Friday, 8 July 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 15

 Uruguay 4-2 Argentina (30 July 1930) Estadio Centenario, Montevideo

The first World Cup produced the final that all neutrals had hoped for. A repeat of the 1928 Olympic final pitted the two great South American rivals against each other again to decide which nation would enjoy international bragging rights for the next four years. Despite relatively slow starts from both sides in the group stage, the semi-finals had illustrated quite how strong each side was and the symmetry of their 6-1 wins in the previous game only showed how well matched the two sides were.

For their victory over the USA in the semi-finals, Argentina had enjoyed the passionate support of the Uruguayan crowd angered by the perceived arrogance of the North Americans. Any hopes that this positive atmosphere would continue in the final were clearly pipe dreams as traditional service was resumed between these two most bitter rivals. Neither side could contemplate losing at this stage, especially not to such a hated enemy.

If they could not rely on support from the home fans the Argentines did at least have their own countrymen to call on. The Argentines had chartered ten packet ships to transport their supporters across the River Plate, but the fans who gathered in Buenos Aires demanded still more. The crowds saw off these ships by chanting “Argentina si! Uruguay no! Victory or death” in an effort to pass on their own passion to the players charged with bringing back the World Cup. As it was the Argentine flotilla hit a snag when heavy fog descended on the River Plate and left thousands stranded on board ships with no hope of reaching Uruguay in time.

Those who did arrive were faced with suspicion by their Uruguayan hosts, almost like an invading army come to challenge the Celestes in their own arena. The Argentine supporters were searched for revolvers both on docking in Montevideo and on arrival at the Centenario as police feared for the security of the game. They were not the only ones nervous about the potential for violence. Referee John Langenus of Belgium insisted on life insurance prior to the game, such was his concern for his own personal safety. He also took the unusual precaution of having a pre-planned escape route to a waiting ship in the event that trouble might escalate.

1930 World Cup Poster
In fairness to Langenus there was genuine cause for concern that violence might break out between the supporters of the two nations. The disgraceful scenes that had taken place in 1924 when Argentina faced the newly crowned Olympic champions in Buenos Aires, had forced both the initial encounter and the replay to be abandoned due to crowd trouble. A repeat of such circumstances would have been a disaster for the organisers and all parties were keen to avoid such an embarrassment. Luis Monti, Argentina’s bulldog centre-half, had been the subject of death threats in the build up to the final in the hope that it might unsettle the visitors’ influential midfielder. Furthermore the decision was taken to reduce the capacity of the ground to just 80,000 in the hope that the issues of overcrowding could be avoided.

The first challenge that referee Langenus faced was to select a ball. Somewhat predictably both sides wanted a ball of their own manufacture, but Langenus immediately demonstrated the diplomacy which had made him an ideal choice for the final. It was agreed that Argentina’s ball would be used in the first half and the Uruguayan ball for the second. Each ball had its own characteristics, with the Uruguayan ball larger and heavier than its Argentine counterpart. The mind games clearly started early.

The two sides were almost unchanged from the semi-finals with Uruguay bringing back Castro in place of the ill Anselmo, while Argentina had Varallo returning from injury to reclaim his place from Scopelli and Suarez standing in for Orlandini. The Argentines had been forced to play one more game than their hosts, but had rotated their squad sensibly and so could have little grounds for any fatigue. A game of this magnitude could motivate even the most tired of players.

Uruguay (below) v. Argentina formations
The sides emerged to a rapturous welcome from a crowd eager to see the game underway and to their delight it was the home side that made the brighter start. Within the opening minutes Uruguay took the lead despite the desperate defending of the Argentines. When Scarone’s shot was blocked by Paternoster the ball fell to Dorado who rifled the ball through the legs of Botasso and past the flailing leg of Evaristo who stood on the goal line. The crowd’s roar of approval was as loud as any the new stadium would ever hear and put the Argentines squarely on the backfoot.

Minutes later though the tide had turned in favour of Argentina as they levelled the game with an excellently worked goal. Ferreira set Peucelle free down the right flank and with a moment of skill he skipped past Gestido, surged into the penalty area and thrashed the ball past Ballesteros to restore parity. It was a fine response to the Uruguayan opener and signalled that the Argentines were more than ready for the fight.

Before half-time Argentina took a shock lead when Stabile latched on to a hopeful cross from Ferreira and tucked the ball calmly past keeper Ballesteros. Varallo had given a smart pass to the Argentine skipper and sprinted into the box to get on the end of the return ball only for Stabile to bundle him out of the way to net for the Argentines. Such was the desire of the Argentine players that they were even prepared to ”foul” their own teammates in order to score. The Uruguayans complained vehemently to Langenus that both Ferreira and Stabile had been caught offside in the move, but the linesman failed to spot the infringement and allowed the goal to stand. Given the Uruguayans’ good fortune in the semi-final they could hardly complain about the disputed goal, but their vociferous protests were joined by those of the massed crowds inside the Centenario.

So disgruntled was Uruguayan captain Jose Nasazzi that he continued his discussions with Langenus into the half-time break, even following the Belgian into his dressing room to harangue the unfortunate official still further. Legend has it that Nasazzi scrawled a diagram of the contentious offside in the walls of the referee’s changing room and that it remained in place for many years in honour to this “national treasure.” Regardless the goal stood and the Uruguayans faced an uphill battle in the  second half as they sought to come from behind to win.

Early in the second half the Argentines had an opportunity to stretch their lead further as Stabile found himself one on one with Ballesteros only to miss-fire at the vital moment. Uruguay beathed a collective sigh of relief at the failure of the Huracan hitman to take this golden chance, but they still trailed and needed a goal of their own to get back on level terms. It came from a set piece as Fernandez, whose clever free-kick had undone Yugoslavia, swung another into the box towards Castro. He in turn fed Scarone who lofted the ball over defender Della Torre and into the path of Cea to finish the move off and bring the sides level again.

They would not stay tied for long as Uruguay, clearly lifted by their second score swarmed towards the Argentine goal. Luis Monti who had been so influential in the earlier games appeared unsettled by the alleged death threats he had received and failed to impose himself on the game. Instead it was the trio of Andrade, Fernandez and Gestido who yet again orchestrated the Uruguayan attacks. Scarone and Cea among the forwards looked the most dangerous though Petrone was out of sorts and had little impact on the game.

When the goal came it was one to savour as Iriarte received a long punt forward from Mascheroni and blasted the ball past an outstretched Botasso. Juan Evaristo had attempted to block the Uruguayan winger’s venomous shot, but despite his close marking the ball flew into the Argentine net. Finally Uruguay had recaptured the lead and from now they seemed desperate not to give it up. That’s not to say however, that they did not face scares before the game’s end. First Stabile and then Varallo rattled the frame of the Uruguayan goal, but it appeared that the footballing gods were smiling on Uruguay that day.

Soon after, Varallo’s knee injury reduced his impact and he was forced to the wing as Argentina reshuffled their pack in an attempt to steal an equaliser. They had faced a daunting task when playing with eleven fit men, but with ten the Argentines stood little chance. Soon after the Uruguayans applied the coup de grace as Dorado crossed for Castro to head past Botasso despite the intervention of Della Torre. The one armed forward settled any argument and sealed the victory for Uruguay, a magnificent victory for the hosts.

Uruguayan celebrations
In the aftermath of the game Varallo’s father was forced to sneak out of the stadium draped in a Uruguayan flag to avoid being recognised as an Argentine in such a charged atmosphere. Back in Buenos Aires the reaction was no less measured, as fans pelted the Uruguayan consulate with stones and were only forced to disperse when the security forces opened fire. On a footballing level the Copa America was not played for another five years (though this was in part due to the  internal schisms which arose in both countries over the issue of amateurism) and the two sides would not meet again in any competition until 1932.

Uruguay had proved beyond doubt that not only were they capable of producing a world class team, but they were also able to host the game’s biggest event. Of course a number of administrative hiccups had arisen over the course of the inaugural World Cup, but that was to be expected given the scale of the undertaking and the novelty of the tournament. The World Cup had undoubtedly been a significant success, with the festival even making a modest profit. The gamble of awarding the tournament to Uruguay ahead of the more established powers had paid off and despite the indifference of most of Europe towards the competition there was no doubt that the experiment would be repeated.

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