The birth of a footballing giant
Closely watched by dictator Benito Mussolini, Italy fulfilled the double mission of projecting itself onto the international and political stage by winning the 1934 World Cup. The second World Cup organised by FIFA triggered the interest of 32 national teams. Therefore, for the first time teams had to qualify. Even Italy, despite being the host nation, had to qualify for the tournament, playing a preliminary round against Greece. The most significant absence was that of the 1930 winners. Uruguay decided not to defend its title, something that would never happen again in World Cup history, in protest to the Italian boycott of the edition four years earlier.
At the technological level, one of the great innovations was the live radio broadcast of the matches in 12 countries. With the ball rolling, Europe's supremacy became evident. The eight teams that made through to the quarter-finals were all from Europe. All matches in the tournament followed knock-out stage rules. The 16 teams that qualified for the final stage played the one match. If the game ended in a draw, extra-time. If the draw persisted, they would play a new match in the next day.
In the final match, in front of a crowd of 50 thousand people, Raimondo Orsi and Angelo Schiavio scored Italy’s goals. It was part of a comeback that earned them the title. Czechoslovakia took the lead in the 81st minute. The Italians managed to draw level and turned things around in extra-time to win the title.
Italy put on a consistent campaign. In their first match, they were responsible for the tournament’s most convincing win, beating the United States 7-1. In the quarter-finals, they needed two games to get past Spain. The first match finished 1-1. The Italians won the second game 1-0, amidst a lot of complaints from the Spaniards in relation to supposedly badly disallowed goals.
In the semi-final, the Italians beat Austria 1-0. Their opponents were known for their offensive strategy and short passes. There are those who say Saint Peter lent Italy a helping hand, as it rained a lot during the match, levelling out both teams.
Brazil makes the same mistake again
Without holders Uruguay, it was left to Brazil and Argentina to represent South America in the 1934 World Cup. Both countries, which would become great footballing powers, played nothing more than supporting roles. The Argentinians lost 3-2 to Sweden in their first match and the Brazilians lost to Spain. Argentina did not have any player who had played for them in 1930. Several players had changed side and adopted Italy as their home nation, country of origin of many players’ families. One of them, midfielder Luisit Monti played an important role in Italy’s title.
Brazil repeated the unsuccessful setup of the previous World Cup. Football directors from the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo did not manage to resolve their political differences and the team, which had to travel 15 days on a ship to Italy, did not manage to get through the first match, losing 3-1 to Spain. This was Brazil’s worst performance in World Cups. This time the problem was a disagreement over whether professional players should be used. The Brazilian Sport Confederations (CBD) did not agree with the level of professionalism adopted by many of their counterparts in São Paulo. At the end, Brazil ended up fielding a team with players mainly from the Rio de Janeiro State, with nine players from Botafogo. They trained only once before their first match. Leonidas da Silva scored Brazil's only goal at that tournament and began building his career with the national side.