Nineteen thirty-four was a year of increased international tension compared to the year of the previous World Cup. Hitler had been in power in Germany since January 1933 and had already taken steps to secure the Anschluss (union of the dictatorships of Germany and Austria); which ultimately succeeded four years later, once “IL Duce” (the Leader) Mussolini Italy’s dictator swapped sides and backed Germany.

This was the first time that a qualifying competition was held; this whittled down the number of contestants in the finals to sixteen, making Mussolini's promise to pay all the expenses of the competing teams more affordable. It was bizarre to see the United States play a qualifying match against its neighbour Mexico in Rome. Indeed, of the thirty-one teams in the qualifying competition, two, Chile and Peru, withdraw. Even the hosts Italy had to qualify. A mild surprise was occasioned when the Yugoslavia, who had been semi-finalists in the previous competition, were knocked out.

Notwithstanding the larger number of entries, this tournament was still not particularly representative of the world of football, never mind the wider world. The holders Uruguay, smarting from the lack of support shown by European teams four years earlier when the competition had been held in Uruguay’s capital Montevideo, declined to defend the title, a decision made easier by a players’ strike. The four British teams continued their refusal to compete when the boundaries between amateur and professional football were so blurred. Argentina, which had reached the final four years previously, deliberately sent a weakened team; this was out of pique as Mussolini, who had ruled Italy since 1922, had poached Monti, who had played in the previous final for Argentina, as well as Guaita and Orsi. The Argentines also feared that they would lose still further players to their Italian hosts. For the first time Africa sent a representative, Egypt, which had a small degree of autonomy within the British Empire. However, Asia’s massive population was not represented by even one team.

The finalists were:

Italy, the United States, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Germany, Belgium, Austria, France, Spain, Brazil, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Argentina, Hungary and Egypt.

Hence there was one team from North America, two teams from South America, twelve from Europe and one team from Africa. As lopsided a list as four years before, save the Latin and European misrepresentations had been flipped.

A regressive step was to adopt the cheaper format of a knockout competition all the way to the final.

There was more than a hint of favouritism in the refereeing; Mercet of Switzerland was later suspended by the Swiss FA for the blatant pro-Italian nature of his decision-making. The Swedish referee Eklind was accused of meeting up with Mussolini before matches.

Germany had to come back against Belgium in the first round, and Switzerland and Sweden had to battle to defeat the Netherlands and Argentina respectively; nonetheless the form book was more or less observed. A warning sign was the 7-1 demolition by Italy of one of the previous competition’s semi-finalists: the USA.

For the first time all the non-European teams had been knocked out at the first hurdle, which would probably not have happened had Argentina been at full strength and Uruguay had entered. The quarter finalists were:

Italy, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden and Hungary.

Austria and Hungary had been the pillars of the Dual Monarchy, which had been created in 1867 and had lasted until 1918; the Dual Monarchy being established by the Hapsburgs to maintain their historic central European Empire after defeat by Prussia at Sadowa (modern name Sadova in the Czech Republic) in 1866. Thus their quarterfinal pairing was not a happy one, being less than one generation away from the Treaty of Trianon, which finally dissolved the Hungarian component of that empire. Meisl the Austrian manager had a big international reputation, his side, known as the ”Wunderteam”, had lost to England (one of only two defeats) 4-3 in December 1932, but had clearly been the better team in the second half; they were widely considered the strongest continental side, which was part of the cause for Italian enthusiasm in discovering Argentine “Italians”. Just after half time in their quarterfinal match Austria led 2-0, at which point the match descended into a brawl; Hungary benefited by winning a penalty. Eventually, the Hungarian winger Marcos was sent off, enabling Austria to hang on to their 2-1 lead: a big change from the 8-2 trouncing of Hungary administered two years previously.

Italy rode her luck in her quarterfinal match against Spain. In the first match Spain took the lead after a a mis-hit free kick freakishly resulted in a goal. Brutal play from Italy did not seem capable of securing an equaliser in front of the thirty-five thousand partisan crowd until luck intervened. This remained the score line, so the match had to be replayed. In the replay no less than seven Spanish players had to be dropped as a result of injuries inflicted by the Italian players. Forty-three thousand screaming Italian fans witnessed a goal from Meazza after only twelve minutes, which goal proved to be the only one, helped in no uncertain manner by the Swiss referee, who contrived not to notice the blizzard of potentially crippling Italian fouls. Giuseppe Meazza, the scorer of this goal, was one of the few bright sparks in this Italian team. Born in 1910, Meazza was initially part of Inter Milan’s formidable defence before he graduated to his true métier: an out and out striker. In the 1934 World Cup Vittorio Pozzo Italy’s manager positioned Meazza as an inside striker, i.e. as a link man between midfield and attack. He was part of two successful World Cup squads, those of 1934 and 1938. His career included two league title successes in 1930 and 1938. He was to score 243 goals for Inter and played some 361 games for the club. Milan’s Guiseppe Meazza stadium is named after him. Meazza was to win 53 caps for Italy, scoring a total of 33 goals; totals that would have been far bigger had not injury blighted his career in 1938 after the World Cup. Meazza’s last international appearance was against Finland in Helsinki in 1939, a match which Italy won 3-2.

Switzerland were defeated by Czechoslovakia 3-2 in a seesaw match in which the lead changed hands several times. The Czechoslovaks holding in confidently for the final ten minutes after they took the lead for the last time in the game. A small crowd of only three thousand saw Germany overcome Sweden 2-1 after a goal less first half.

Semi-finals

With the crowd and the referee on her side, Italy also received an assist from the weather; the rain created a heavy pitch that was most disagreeable for the more skilful Austrians. In the event, one of the Argentine “Italians” Guaita scored the decisive goal after eighteen minutes play. The best Austrian opportunity same right at the finish, when a shot was scuffed wide. Thus, not for the first time, a skilful short passing side was overcome by more brutal opposition.

The Czechoslovaks initially walked all over Germany, their half-time lead of just one goal not being anywhere near justice in terms of their superiority. Unfortunately, complacency set in at the start of the second half, which enabled Germany to score a freakish equaliser. Germany then very nearly scored again, which finally awoke the Czechoslovaks from their torpor. Nejedly scoring twice more, in addition to his first half strike, for the Czechoslovaks to achieve a score line that more accurately reflected the margin of their superiority. The Czechoslovaks were also aided by their players greater familiarity, the team being drawn from only two clubs: Sparta and Slavia.

On 10 June 1934, a crowd of fifty-five thousand witnessed the host nation Italy take the field against the more skilful players of Czechoslovakia. Would Mussolini achieve his propaganda coup with a pliant referee and a partisan crowd? At first it did not look so as the Czechoslovaks withstood juddering stops and crunching tackles to impose a short passing game. Nonetheless, the pretty patterns on the pitch did not translate into goals, not until more than twenty-five minutes had elapsed in the second half. At which point the Italians started to assert themselves. After eighty-one minutes Orsi, yet another of the Argentine “Italians”, scored a freakish goal, feinting with his left and scoring with his right; a goal which he was unable to reproduce before expectant journalists the following day despite twenty attempts! The match went into extra time, which greatly favoured the physically more robust Italians. Finally the non-Argentine Schiavio scored.

© 2006 World Cup Years Ltd.