As holders of the Olympic title and the fact that 1930 marked its 100 years of independence, the Fifa Congress in Barcelona (May 18, 1929) chose Uruguay to host the first tournament. Although the news was greeted enthusiastically in all football-playing countries, many European nations harboured reservations about the prospect of crossing the Atlantic. Thus, more and more European associations broke their promise to participate.
Two months before the tournament was due to commence not a single European country had entered the competition. Thanks to Jules Rimet’s personal efforts, at least four delegations, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia and Romania, set sail on June 21, 1930 from Villefranche-Sur-Mer with the liner “Conte Verde” reaching Rio de Janeiro on 29 June, where they picked up the Brazilian squad and arrived in Montevideo on July 4. The organisation of the first World Cup looked rather different from today’s with no qualifying competition, the 13 teams entered by invitation and the final draw was not made until the teams arrived in Uruguay.
Did You Know'
- The matches between France and Mexico as well as the USA and Belgium kicked off the meet on July 13, 1930. France’s Laurent scored the first goal of the World Cup, in the 19th minute against Mexico. France went on to win 4-1, while the USA trounced Belgium 3-0.
- The first final was contested by the hosts and neighbours Argentina. After trailing 1-2 at the interval, Uruguay went on to prevail 4-2 lifting the Cup, which had been designed by French sculptor Abel Lafleur.
- Fifa president Jules Rimet presented the Victoire aux Ailes d'Or trophy, a statuette 30cm high, made of gold and weighing 4 kg, to Uruguayan captain Jos' Nazassi. Celebrations in Montevideo went on for several days and the day after the famous victory, July 31, was proclaimed a national holiday.
- The referee officiating the France-Argentina match had blown the final whistle six minutes early. But after fierce protests, he recalled the players to the field, some of whom were already in the shower!
- There still seems to be a difference of opinion on who scored the first World Cup hattrick: while Fifa and a number of other sources give America’s Bertram Patenaude the honour of having done so on July 17, 1930, against Paraguay, others say it was Guillermo Stabile of Argentina with three goals two days later against Mexico.
- The World Cup took place in a single city, Montevideo, at its three stadiums (Centenario, Pocitos and Parque Central). The tournament in Spain in 1982, with 24 teams participating for the first time, was held in no less than 14 cities and used 17 stadia to stage the 52 matches.
When Italy, one of the unsuccessful applicants for the honour of staging the inaugural tournament, was chosen to host the second World Cup, Uruguay declined to participate and defend the title, as a retort to many withdrawals of European teams four years earlier. Other South American nations, such as Argentina and Brazil, also did not send their best teams to Italy. Staged between May 27 and June 10, 1934, this World Cup was markedly more encouraging than its forerunner. Thirty-two nations took part so that a preliminary round was necessary (even the hosts, Italy, had to qualify), and eventually, 16 teams qualified for the finals.
Did You Know'
- Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Holland, Hungary and Italy were seeded teams. Italy started their campaign with a 7-1 victory over the US, with Schiavio scoring a hattrick. His third goal ' the team’s fifth ' happened to be the 100th in World Cup history.
- Italy beat Austria 1-0 while Czechoslovakia coasted to a 3-1 victory over Germany in the semi-finals.
- The final was also a meeting between two of the best goalkeepers of all time, Gianpiero Combi and Frantisek Planicka. Both conceded a goal in regular playing time, and in extra time Italy got another to win 2-1. Combi stuck to the plan he made the day before the final and carried out his intention to retire immediately from football.
- Italian defender Allemandi received his winner’s medal after seven years because he was banned for life in a match-fixing scandal.
- The fascists made political use of the tournament to the hilt. In the opening match, involving Italy and USA, the players and even the referee and linesmen gestured straight-arm salutes to Mussolini who was present at the stadium.
- Atilio Demaria and Luis Monti played for Argentina in 1930, but played for Italy in 1934 .
Amidst the First World War clouds looming large over Europe, France became the third host country of the World Cup. Austria qualified, but when Germany annexed Austria, the latter decided to withdraw ' though some of their players appeared in the colours of Germany. Spain was ravaged by civil war. Argentina and Uruguay also stayed away.
Brazil and Poland produced one of the greatest games of all time in Strasbourg with the South Americans triumphing 6-5 after extra time, thanks to four goals from Leonidas who played barefoot for a spell. Sadly, the quarter final at Bordeaux between Brazil and Czechoslovakia ended in an all-out brawl: three players were sent off and five injured, two of whom were rushed to hospital with broken limbs. In the final, Italy beat Hungary 4-2 in Paris. And for the first time the host nation and the holders qualified automatically, a privilege which will end after the upcoming meet in Germany.
Did You Know'
- France defeated Belgium (3-1), thanks largely to its right-winger Fred Aston, known as the ‘will-’-the-wisp’, whose bursting forays to the bye line were decisive. Unhappily for the 58,455 supporters crammed into the Yves-du-Manoir Stadium at Colombes, near Paris, for the quarter final, France went down 1-3 to Italy.
- Unlike Uruguay and Italy in the two previous competitions, France would not lift the World Cup played on their own soil.
- Hungary whipped Sweden 5-1 and Italy edged past Brazil 2-1 to set up the summit clash. A highly athletic Italy easily subdued Hungary 4-2, with Colaussi and Piola scoring a brace each for the winners.
- The Italy-Brazil semi-final promised to be the final before the event itself, until the Brazilian coach Adheniar Pimenta made a gross error of judgement and decided to leave out two key players, most notably Leonidas. “I am resting him for the final,” declared Pimenta.
- Leonidas, however, had some consolation prize when he won the Golden Shoe Award with 8 goals.
- In the Brazil versus Czechoslovakia match ' which was held 1-1 ' three players were sent-off. This dubious feat was equalled in the Brazil-Hungary clash in 1954 and Denmark versus Saudi Arabia in 1998.
Written with inputs from fifaworldcup.com