FIFA president Jules Rimet, after whom the first, solid gold, World Cup trophy was named, was the principle driving force behind the staging of the inaugural competition. Just thirteen nations were to participate, a number achieved only after considerable arm twisting from Rimet.

Five nations had applied for the honour of staging the first in the series, the four unsuccessful European suitors promptly refusing to travel to a resplendent Uruguay in distant Latin America. At one stage it looked as if no European team would come; amongst the refusniks were England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Portugal, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Germany, Austria and Hungary. The four British nations were unhappy at the blurring of the boundaries between amateur and professional, a difficulty that was reflected in their non-participation in the football side of the Olympic movement as well as the World Cup. The Soviet Union was chafing under the diplomatic isolation that had been its lot since the Bolshevik coup of November 1917.

Pressure from the Latin American nations, coupled with the persuasive powers of the lawyer Rimet, eventually cajoled four entries from Europe: Rimet’s own nation France, Belgium, Yugoslavia and Rumania. Given the acrimony and the difficult economic conditions prevailing after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, this was a better turnout than it might appear.

From the Americas were to come the more formidable contestants: Uruguay herself, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay and the United States. Only France amongst the Europeans proving able to distinguish herself in such company.

Australasia at the time had been largely colonised by the European powers and the USA. China was in the grip of civil strife exacerbated by foreign intervention. India was the Jewel in the British Crown, not even having Dominion Status within the Empire. Australia and New Zealand preferred other sports such as cricket and rugby. The game was hardly played in independent states such as Japan and Siam (modern Thailand). Turkey was in the midst of reforms under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk, football scarcely rating a mention. Thus there was not one representative from earth’s largest continent.

Africa, largely ruled by the British and the French, with a a Belgium presence in the Congo, only had two substantially independent states: Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia) and the British Dominion of South Africa. Neither played football in a meaningful way. Thus the first World Cup could hardly be said to have represented the World, or even the world of football.

On 13 July, after a three week trip across the Atlantic, the French team trooped out to play Mexico, triumphing by four goals to one. The first ever goal was scored by Lucient Laurent of France.

Although, unlike in subsequent World Cups, there had been no qualifying competition, one principle was established for the future: the groups were divided so as to try and achieve as much geographical diversity as possible. The groups were:

There were four teams from Europe, seven from South America, one from Central America and one from North America. A radically different composition from more modern World Cups! Given that
Uruguay, Argentina, Yugoslavia and the USA, three of them seeds, were to make it to the semi-finals, the seeding was a qualified success.

The winner of each group would qualify for the semi-finals. Thus, unlike today’s competitions, there was no reprieve for those who came second in their group. The victorious semi-finalists would contest what would eventually become known as the Rimet Cup, there would be no third place play-off.

The group competitions only threw up one major surprise, with the unfancied Yugoslavs (Yugoslavia had come into existence as a result of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, it comprised modern day Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro) coming ahead of both Brazil and Bolivia.

The USA's Bert Patenaude scored the first hat-trick in World Cup history, scoring all the goals in a three-nil win over Paraguay.

Unfortunately, many of the games were marred by violent conduct. The tone was set by the first match of the tournament between France and Mexico, the French goalkeeper had to limp off after ten minutes, as he had been kicked in the jaw by one of his opponents.

The semi-finals emphatically justified the seeding, Uruguay and Argentina crushed their opponents Yugoslavia and the USA by the identical score line of 6-1.

SEMI-FINALS (half time scores in brackets)
Argentina - USA 6:1 (1:0)
Uruguay - Yugoslavia 6:1 (3:1)

The first ever World Cup Final was played at the Centenario Stadium, Montevideo on July 30th. However, the game was preceded by the seemingly pointless dispute as to who should provide the match ball. FIFA stepped in with the Solomon-like decision to split the disputed baby: Argentina provided the ball for the first half, Uruguay provided one for the second.

Uruguay, which was celebrating a centenary of independence from Spanish rule, and had twice triumphed at the Olympics in football, eventually won 4-2, but not before enduring the trauma of a half time 1-2 deficit after a questionable goal from Stabile. Captained by Jose Nasazzi the Uruguayans proved a much more durable team, Pedro Ceo scoring a memorable equaliser, Iriarte then put the hosts ahead, a position cemented by a further goal from Castro (who played under the handicap of an arm being partially missing). Thus the Argentines, led by “Nalo” Ferreira, who had played one more game than their Uruguayan hosts, were unable to obtain revenge for their defeat at the hands of Uruguay in the 1928 Olympic final. Riots followed in Argentina, an ugly obverse side of the coin to the wild celebrations in Montevideo and elsewhere in Uruguay. The 31 July 1930 was a national holiday for the victors.

© 2006 World Cup Years Ltd.