The political field of Europe was tensed with extreme intolerance and bigotry. Capitalism versus socialism, democracy versus autorcracy, globalization versus nationalism was the name of the game.
The politics of populism was acting as fuel in the fire of fight between nation versus nation, class versus class and so forth. These infights were not only creating a huge jolt but also hitting the base of the belief of European ideologies, progress and pushing the human empathy to the nadir.
Amid this tumultuous time, Italy, the land of fasisct Musolini hosted the World Cup 1934. England, like the previous edition, abstained from this one as well. The reason, however, was different. England played a friendly game in previous year against the hosts Italians and the atmosphere of the fascist-inspired country was so raucous that they dared return for the big tournament.
Uruguay were also absent. They had the grudge against Europeans, who had boycotted the tournament in their home last time, and also the economic balloon of the tiny country bursted by then. As a result Uruguay has been the only country so far not to take part in defending their World Cup trophy.
Argentina, the other finalists of the previous edition, however, played. The country of the other side of La Plata was dilapidated as well. Most of their star players immigrated to Europe in pursuit of better facilities. Italy historically was a safe haven for many of them.
The history of Argentina is different than that of other Latin countries as most of the inhabitants of the country are European descandants. Although Spanish conquered the land but Italy surpassed them in number at a stage. According to a research, it is seen 62 percent of Argentine are somehow descendent of Italian forefathers. Interestingly, both the Jews and Nazis flew to the country to save their lives before and after the Second World War respectively.
As a result, Argentina’s football is a mixed one. It has the presence of dribble-based technique thanks to geography and physical based ‘Grinta’ style due to their Italian gene.
Luis Monti, the captain of Argentina side in 1930, who became the only player to play two finals for different teams, became a symbol of Argentine style and Coach Vittorio Pozzo used him as the mainstay of his ‘Metodo’ system. Monti was the centre half of this system. When the oppoents attack his job was to mark their centre forward while his own team was going for an attack through transition his role was to lead the midfield.
Pozzo, by the way, was a legend by his own right. He was not only the coach of two World Cup winning sides, he also transformed the pyramid format (2-3-5) of football to Metedo or 2-3-2-3 that revoulutionised the game.
No other Latin team took part but as so many European teams showed interest, the World Cup saw its first qualifying round.
As many as 36 teams took part in the round and 16 were qualified, among them 12 came from Europe, three from America and one from two biggest continents- Asia and Africa.
The World Cup begins
The format was in line with Mussolini’s fasict philosophy. The ‘weak’ teams were supposed to be eradicated with the first punch. The teams will straight away play knock outs and eight winners will go through to the next round. All the first round matches took place on May 27.
Musolini aka El Duco’s Italy blown away USA by 7-1, Sweden beat Argentina, who did not have a single player from the previous edition, by 3-2.
The best team of the era, the first ever super team in world football Austria drew their match unexpectedly against France by 1-1 but won the replay 3-2.
Hitler’s Germany got behind against Belgium but ultimately won by 5-2. Switzerland beat Netherlands by 3-2. Czechoslovakia faced stiff resistance against Romnia but prevlaied with a 2-1 win.
However, the biggest resistance came from Egypt. They almost created an upset against mighty Hungary but the referee denied them a goal and the hattrick of Abdul Rahman Fawzi. Till now, no African is yet to score a World Cup hattrick.
As Brazil lost to Spain by 3-1 it was made sure no non-European side will play in the later stages.
Two of the finest sides of the era- Austria and Hungary- met each other in the second round but the football they played was akin to erstwhile politics: dirty, scary, violent.
Austria won the match 2-1 but their coach Hugo Meisl termed it as‘violence.’
Meisl was another legend with his own right. Born in Bohemia in 1881, he came to Vienna at an early age and worked as a clerk in a bank. But football was his passion and he got success as an organiser. After being ascended as the general secretary of Austrian Football Federation, he incepted Mitropa Cup, an international tournament of top European Clubs and that can be said as predecessor of UEFA Champions League. He created history by initiating professional football league in Austria in 1924.
As a coach he is credited to invent Daniub school of thought against original pyramid formation of English football. In this formation the centre forward world play in a withdrawn postion and the team emphasizes on dribbling and one-to-one rather than boring and inefficient long pass and crosses.
Let us back to the World Cup. Amid heavy rain three thousand people gathered in San Siro with swastika flag to Germany, who beat Sweden by 2-1, to reach the semifinals.
Czeckoslovakia beat Switzerland with the same margin in a pulsating match while an exrtreme physical match between Italy and Sapin in Florence ended in 1-1. However, Italy in a sense won that match as they kicked out seven Spanish players while four of them were wounded in the browl. A rematch took place from the beginning in next day and Spain, demotivated without their inspring goalie Zamora, who got injured in the previous day, lost by 1-0. That set a tongue-licking semifinal between Italy and Austria. A war of two titans: Pozzo and Meisl. A war between two ideologies: fascism and socialism.
But the body language of Meisl and his boys looked down. Sindelar was under tight marking of Monti. Guita, who played alongside Monti for Argentina in 1930 World Cup, scored the only goal in the 19th minute. Austria had their chance in the dying minute but a Zischeck shot went wide off post. The culture that was built centring coffe houses of Vienna, lost to fascism.
Austria: a shining chapter in history of football
Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria ascended into the power of Vienna after the first World War and made immense improvement to the public education, public health and housing. The city, having withstand the jolt of second World War, got the name ‘Red Vienna’ and become one of the most habitable ones in Europe. Karl Polanyi, one of the most eminent thinkers and anthropologists of last century said:
"Vienna achieved one of the most spectacular cultural triumphs of Western history … an unexampled moral and intellectual rise in the condition of a highly developed industrial working class which, protected by the Vienna system, withstood the degrading effects of grave economic dislocation and achieved a level never reached before by the masses of the people in any industrial society."
The working-class people used to practice art and culture in the legendary coffee shops of Vienna and from there a different culture of football was being built. The game which was termed as the ‘chaos of slum people’ became a form of public art thanks to the socialist atmosphere of Vienna. Not only Meisl, the whole culture induced a desire of showcasing the art of football. The professional league of Vienna added a new dimension by connecting the spectaors with football. In short, it is proved that the football, like literature and film is also a key weapon of flourishing culture.
The result was Austrian ‘Wunderteam’. The British on that era used to think football is for people with robust body and it’s an act of chivalry and manhood. But a man called Matthias Sindelar aka ‘Paperman’ was the antithesis of this culture.
Another sobriquet ‘The Wafer’ is perhaps more appropriate as he used to tear up the opponent defence like a hot knife through butter. The playmaker knew the most important aspects of football are space and its use. He utlised the space of field like an artist does in the canvas and conducted the whole team like a conductor of an orchestra. Sindelar proved, football is not a mere physical sport but also may become an exgtreme example of aesthetics.
Sindelar, who showed his dissent time and again against the tyranny of Hitler, died in a mysterious way after refusing to play for Nazi occupied Austria.
Semifinal and final of 1934
Czeckslovakia, who used to play artistic football like Austria, beat Germany by 3-1 thanks to the hattrick of highest goal scorer of the tournament- Oldřich Nejedlý. As said above, Italy won thanks to Guaita goal.
Antonín Puč put Czecks ahead in the 71st minute and they could seal the deal had Sobotka did not miss an easy chance and Svoboda’s shot would not rebount off the post. Czechoslovakia could become the first European champions. The deprived part of Europe, the follower of Daniub school could be triumphed. Histrory is cruel. East Europe is yet to clinch a World Cup.
Rather, it was the win of Italy. From Guita’s through another former Argentine Raimundo Orsi’s shot found home in 81st minute despite a little tourch from Czeck goalkeeper Planicka. Angelo Schiavo scored the winning goal in the 95th minute. Itay won. Mussolini won.
Not only they won, Italy also profited 1 million lira spending 3.5.
And the theatrical of adverstiement entered into a new era thanks to live commentary of World Cup for the first time and as many as 3,00,000 posters, stamps and even advertisement of cigarattes.
The winners got the special Copa Del Duce trophy apart from the Jules Rimet trophy. The special trophy made by the instruction of Mussolini, was six times bigger than Jules Rimet and was made of bronze, signifying the chivalry of ancient Rome and fascism.
The tournament in Italy was the initiation of unholy relationship between tyranny and World Cup. Unfortunately this unholy affair marred the greatness of the tournament time and again.