Thursday, 4 August 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 18

 Italy 2-1 Czechoslovakia (10 June 1934) Stadio Nazionale PNF, Rome

In 1934 the World Cup arrived in Europe. Having been denied the opportunity to host the finals in 1930, Italy were awarded the rights for the second tournament ahead of the rival Swedish bid. It was a notable coup for Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, keen to use the competition to demonstrate the strides that his Fascist party had made since taking power in 1922. As a symbol of their willingness to make a good impression on the wider world the Italian FA subsidised travel for foreign visitors throughout the country.

As well as providing an illustration of the Fascists’ achievements in the cities of Italy, the tournament also offered a platform for the nation to demonstrate its strength and virility through the performance of the national team. Italy had made notable strides in recent years and now possessed a side that was a match for the best in the world. Victory in the inaugural Central European Cup in 1930 had displayed the progress that Italy had achieved and if anything the team was even better in 1934 than 1930.

In no small part this continuing improvement was due to the arrival of the Oriundi (foreigners of Italian descent). Italy had noted the significant success enjoyed by the South American nations and with the coming of professionalism in European football a number of the finest players were tempted to move on lucrative contracts. Raimundo Orsi was the most high-profile of the early Oriundi, moving from Independiente to Juventus in 1928, after helping Argentina to a silver medal at the Amsterdam Olympics.

After Orsi many more followed. Luis Monti, Argentina’s star centre-half at the 1930 World Cup, had joined Orsi at Juventus to much success. Atillio Demaria had also played a minor role in Argentina’s route to the final in 1930, participating in the 6-3 thrashing of Mexico, before making the move to Inter Milan. Enrique Guaita had barely featured for the Argentine national team prior to switching from Estudiantes to Roma, but he quickly became a part of the Azzurri squad for 1934.

Raimundo Orsi
 Unsurprisingly given the plundering of their prized possessions, the South Americans were less than fully committed to the 1934 World Cup. Argentina, partly due to disputes within the national association and partly to avoid further losses of top class players, chose to send an amateur team. Uruguay, still angered by the failure of the leading European powers to attend in 1930, boycotted the tournament. Brazil did send a team, but they were still some way off the best sides of the continent. The Selecao would have to improve some more before they would make an impression on a World Cup.

The final saw hosts Italy take on Czechoslovakia, further evidence of the rise of the Danubian school of football, as Central Europe became the focal point of the game’s development. The two teams had taken strikingly different routes to the final, but were united by the similarity of their play. The chance to be the first European World Cup winners awaited them.

Italy began the tournament in style with a 7-0 humbling of the USA. Although not a country associated with a rich history in the tournament, the Americans had been semi-finalists in 1930 and had defeated Mexico in a preliminary match in Rome prior to the tournament to secure their berth. The onlooking Mussolini was satisfied with the comprehensive nature of such an opening victory.

That first match would be the only easy game Italy enjoyed in the whole competition. Their quarter-final saw them matched with Spain in one of the most controversial encounters in World Cup history. Spain took the lead in the first half with a fortunate miskick from Luis Regueiro which wrong-footed Combi, but Italy were level before half-time via Ferrari. In the build up to the goal Schiavio was seen to be clearly blocking Ricardo Zamora in the Spanish net but the referee awarded nothing. The two teams could not be separated in either the second half or extra-time and so a replay would be needed the next day (there were no penalty shoot-outs at the World Cup until 1982).

Such was the level of brutality that had marred the first game (as well as the natural fatigue caused by playing on successive days) that Italy were forced to make three changes for the replay. They were lucky, Spain had to make seven, including in goal where Juan Nogues won his only cap after injuries to Zamora. The second match was (if possible) even more violent than the first. The Spaniards finished the game with eight men while referee Rene Mercet was suspended by the Swiss association for his poor performance. The only goal came via the head of Giuseppe Meazza who leapt highest at a corner to snatch the game.

Giuseppe Meazza
Just two days later the Italians were back in action in their semi-final, and it was no small task given that their opponents were the Austrian “Wunderteam” of Hugo Meisl. The Austrians had enjoyed an extra day of recuperation and had the psychological advantage of having recently beaten Italy 4-2 in Turin. Doubts existed over the side though and most (Meisl included) considered them to have gone past their best. The Austrians were certainly not helped by the conditions, pouring rain in Milan left the pitch a bog and far from conducive to the intricate passing game of which the Austrians were masters. The game’s only goal was scored by Guaita in a frenzied goalmouth after the ball rebounded off the post.
Czechoslovakia had a far from routine route to the final themselves, yet they managed to avoid many of the tournament’s most challenging opponents. They trailed to both Romania in the first round and Switzerland in the quarter-final before coming back to win, and only made their victory against Germany  in the semi-final secure in the 80th minute. Neither team looked like obvious world champions based on their early games in the competition, but had showed dogged determination to make it through to the tournament’s climax.

When the final came it appeared that the Italian public had not made the emotional investment in the tournament that Mussolini might have hoped for. Sections of the stadium in Rome were empty, leading some to question whether a venue in the North (the traditional footballing heartlands) such as Milan or Turin would have been more suitable. Regardless, the 40,000 or so fans who did pack in to the PNF stadium created a cacophony of noise to greet the players.

Italy (below) v. Czechoslovakia
 The Italians were unchanged from the team who beat Austria, while Czechoslovakia brought Zenisek back in place of Burgr. For the only time in World Cup history both finalists were captained by goalkeepers, Giampiero Combi for Italy and Frantisek Planicka for Czechoslovakia. Suggestions were made that referee Eklind of Sweden was personally requested by the Italians after his performance in their semi-final victory over Austria, but these allegations were unproven.

The game took a long time to get going, with few clear cut chances in the first half as neither side committed the men forward to trouble the opposing defence. With twenty minutes remaining the match sparked into life. Antonin Puc, who had been off the field receiving treatment minutes earlier, took a corner and when the ball returned to him he beat Monzeglio and fired a low shot past Combi at the near post. Minutes later the Czechs almost made it 2-0 as Sobotka went close and Svoboda hit the post.

Combi (left) and Planicka
These near misses jarred Italy into action and minutes later they were level. Ferrari appeared to have handled in the build up, but the referee ignored it, and Mumo Orsi fired in a swerving right-footed effort from the left-wing which deceived Planicka and floated into the net. The following day he attempted to repeat the feat for a group of photographers but could never recreate the swerve.
In extra-time Vittorio Pozzo, the Italian manager, instructed Guaita and Schiavio to switch wings and confuse the Czechoslovakian defenders. His tactics quickly had the desired effect. Meazza was over on the right-wing suffering with injury when the ball came to him and he fed Guaita. The winger crossed for Schiavio to shoot low past Planicka and into the net. Luis Monti, who had been on the losing side four years earlier, was now a World Cup winner for Italy and Pozzo’s team were the champions. After the game Giampiero Combi, the Italian goalkeeper, announced his immediate retirement from football, he could not have gone out on a higher note.

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