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Apr 17, 2006

World Cup 1934 - Hosts Italy

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 by Il Duce - and Italy had to win at all costs.

Luckily, in Vittorio Pozzo, Italy had a visionary coach. Il Vecchio Maestro, 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 Home Nations, 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 knock-out 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 quarter-finals saw the Italians squeeze past Spain and their remarkable goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora, who is still regarded by many in Spain as their greatest ever.

In the semis Italy faced the Austrian Wunderteam, led by willowy forward Matthias Sindelar, and yet again ran out narrow victors with Oriundi Guaita getting the vital goal.

The Azzuri'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.