uruguay refused to travel to Italy in a "tit-for-tat" response to the lack of European involvement in 1930.

Even Italy had to qualify -- which they did with ease -- and they took their place in a simple knockout tournament of 16 teams. The highest profile of the first-round casualties were Argentina.

They had lost top players Raimundo Orsi, Enrique Guaita and Luis Monti to the Italians, who had called up them up by virtue of them being Oriundi (of Italian ancestry). Monti had been the mainstay of Argentina's defence and so he would prove for Pozzo's team. The quarterfinals saw the Italians squeeze past Spain after a replay, having injured Spain's remarkable goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora -- still regarded by many as their greatest ever -- in the first meeting.

In the semis, Italy faced the Austrian Wunderteam, led by willowy forward Matthias Sindelar, and yet again ran out narrow victors with Oriundo Guaita getting the vital goal. The Azzurri's successes were doing a great job in oiling Mussolini's propaganda machine and inside-forward Giuseppe Meazza was now a national hero. In the final, they faced Czechoslovakia, for whom Oldrich Nejedly was in hot goalscoring form.

Antonin Puc put the Czechs into a 70th-minute lead and his colleagues missed a couple of chances to go further ahead. Things were getting desperate for Pozzo's team, but a moment of sheer brilliance put them level. Orsi dummied the entire Czech defence with his left foot and smashed in an amazing chip-shot with his right. When asked to repeat the trick in training some days later with photographers in attendance, Orsi could do no such thing.

The fitness that Pozzo had instilled in his team was to pay off in extra-time. Meazza, hitherto a passenger on the wing with an injury, found himself in possession. He fed Guaita, who in turn supplied centre-forward Angelo Schiavio. He hit a snap-shot past Czech keeper and captain Frantisek Planicka to win it for Italy in front of 55,000 fans in Rome's Stadio PNF.

Il Duce had achieved his heart's desire.

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