FIFA World Cup 1938 – Italy defends title before war erupts

With war clouds hovering over Europe, the 1938 FIFA World Cup was awarded to France. Only 15 teams competed after Austria pulled out following its annexation by Germany.

The victorious players of the Italian national football team hold the 1938 World Cup trophy after the FIFA World Cup final in Paris.

The victorious players of the Italian national football team hold the 1938 World Cup trophy after the FIFA World Cup final in Paris. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

With war clouds hovering over Europe, the 1938 FIFA World Cup was awarded to France. Only 15 teams competed after Austria pulled out following its annexation by Germany.

Casanova Guiseppe Meazza lost his shorts but Italy still managed to defend its title and shrug off corruption charges that marred its win four years earlier. Italy beat Hungary 4-2 to lift the Jules Rimet trophy.

With war clouds hovering over Europe, the 1938 championship was awarded to France. Only 15 teams competed after Austria pulled out following its annexation by Germany.

Italy downed Hungary 4-2 in a hard-fought final. Meazza, one of the most popular footballers in Europe, playing for Inter Milan at that point, provided one of the most hilarious Cup moments during the semifinal against Brazil.

FIFA World Cup 1938 Stats
Host – France
Teams – 15
Matches – 18
Goals – 84
Format – Straight knockouts.
Winner – Italy
Runner-up – Hungary
Top Scorer – Leônidas da Silva (7 goals)
Best Player – Silvio Piola
Best Match – Brazil vs Italy

Italy was awarded a penalty after Silvio Piola was chopped down in the box by Brazil’s Domingos da Guia.

Brazilian goalkeeper Walter, celebrated back home for his apparent power to hypnotise rival forwards, arrogantly claimed his superiority.

Meazza made no fuss and stepped in to take the kick. With all eyes on the duo, the forward’s shorts dramatically fell down to his knees. Supposedly, this happened due to the elastic waist band being pulled and stretched earlier by a defender. (But many fans still believe it was part of the striker’s ploy in the lead up to the kick.)

Without unduly getting affected, Meazza pulled up his shorts with one hand and shot past the confused Walter, who was still busy laughing.

Meazza’s team-mates joined in the celebration and a new pair of shorts was duly produced.

The goal sent Italy to its second consecutive World Cup final.

Earlier, in the first round, Brazilian forward Leonidas struck a hat-trick as the South American side beat Poland 6-5 after extra time.

The match is remarkable for one dazzling feat from Poland even in a lost game. Poland’s Ernest Wilimowski became the first man to score four goals in a World Cup match.

For Leonidas, the tournament was far from over, and the ‘Rubber Man’, as he was known in Brazil for his acrobatic skills, ended up as the top scorer with seven goals.

Surprisingly, he was kept out of the semifinal clash against Italy, which Brazil lost to finish third.

Italian captain Giuseppe Meazza receives the Jules Rimet trophy after his team’s 4-2 victory over Hungary in the World Cup final at the Stade Olympique de Colombes, Paris.

Italian captain Giuseppe Meazza receives the Jules Rimet trophy after his team’s 4-2 victory over Hungary in the World Cup final at the Stade Olympique de Colombes, Paris. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

World War II forced a break on the World Cup till 1950 and Italy remained the world champion till then, for a record 16-year stretch.

The Jules Rimet trophy itself did not fall into the hands of the Allied armies. Italian vice-president of FIFA, Ottorino Barassi, kept the trophy hidden in a shoebox below his bed during the war.

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