The early encounters


EVER since the 1920 Antwerp FIFA Congress, held concurrently with the Olympics, a debate was on for the launch of the World Cup tournament, the idea for which was first mooted by two Frenchmen, Jules Rimet, after whom the trophy was initially named, and Henri Delaunay. Both had played pioneering roles in the development of the game in France and Europe. It was thought that the competition within the Olympics did not recognise the growth of professionalism. Thereafter, at the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928, when many nations withdrew from the football tournament because of this dichotomy of professionals and amateurs, the case for a separate world level tournament ripened. Thus at the FIFA Congress that year a resolution tabled by Delaunay was adopted to institute a World Cup tournament in 1930, to be thrown open to all member countries and thereby to serve the purpose of developing professional football.

Four European countries - Italy, Holland, Spain and Sweden - and one Latin American nation - Uruguay - aspired to host the inaugural event. Uruguay, which had retained the Olympic title for the second time, was also celebrating the 100th year of its independence. Uruguay thus got the nod but with Europe in the grip of an economic crisis it was good reason for the disappointed bidders from the continent to keep away. In fact, participation involved a long sea journey and no professional club in Europe fancied the prospect of having its players locked away for two months. From 'participation by invitation' the tournament became one where European participation became by coercion and influence. Romania, Belgium, Yugoslavia and France finally took part. All the same a tournament which became one of the greatest sporting events on earth, started off on a note of bitterness.

France's Lucien Laurent scored the first goal in World Cup competition.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

In all 13 nations took part in the inaugural edition, four European, eight South American and one representative team from the U.S. Nonetheless the quality of play was of high standards. Even if a Latin American supremacy was expected the European nations did not disappoint. France, for instance, got past Mexico 4-1 and in the process Lucien Laurent scored the first goal in the World Cup. The first edition itself was not without drama. In the match between France and Argentina, which the latter won 1-0, the Brazilian referee suddenly whistled for time when six minutes still remained. Since Frenchman Marcel Langiller was on the verge of slotting the equaliser the whistle took the dimension of a controversy. Chaos invoked, the referee finally admitted his mistake and the players were called back, many of whom when they were in the shower!

Meantime, Uruguay was ready for its first match in the newly-built Centenary Stadium. Its first opponent was Peru followed by Romania. Elsewhere Brazil lost to Yugoslavia while the U.S. scripted wins over Belgium and Paraguay before Argentina dashed its hopes, carving a resounding 6-1 win, an identical score-margin in Uruguay's blasting of the European survivor, Yugoslavia. The final between Uruguay and Argentina, watched by over 90,000 people, was a repetition of the 1928 Olympic final, the result, too, being similar. Down 1-2 at half time, Uruguay stunned Argentina 4-2 in the end and it was celebration time in the capital Montevideo for days on end.

Four years later, Italy played host to the second edition and when it won too, there were murmurs. If, in 1930, Uruguay was keen to win in its centenary year of independence, then in 1934, for Italy, under the fascist regime, the keenness was no less. This time the field was encouraging with 32 countries taking part, necessitating a preliminary round competition to eliminate half the number. Latin America was still smarting over the poor patronage from Europe for the first edition and many countries from there failed to send their best teams. Defending champion Uruguay, in fact, refused to participate.

The Italian captain Guiseppe Meazza (left) shakes hands with his Hungarian counterpart Starosi before the start of the 1938 World Cup final.-

Expectedly Europe's domination was complete in the quarter-final, with the battle reaching the heights in Florence - Italy and Spain being the contenders. Steely Spanish defence withstood the violent attempts of Italians. The two were locked 1-1 and the match was replayed the next day. Both teams went in for massive replacements but exhaustion saw one player after another collapsing. Giuseppe Meazza scored the only goal, the match winner for Italy. The team faced Austria in the semifinal on a storm-hit ground that looked a quagmire. A tireless Meazza again conjured up the goal to sink Austria. On the other side Czechoslovakia shocked Germany with Nejedly scoring twice and in between Krcil adding one. Only Noack could score for Germany.

An Italy-Czechoslovakia final meant it was a contest between the power and stamina of the Italians against the skill and subtlety of the Czechs. It was also a contest between the goalkeepers, Gianpiero Combi of Italy and Frantisek Planicka of Czechoslovakia. Puc put the Czechs up with a long ranger for which Combi dived a trifle late. Sobotka and Svoboda missed chances and an opportunity to wrap up the match was lost. Stuttering Italy finally found the succour, eight minutes from close through Raimondo Orsi with a brilliant deception, shifting his legs to shoot. The contest entered extra time and Meazza was the inspirer again. Finding the room to cross to Guaita, he exposed the Czech's neglect of the right wing. Guaita switched the ball to Schiavio who found the space to beat Planicka. A tenacious Italy won 2-1 and made a huge profit too.

War clouds had begun to gather even as the third World Cup in 1938 was put on board in France where modern stadia made the competition a big draw. Nothing was right though in Europe with politics keeping several top nations away. Austria, in fact, qualified but withdrew. Germany, which invaded the country, snatched its best players for its use. In Spain a civil war was on. From South America, Uruguay was still peeved over the way Europe boycotted the inaugural edition and kept away. Argentina too boycotted because its candidature was rejected in preference to France. However for the first and only time to date, the Cubans, the Poles and the Dutch East Indies took part. Also the practice of the host country and defending champion qualifying automatically began here.

Fifteen countries were in the fray, several South Americans boycotting on the Argentina issue. Brazil came and was an instant draw playing the kind of skilful game which eventually took the country to a different plane in the years thereafter. Brazil edged out Poland in extra time by a 6-5 margin. Leonidas, the 'Black Diamond' and the Pole, Willimowski, scored four goals each. However, in the quarter-final, Brazil edged Czechoslovakia 2-1 but more than that the contest was remembered for the all-out brawl that left 17 players injured, including Nejedly, who broke a leg, the Czech goalkeeper Planicka, who broke an arm, and Kostalek, who suffered a stomach injury.

Brazil's Leonidas da Silva, nicknamed the 'Black Diamond', scored four goals against Poland in the 1938 World Cup.-

Elsewhere at Marseilles, defending champion Italy had a close shave against Norway. Norway had six players who had played in the Olympics team which had tormented Italy. It required an extra-time goal by Piola to save the blushes for Italy but not before Norway's Brustad was ruled offside as he slotted the ball into the net. In another match Switzerland needed a replay to put out Germany (4-2), which, for the re-match, had brought the three 'Austrian' players. Host France started off well beating Belgium 3-1 thanks to its right winger, Fred Aston, known as the 'will of the wisp', whose piercing forays were a feature of the competition. However, France met its Waterloo in the quarter-final, losing to Italy 1-3, the resourcefulness of Piola (who scored twice) once again giving the latter the cutting edge. France, as the host nation, failed to lift the Cup.

Sweden's 8-0 drubbing of Cuba brought it to the semi-final where the dominant Hungary ran a tall score win (5-1). In the other semi-final, Brazil rested its star player Leonidas against Italy and paid the price for it. Italy had a match-winner in Piola, who laid the path for Colaussi to put his team ahead and then won a penalty when Domingas chopped him down. Meazza made no fuss. Ironically, Peracio, the man who had replaced Leonidas, missed two clear chances and Brazil was out.

Meazza and Ferrari, the two Italian playmakers, performed with fervour and Hungary could match the rival only in the initial phase. Meazza inspired the first goal scored by Colaussi which, however, Hungary nullified through Titkos. Then it was Piola who turned the heat on as he accepted a Meazza pass to put Italy up again. Soon Colaussi added one more to the tally. Even though Sarosi reduced the margin, the Italians never lost grip and fittingly Piola drove the last nail in the coffin after an interpassing with Biavati. Italy thus successfully defended its title 4-2 and, what was more, came to be considered an all-time great national team.

No more World Cups were held for the next 12 years as the second World War broke. And when the tournament was held again in 1950 the competition had traversed the continent again to Brazil. The World Cup was officially rechristened as the Jules Rimet Trophy but like early times, defections and withdrawals continued. England, which had remained out of the World Cup competition returned. India was also billed to take part but had to withdraw because FIFA did not permit barefoot play. In all 13 countries participated in the tournament which ended in a shock result. Brazil had gone in for a massive 200,000 capacity stadium, the Maracana. But the structure remained unfinished when the first match where Brazil beat Mexico 4-0 was gone through. A surprising 2-2 draw with Switzerland put pressure on Brazil but a 1-0 win over Yugoslavia, though uninspiring, helped it to the final group stage.

Nearly 200,000 spectators in Rio de Janeiro watched Brazil thrash Sweden 7-1. Swedish goalkeeper Svensson tips a shot over the bar for a corner during the match.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

England came and went, first losing 0-1 unbelievably to a team of amateurs from the U.S. in Belo Horizonte before Spain dealt another blow (1-0). Uruguay, back into the fray, showed its colours with an 8-0 win over neighbour Bolivia while Sweden did the stunning act of ousting the two-time winner Italy. The final group was a mini-league format involving Brazil, Sweden, Spain and Uruguay. Brazil changed gears and played the football of the future, to use the words of celebrated writer, Brian Glanville. With a 7-1 demolishing of Sweden, Ademir notching four goals, the deluge had begun. Spain next fell 1-6, Jair and Chico scoring two goals each. Uruguay, on the other hand, struggled for three points from its 2-2 draw over Spain and a 3-2 win over Sweden after trailing in both matches.

Thus Brazil needed only a draw to lift the trophy. However in front of the massive crowd in the Maracana Stadium, the thriller of a game ended in an anticlimax as Uruguay emerged triumphant. Brazil went into the lead in the second session through Alcedes Frica after Ademir and Zizinho had done the spade work but Uruguay recoiled tellingly, inspired by its 'keeper Maspoli's fine show. Schiffiano and Ghiggia struck once each in a superb show of coordination and control to silence the mass congregation. Uruguay had won the Cup for the second time.