World Cup 1958 – Time for New Heroes

Kinshuk Biswas turns back the clock, to that year in the history of the FIFA World Cup, when the young Brazilians had the world at their feet

 The World Cup host country for the year 1958 had been chosen as early as June 1950, during the FIFA Congress in Brazil held in conjunction with the World Cup finals. Sweden, Argentina, Chile and Mexico had shown interest in hosting the tournament. However, aggressive lobbying by the Swedes ensured that they ended up as the unanimous choice.

This was possibly the first tournament since 1934 without a clear favourite. The world had changed a lot in the four years since the last tournament. The all conquering Hungarian team had been left desecrated by the Soviet crackdown on the Hungarian revolution of 1956, prompting mass defection by the best players such as Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor. Nandor Hidegkuti and Jozsef Bozsik remained but were already past their best.

The defending champions West Germany still had Helmut Rahn and Hans Schafer and a dynamic young centre forward named Uwe Seeler. They lacked a creative playmaker in the midfield and so 37-year-old Fritz Walter was persuaded to come out of semi-retirement by the manager Sepp Herberger. The hosts, Sweden had credentials to match any of the top teams.  Nils Liedholm and Gunnar Gren of AC Milan had been chosen although both were over 35 years of age. They had the famous English strategist George Raynor as manager but were an ageing team. Argentina was back after a 24-year absence and had both tremendous flair and pedigree, being the defending Copa America champions.

Unfortunately the three member forward line – Omar Sivori, Antonio Valentín Angelillo and Humberto Maschio had been poached by Italian clubs. Uruguay and Italy, the most successful nations in the World Cup till then had both failed to qualify after being defeated by Paraguay and Northern Ireland respectively.

Incidentally, all the four home nations of Britain – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales had qualified; a feat yet to be repeated till date. All the teams had been hit by the Munich air disaster. Brazil was bringing a youthful team who had an unsuccessful tour of Europe in 1956. They were using a 4-4-2 formation which was still a work in progress. Soviet Union, the defending Olympic champions were making their debut with charismatic Lev Yashin in the goal. There were 16 teams in the final tournament and they had been divided into groups, and a draw was used on the basis of geographical location of the nations. There were four pots: Western Europe, Eastern Europe, British teams and the American continent. No Asian and African team participated. After the draw the four groups were:

Group 1                     

Group 2                     

Group 3                

Group 4

West Germany







Soviet Union

Northern Ireland









The format was tinkered with yet again, with all teams playing each other in the group stage with play-off matches to decide progress in case the teams placed second were found to be tied on points. If the two top teams had tied, a draw of lots would decide the group champion. Some teams complained about fatigue due to play-off matches and FIFA decided to use goal averages of the teams to decide the positions. The Swedish FA rejected this proposal stating that the original format could not be changed. Of course, the extra revenue from the play-off matches was the main motivation behind the reluctance to accept the goal average system because the Swedish manager was the most vocal critic of the play-off system.  However the goal average system was implemented in case the top two teams in a group had tied.  All the rounds of group matches were played on the same dates, June 8, June 11 and June 15, with the exception of the Hungary versus Sweden match, which was played on June 12 instead of      June 11.

The first match featured the match-up between the defending champions West Germany against the South American champions, Argentina. The Latin Americans started with an early goal by Oresto Corbetta in the third minute. After that, the non-existent marking of the Argentines made the match a Helmut Rahn show. Rahn had been persuaded by the manager to lose some weight by reducing his consumption of beer. He scored 2 goals with either foot from 25 yards out. Uwe Seeler added a third to give the champions a 3-1 victory. The second match was a major surprise with Northern Ireland defeating the Czechoslovakian team 1-0 with a headed goal from Wilbur Cush. In the second round of matches, Argentina played to their potential and whipped Northern Ireland 3-1.

It was a brilliant performance of skill and flair with the Latin Americans resorting to party trick dribbling and passing. The other match featured a typical comeback by the West Germans who fell behind by two goals to the Czechs only to claw back and earn a 2-2 draw. Although, it was with a controversial goal by Hans Schafer who was accused of barging into the Czech goalkeeper, Bretislav Dolejsi over the line in the 78th minute. Going into the last round of matches, all teams had an equal chance of qualification and danger of elimination. West Germany was the favourite going into the game against the Irish.

The Irish played their best game of the tournament and Harry Gregg, their goalkeeper made a string of outstanding saves even while hobbling and being unable to take kicks. The match ended 2-2. In the last match, Argentina was expected to overcome the dour Czechoslovakians. However, the match was the worst ever performance by their goalkeeper, Amadeo Carrizo – an all-time great.

The Europeans used their pace and superior movement to annihilate the Argentines 6-1; a result that eliminated the South Americans. The West Germans had topped the group but Northern Ireland and Czechoslovakia had to go to a play-off. The match finished 1-1 in regulation time and eventually Peter McParland scored the winner in the 97th minute to send the Irish into the quarter finals.

Group 2

The first match of the group was a goal-fest featuring France and Paraguay. The Paraguayans led 3-2 after the 50th minute. The French had a lot of quality in Raymond Kopa and Just Fontaine who went on to create five goals to give them a 7-3 victory. The other match featured Yugoslavia against Scotland, which was a hard fought 1-1 draw.  The second round featured Paraguay against Scotland which was a thriller and ended in a 3-2 victory for the South Americans. The Yugoslavia-France match was an entertaining one of high quality football played by both sides. Fontaine scored two more goals for France but the East Europeans were a better organised side with some flair.

The Yugoslavians eventually overcame the French to register a 3-2 victory. In the last round of matches, the French required a victory against Scotland, and Paraguay required the same result against Yugoslavia. The Paraguayans played exciting football but were let down by poor defending to draw 3-3 with the Yugoslavians.  In the France-Scotland match, the British team played their best of the tournament but ended losing by two goals scored by the unstoppable Fontaine. France and Yugoslavia advanced to the quarter finals with Paraguay ruing their missed opportunities and poor defensive display. France topped the group on goal average.

Group 3

The hosts played against the Mexicans in their opening match. The Swedes slowed down the pace of the play to suit their ageing side but still had enough quality to score three goals. With two from Agne Simonsson and a penalty converted by Liedholm, they emerged 3-0 victors. Hungary and Wales played out a 1-1 draw; a magnificently headed equaliser from John Charles in reply to an early goal by        Jozsef Bozsik.

The Welsh goalkeeper, Jack Kelsey pulled off some great saves to deny the Hungarians. In the second round, the Mexicans avoided defeat for the first time in the tournament -a feat, which took them 9 matches and 28 years to achieve. They played out a 1-1 draw against Wales equalising in the 89th minute. The celebrations after the match were as if they had won the Cup itself. In the other match, Sweden defeated Hungary 2-1 with both ageing sides playing a slow tempo game, with both hosts’ goals coming through defensive lapses of the opposition. In the last round of matches, Sweden fielded a team of reserves against the Welsh to the indignation of the Hungarians. Eventually the match ended in a 0-0 draw, although Wales were lucky as the Swedes had some glaring misses. The Hungarians eventually made their presence felt with Hidegkuti having a great match against the Mexicans and easily winning  4-0.

Sweden qualified as group champions and a play-off was required between Hungary and Wales. The Hungarians mercilessly fouled John Charles, the best Welsh player. The match was played under a shadow of political tension as Imre Nagy, the leader of Hungarian uprising had been executed the day before. There were Hungarian immigrants and defectors in the stand chanting for a free Hungary with banners and posters. Amidst all this, the Welsh won 2-1 coming back from a goal down to reach the quarter-finals.

Group 4


England played Soviet Union, against whom they had drawn a friendly in Moscow a few months back. In this match, the English were clearly second best against a side, with great fitness and good tactical acumen. Nikita Simonian and Valentin Ivanov put the Soviets 2-0 up.

However, England were given a lifeline by a freak Derek Kevan goal, which deflected off his head and wrong-footed the great Lev Yashin. The equaliser was a Tom Finney penalty after a contentious decision from the referee. A Bobby Robson goal was wrongly disallowed but at the end the English were relieved to have salvaged a point. The other match featured Brazil against Austria and defeated them 3-0 without much effort. Two goals were scored by Jose Altafini who was nicknamed Mazzola after the great Italian, Valentino Mazzola who died in the Turin air crash. The other goal was scored by Nilton Santos. The Brazilian coach, Vicente Feola however was not happy with his forwards, especially 19-year-old Mazzola, who he thought was weighed by his impending transfer to Italy.

The second round of matches featured a goalless draw between England and Brazil. Walter Winterbottom, the manager for England, put Bill Slater to man mark Didi, the focal point of Brazilian attacks.

Just Fontaine(L) - the highest scorer

The English were lucky as Mazzola and Vava both hit the woodwork. In the other match, Austria dominated the Soviets for an hour and then Yashin saved a penalty. The Soviets started attacking the Austrian defence through the wings and Valentin and Aleksandr Ivanov (no relation) scored a goal each to set up a 2-0 victory. In the last round of matches, England were expected to easily defeat the Austrians but were pegged back to a 2-2 draw where they had to come from behind, twice. The Brazilian coach had brought a psychiatrist and asked him if he could play two new young players. The psychiatrist replied that one was too immature and infantile and the other so unsophisticated that his inclusion would be an absolute disaster for the team. Thankfully, Feola had very little faith in the doctor and played both the individuals: Pele, the infantile one and Garrincha, the unsophisticated one. The result was magical and they ripped a good Soviet team to shreds, setting up two goals for Vava in a 2-0 win. Brazil had topped the group but England had to play the Soviets in a play-off. The Soviets controlled the game and won by a 69th minute goal from Anatolyi Ilyin.

Quarter Finals

FIFA had got their quarter-final draw correct this time, featuring matches between group winners and runners up. Sweden played Soviet Union, France faced Northern Ireland, Brazil met Wales and West Germany was against Yugoslavia. In the match against the Soviets, the Swedish manager – George Raynor used a superb piece of tactics.

He knew that the opposition would mark his playmaker Liedholm. Hence, he made Gunnar Gren the playmaker for this match and Liedholm would draw away the marker. By the time the Soviets figured this out they were a goal down. They conceded another goal, late to give the hosts a 2-0 victory. France was too good for the Irish, defeating them 4-0 with Fontaine scoring another two goals. To be fair, the Irish were a team of walking wounded which was compounded by their team management making travel arrangements by bus instead of train, which entailed 12 hours of travel.  The Brazil-Wales match was a very close affair. The Welsh were missing their best player, John Charles who was finally sidelined with all the incessant fouling of opponents getting the better of him. Jack Kelsey gave another magnificent account of his abilities and was beaten because Pele’s shot had been deflected off Stuart Williams. The Brazilians later admitted this was the toughest match they had in this tournament where they had scraped through 1-0. In the last quarter-final, West Germany beat Yugoslavia in a very dull affair with a spectacular goal scored by Rahn after dribbling past three defenders on the right wing.

Semi Finals

The hosts, Sweden  played the defending champions, West Germany in a high voltage match. The West Germans took the lead through Schafer. The Swedes were lucky to equalise, as in the build up, the ball was clearly controlled by the hand of Liedholm. The match changed when Fritz Walter went off after a crunching tackle from Sigvard Parling. Immediately, Gunnar Gren freed from the clutches of Walter, scored in the 80th minute to give Sweden a 2-1 lead. West Germans went a man down when Erich Juscowiak was sent off. Kurt Hamrin scored the third Swedish goal to take the hosts to the final.  In the second semi-final between Brazil and France, goals were inevitable with the attacking prowess of both sides. Vava put the Brazilians ahead in the second minute only to have Fontaine equalise in the ninth. After that, it was all Brazil with a goal from Didi and a Pele hat-trick in the second half. France pulled one goal back but the Brazilians were an emphatic 5-2 winners. In the third place match, France defeated West Germany with four goals from Just Fontaine, all being created by the talented Raymond Kopa. The final score was 6-3. Fontaine finished with 13 goals in the tournament- a record yet to be equalled.


Bellini (L), Maurice Guigue (C) - Referee and Nils Liedholm (R)

The final match was played between the oldest (Sweden) and the youngest (Brazil) sides of the tournament. George Raynor, the Swedish coach had predicted that Brazil would panic if they could be made to concede an early goal. He got his wish as Simonsson received the ball from the defence, wide on the right in the fourth minute. His square pass found Liedholm, who went past the opposition defenders Orlando and Hilderaldo Bellini and beat Gilmar, the goalkeeper with a low grounder past his right hand (0-1). Instead of panicking, the Brazilians were eager to restart the game, which gave a feeling to Raynor that his pre-emption about the opposition may not be accurate and that his ageing stars could face problems.He was proved correct in the ninth minute when Garrincha went past his marker and tapped in a cross from the right which was lunged in by Vava (1-1). The repeat of the same move – a higher cross from Garrincha in the 32nd minute – beat the goalkeeper rushing out and was turned into the back of the net by Vava (2-1). The age of the Swedes was showing. Gunnar Gren was 20 years older than Pele which was evident and very painfully so! Pele hit the post from 20 yards in the 40thminute.

Pele celebrating after his first goal in the final

The second half brought no respite for the Swedes. Pele scored a great goal in the 55th minute when from a Nilton Santos cross he went past defender Sigge Parling with a chest trap, and flipped the ball over the goalkeeper, Karl Svensson volleying it into the net (3-1). Mario Zagallo scored from a header in the 68th minute, beating his marker (4-1). Liedholm managed to create a goal for Simonsson, to reduce the margin (4-2). The final word in the match was written by Pele who back-heeled a ball to Zagallo on the left and moved forward between the defenders and hit a looping header over the goalkeeper into the net (5-2).

It was the exclamation point of an excellent tournament, which was won by the best side playing the best football. The Brazilians did a lap of honour around the stadium with the Swedish flag, as the crowd cheered equally loudly for them in spite of having the home team as opponents. It was a spectacular tournament with high-quality football and the ushering in of two young stars in the modern age of football.

Bellini lifting the Trophy
Brazilians with the Swedish flag after the final

The Burden of Expectation in the Belly of a Giant

World War II had ravaged the world. The entire continent of Europe was in ruins. The World Cup trophy would have been lost amongst many other valuables which were seized by the Nazis. The Nazis were after the trophy as well, but it was saved by the efforts of a man named Ottorino Barassi. He was the president of the FIGC (Fedeazione Italiana Guioco Calcio or Italian Football federation) during the war. As Italy was the defending champions, the trophy was in a bank vault in Rome. Barassi sensing the danger to the trophy took it home and kept it in a shoe-box under his bed till the end of the war. There were very few countries willing to host the tournament after the war. People felt that spending money for a football tournament was wasteful when countries were rebuilding themselves from the ravages of war. Before the cancellation of the 1942 tournament, FIFA had received two bids from Brazil and Germany. The Brazilians presented their bid to FIFA again in 1946 when it was decided that the tournament would go back to South America after two decades. Barassi , the saviour of the trophy, was assigned to assist the Brazilian federation in organising the tournament, drawing on his experience from the 1934 tournament held in his country. The Brazilians presented the idea of building the largest stadium of the world in Rio de Janeiro, double the capacity of Wembley stadium, then the largest in the world.

The hosts started as favourites as they had won the Copa America in 1949 beating Paraguay 7-0 in the finals and Uruguay 5-1 before that. They had an impressive trio of inside-forwards in Zizinho, Ademir and Jair. Italy, the defending champions were weakened by the Superga air disaster involving the Torino team which resulted in the death of ten national team players. Sweden, the Olympic champion of 1948 was a strong team but their coach had refused to include players playing for foreign clubs. The best Swedish players had been signed up by Italian clubs after the Olympics, so they did not have their best side for this tournament. Yugoslavia, silver medallists from the Olympics were a good team. There was huge anticipation over the debut of England who had lost Frank Swift, Tommy Lawton and Raich Carter but still had Billy Wright, Stan Mortensen and ‘The wizard of the dribble’ Stanley Matthews in their ranks. FIFA had decided that the first two teams of the British Home Championships would qualify automatically for the tournament. England and Scotland both had qualified based on this FIFA directive. George Graham, the chief of the Scottish FA decided that Scotland would play only if they won the Home Championships. They lost the final to England and despite the pleading of Billy Wright, the England captain and Jules Rimet, they refused to go to Brazil. Uruguay had some good players like Juan Schiaffino and Alcide Ghiggia.  All the East European countries like Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Soviet Union refused to play the qualification matches. Turkey refused to go, citing financial difficulties. In Asia – Philippines, Burma and Indonesia – all destroyed by war pulled out of qualification matches while India qualified by default. Argentina withdrew citing differences with the Brazilian Football federation. France and Portugal were invited in place of Turkey and Scotland. Portugal refused but France accepted. Germany and Japan were banned from playing international football by FIFA.

FIFA had changed the format of the tournament with four groups where all teams played each other, with each group winner advancing to another group of four teams to decide the champions. The format was to ensure that each team would play more than one match as opposed to the knockout format used for the last two editions of the tournament. There was no final match but the last match became a final by circumstances. There was no zoning of the groups and all teams with the exception of the hosts had to travel large distances to play their matches which was not ideal in those times. The draw was held in Rio just before the tournament with the 15 participating teams.

Group 1: Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland and Yugoslavia

Group 2: England, Chile, Spain and the USA

Group 3: Italy, India, Paraguay and Sweden

Group 4: Uruguay, Bolivia and France

India wanted to pull out citing financial difficulties, but FIFA agreed to bear the major part of the expenses. They still pulled out as they played barefoot and FIFA had banned barefoot play in 1948. France also withdrew due to the large amount of travelling involved in playing their two matches. Finally, only thirteen nations remained in the fray, same as the last tournament in the same continent twenty years ago.

Group 1

The tournament started on June 24, 1950 at the huge Maracanã stadium, then known as the Municipal in Rio de Janeiro with the hosts playing Mexico. The capacity of the stadium was halved as it was not complete. There were fireworks, 5000 pigeons and a 21 gun salute which did not bode well for the unfinished concrete structure. The people in the stands were covered in shards of concrete but thankfully none of them were large in size. The host team however was better prepared than the venue. The Brazilians hit the post in the 6th minute by a Jair shot. Then Ademir tapped the ball into the goal past the advancing goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal to put Brazil ahead. Mayhem ensued with fifteen radio commentators and a dozen reporters rushing onto the pitch for instant interviews! The referee George Reader of England cleared the pitch without much of a problem and the game resumed. Brazil kept dominating and hit the woodwork five times. After halftime, Ademir and Balthazar switched positions. Jair scored with a cross-shot and Balthazar added a third with a header off a corner from ten yards. Ademir added his second of the game by a driving in Jair’s short pass. Brazil had won 4-0 but still their coach, Flavio Costa wasn’t sure about their forward line.

Half constructed Maracanã in the first match

Yugoslavia comfortably defeated Switzerland 3-0 with their incisive passing. This was the first finals match where the floodlights were switched on. Alfred Bickel, the Swiss captain was one of two players who had played in the last World Cup before the war. The other was Erik Nilsson, the Swedish captain. Incidentally both the players were from countries which were neutral during World War II.  Yugoslavia defeated Mexico 4-1 in their next match living up to their reputation as one of the best teams in the tournament. Brazil played Switzerland in Sao Paolo in their second match. The Brazilian coach called their opponents as a team without any importance. He brought in a lot of new players from the Sao Paolo club to please the crowd. The same crowd wanted to lynch him at the end of the match and riot police had to be deployed. Leaving out Jair was a bad decision. The Brazilians struggled against the plucky Swiss and led 2-1 at halftime. In the 88th minute, Bickel got away and crossed for Jacky Fatton to score his second goal of the game and stun the crowd. The result meant that Yugoslavia needed only a draw against Brazil in the last match. The hosts were in danger of being eliminated. There was massive amount of tension in Rio when Brazil met Yugoslavia to decide who would reach the final group. Brazil had a huge slice of luck when Zlatko Cajkovski, the Yugoslavian midfielder cut his head in an unfinished steel girder at the stadium. The referee, Mervyn Griffiths refused to delay the start in a stoic show of British punctuality. Ten man Yugoslavia were made to pay for their deficiency by conceding a goal scored by Ademir in the third minute. Cajkovski rejoined in the tenth minute and the Yugoslavs matched the hosts in creating chances. The Yugoslav goalkeeper, Srdan Mrkusic was asked to change his jersey as he was wearing the same all-white strip of the Brazilians after 30 minutes (Shades of Graham Poll of 2006). Cajkovski hit the post and missed with the goalkeeper at his mercy in the second. The host eventually made the match safe with Zizinho scoring in the 69th minute. The hosts had just about made it to the final pool.

Ademir of Brazil, the top scorer with 8 goals

Group 2

The English played their first World Cup finals match against Chile. The Chileans were facing their first European opposition since the 1930 World Cup tournament.  Neil Franklin, one of England’s best defenders had left England to play for Independiente Santa Fe of Bogotá for 5000 pounds and 35 pounds of bonus for each win. He was not pleased with the 20 pound a week wage cap imposed on footballers by the English FA in England. Columbia was not a member of FIFA and he refused to join the English teamfor the tournament which was a big loss for them. The coach, Walter Winterbottom did not even play Matthews. They defeated Chile with goals by Mortensen and Wilf Mannion in each half but looked far from comfortable at the back with Chilean George Robledo who played for Newcastle causing them problems. England team used oxygen cylinders to cope with the humidity during the halftime break but Billy Wright just didn’t like the concept. United States played Spain and led through a Gino Pariani goal for 80 minutes. The Spaniards eventually equalised through Silvester Igoa and won 3-1 with further goals from Estanislao Basora and Telmo Zarraonandia, better known as Zarra, in the 82nd and 85th minute. The scoreline did not reflect the real story of the match.  American defender Charlie (Chuck) Columbo played with gloves raising a few eyebrows. Spain next played Chile and defeated them 2-0 with both Basora and Zarra on target in the first half.

Joe Gatjaens (R) scores against England

England played USA in Belo Horizonte in a match that has been touted as the greatest upset in the history of football. The truth was that the Americans were not a bad side as they had shown against Spain in the last match. The English media has described the American win as nothing short of a miracle over the years but they were being unkind to their opponents to gloss over the shortcomings of their own team. Matthews was still not on the team as Winterbottom did not consider their opponents good enough to play the great man. Joe Gatjaens scored the only goal of the match with a diving header in the 38th minute. The English media describe the match as a procession of missed English chances and acrobatics by Frank Borghi, the American goalkeeper. Mortensen and Mullen missed chances but the Americans had their own chances to extend their lead. Pariani brought out a great save from Bert Williams, the English keeper. Alf Ramsey cleared off the line from a Frank Valicenti (Wallace) shot. The crowd grew from 10,000 to 40,000 by the end. An editor in London thought the scoreline was a misprint of 10-1 in favour of England. It was a bad day for the English against colonials as on the very same day England lost for the first time in a cricket test match against West Indies. The score in reality should have been 3-0 in favour of England as the Americans had fielded three foreigners in their team. The goal-scorer Gatjaens had played for Haiti, Joe Maca was a Scottish player and Ed McIlvenny was a Belgian. There was a FIFA letter showing that the three were ineligible. However, Jules Rimet was persuaded by the American ambassador, Herschel Johnson who conveyed the wish of a certain President Harry Trueman to overlook such small deficiencies and shortcomings.  In their last match, England needed a win against Spain. At last Matthews started and Jacky Milburn was brought in. Both of them played well but the rest of the team were demoralised by the loss in the last match and Spain won it by a goal from Zarra in the 48th minute. Spain had qualified for the final pool with an all win record. In the inconsequential last match, the Americans were defeated by the Chileans 5-2.

 Group 3

The first match was between defending world champions Italy against the defending Olympic champions Sweden. Sweden had not selected the great AC Milan trio Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm, known as the great Grenoli.  Again a lot of people say what if? The match was well fought with the Swedes bossing the possession with crisp passing. The Scandinavians were 2-1 ahead at halftime through goals by Hans Jeppson and Sune Andersson after Italians had taken the lead through Riccardo Carapellesse. Jeppson added another in the second half. Ermes Muccinelli pulled one goal back in the 75th minute but the Swedes comfortably controlled the game till the final whistle to win 3-2. Nearly all the Swedish players were signed by Italian clubs after this match. The Swedes played the Copa America runners up Paraguay next and were two goals up within half an hour. Paraguayans fought back with goals in the 34th and 75th minute. After that the Swedes shut shop and played for the 2-2 draw. The Paraguayans needed to beat the Italians by a two goal margin to qualify for the final pool but were handed a 2-0 defeat. The Italians played well and it was the last the Italians were seen in a World Cup for 12 years as their national team went into decline. Italy was the first defending champions to be eliminated in the group stage, an ‘achievement’ which they repeated six decades later. Sweden qualified for the final pool.

Group 4

There was only one match in this group which was hit by the pulling out of France.  Uruguay crushed Bolivia 8-3. In this match, Uruguay showed that they had some very good players like Roque Maspoli in goal, Rodriguez Andrade the nephew of the great player of the 1930 cup winning team and Obdulio Varela their captain. Schaiffino and Ghiggia were both impressive with Omar Miguez scoring a hat-trick. Uruguay made it to the final pool, easily playing just a single match which meant that they were much fresher and less travel weary than the other teams.

Uruguay team

Final Pool: Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay

The first match in the final pool was between Uruguay and Spain. Both teams were very physical and rough. Zarra was marked out of the game by the Uruguayans. Ghiggia sprinted in to score the first goal in the 27th minute. Spain hit back with two goals from Basora in the 39th and 41st minute. Uruguay was saved by Varela who moved up-field and went past two opposition defenders and scored from the edge of the box.  The bruising match finished 2-2 and two Uruguayans missed their next match. After narrowly qualifying from the group stage, Brazil unleashed their attacking prowess against Sweden by annihilating them 7-1. The Swedes were not a bad team by any stretch but four goals by Ademir, a brace of goals by Chico and one by Maneca finished their chances in the tournament. The three inside forwards Ademir, Jair and Zizinho were magnificent with their inter-passing and movement which was far more skilful than anything seen in Europe in those times. All the three were lanky and sported pencil moustaches. They would have scored more goals if they had not played exhibition football for the last 30 minutes.

Brazil Team

Uruguay played Sweden in their second match. It was a close match, the Swedes taking the lead through Karl-Erik Palmer in the fourth minute, after he controlled and shot high across the keeper from a long floating free-kick from the wing. Uruguay equalised through Ghiggia in the 39th minute, who after a characteristic surging run through the midfield, volleyed a long shot to the keepers right. Sweden immediately regained their lead through a Stig Sundkvist goal with a left footed volley, after the second choice Uruguayan keeper Anibal Paz came out and dropped a cross under pressure from Jeppson to take a 2-1 lead into the break. After the break the Uruguayans kept attacking without any success. Eventually Miguez scored twice from loose balls in the 77th and 84th minute to give Uruguay a 3-2 victory and kept alive their chances of winning the tournament. Brazil played Spain and was equally impressive as the last match winning 6-1. Jair, Ademir and Zizinho were magnificent again with their inter play leaving their opponents mesmerised.

Before the last match there was the league match to decide third place. Spain just needed a draw and Sweden needed a win. The Swedes won 3-1 to claim the third position. This was the best performance in the World Cup by Spain till 2010. Brazil went into the last match against Uruguay, just needing a draw to win the World Cup. They were overwhelming favourites playing at home in front of a crowd of 205,000, the biggest ever to watch a football match. The Brazilian press had already termed their team as champions. The Uruguayan captain bought a newspaper which proclaimed the Brazilians as champions and ordered his teammates to urinate on it to stoke their anger and focus.  The mayor of Rio de Janeiro referred to Brazil as the champions in his speech before the match. The Brazilians were exceptional in their forward play but their defence had a few problems. The diagonal defensive formation left their wing-halves with no cover if the opposition wingers managed to penetrate. The Brazilians started off like their last two matches attacking Uruguay relentlessly. They had eight shots in the first five minutes but were frustrated by a wall of Uruguayan defenders. Eusebio Tajera marked Ademir and he was helped by Varela who was falling back. Above all, the Uruguayan goalkeeper Maspoli played the game of his life.

Maspoli in action during the final

Maspoli saved a thumping shot from Ademir after some crisp interplay between Jair and Zizinho. Then he saved a great header to deny Ademir again. Chico had his shot saved by Maspoli after that. There was no goal at halftime but the spectators were in good spirit singing and dancing to the samba beats. The goal came in the 47th minute. The Uruguayan defence was in the left side to cover Ademir and Jair. A reverse pass from Ademir sent Friaca clear on the right side of the goal. He managed to hold off Andrade and beat Maspoli with a flopping cross cum shot (0-1). The entire stadium was in raptures. The volume was louder and the samba rhythm faster. The goal coming in the second half did not demoralise the Uruguayans who took heart from the fact that they had thwarted the hosts for so long. Varela started to make forays into the Brazilian half. Ghiggia then started to give the Brazilian left-back Bigode a harrowing time. In the 66th minute he took a pass from Varela and pulled Bigode to the left touchline, beat him by a body sway, crossed for Schiaffino to score with a sweeping shot just beating Brazilian defender Juvenal’s tackle and goalkeeper Barbosa’s outstretched hands (1-1).  The stadium was silent. The Brazilians were still going to win the Cup if the score remained the same but the crowd reaction was as if they had lost the Cup.

Schiaffino scores beating Barbosa: The goal that silenced 205,000 people

The Brazilian manager many years later said that it was the silence in the stadium that terrorised his players. Ghiggia repeated the move only to see Schiaffino shoot wide in the 71st minute. The Brazilian coach Flavio Costa should have done something to protect poor Bigode. Defensive tactical acumen was not the forte of Costa. Brazil kept attacking and Maspoli kept saving. Brazil had 30 shots on goal in the game to Uruguay’s 12. In the 77th minute Julio Perez, the Uruguayan half back played a one-two with Ghiggia which flummoxed hapless Bigode. Ghiggia angled in from the right wing and Barbosa stayed back on his line expecting another cross, instead the Uruguayan unleashed a fierce shot below the keeper’s hands, who got a faint touch (2-1).  The spectators were now horrified.

Chico (C) shoots wide in the final

On the other end of the pitch, Maspoli continued his procession of great saves, first from a Jair shot, another from a Chico toe-poke. Then Ademir volleyed over the goal from close range. In the last action of the game, Maspoli dropped a high cross after being challenged. His teammate Andrade was the first to the ball and the final whistle was blown by George Reader, the English referee. The Uruguayans had triumphed for the second time in South America and were yet to be beaten in the tournament.  Schiaffino described the after-match ceremony as having the atmosphere of a despondent funeral.

Obdulio Varela being presented the World Cup trophy

The Brazilians unfairly blamed the players of African origin for their loss, namely, Barbosa the goalkeeper. Thirteen years later Barbosa was given the goalposts as souvenir, which he took home and promptly used as fuel for a neighbourhood barbecue. The Brazilian all white jersey was deemed unlucky and with permission from the Football Confederation a newspaper held a design competition for a new jersey. The competition was won by a 19 year old named Aldyr Garcia Schlee who designed the current uniform reflecting their national flag. Ruben Moran is the only player to make his debut in the World Cup final and win. It was a very successful tournament with huge turnouts to the matches. The only down side was that an entire country was in mourning after the tournament finished.

Journey from the Iron Curtain to Perestroika: Soviet and Russian Football

The world we live in today is far from what it was, say twenty five years ago. In this age of media blitz and consumerism, many of us remember the old days when the world was divided into two blocks.  Winston Churchill on March 5, 1946 had delivered a speech at Westminster College in Missouri. It had a line which spoke of dominating the social and political scenario of the world for the next four decades. “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ’iron curtain’ has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.”  This was the popularisation of the term – ‘Iron Curtain’. The term had been used before in similar context, but this speech made it famous. The main country behind this Iron Curtain was Soviet Union. The Soviets were a power not only in the military and political circles but also in the world of sports. The Soviet football teams were very strong during this period. Sadly, the successor of the then powerful Soviet team, Russia has failed to achieve similar results. We will try and understand the reasons behind this decline and try to obtain some answers regarding this.

 Soviet Union national team crest


The Russian revolution occurred in 1917, after which the entire country was under the grip of a terrible civil war for the next six years which led to a large scale loss of lives and property. There was no time for football or any sports during this period. The first official match played by the Soviet national team was on November 16, 1924 against Turkey which resulted in a 3-0 Soviet victory. There was an unofficial match played against the then independent nation of Estonia in 1923 which was won 4-2 by the Soviets.  The national team was sponsored by the state and main emphasis was laid more on Olympics than on the World Cup. However, the team qualified for seven final editions of the tournament from 1958 to 1990, with the exception of 1974 and 1978. The results in the Olympics were far more spectacular with two gold medals and three bronze medals. In the UEFA Euro Cup they won the inaugural tournament in 1960 and finished runners up in three occasions. The Soviet national team also won the inaugural Under 20 World Cup in 1977.


 Gavriil Kachilin                                                                          Victor Maslov

Golden Age of the 60s

Much of the success in the 1960s was under the managerial skills of Gavriil Kachilin, who was a keen man manager with a great rapport with the communist party bosses whom he persuaded not to interfere in his team matters. A Moscow XI made up of different Soviet players managed by Kachilin was the only team to beat the great Hungarian team in their winning run of 34 matches in 1952-54. This victory brought him to the notice of the sports minister who put him in charge of the national squad.  Another big influence on Soviet and world football during this period was Victor Maslov, the former coach of Torpedo Moscow and Dinamo Kyiv. Maslov is credited to have been the inventor of the 4-4-2 formation and the concept of pressing in the early 1960s much before its implementation by Sir Alf Ramsey of England in 1966. He was the first person to understand the concept of not allowing opponents time with the ball. According to the noted football journalist Jonathan Wilson he was the initiator of modern football tactics as we know it today.

                                                                                 The Soviet national team of the 60s

This was the golden age of Soviet football with a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics and victory in the 1960 European nation’s cup. The best results in the World Cup were also during this period.  The 1968 European nation’s cup semi -final against Italy, which finished in a goalless draw after extra time, was also a memorable match. Till date it is the only senior international final tournament match to be decided by the toss of a coin. The Soviet captain Albert Shesternyov called incorrectly and Italy advanced to the final and eventually won the trophy. The man who was identified as the face of Soviet football during this time was the legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin, voted as the best goalkeeper of the century in 2000 by International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS).  Other major players of this period were Albert Shesternyov,  Valeriy Voronin, Valentin Ivanov,  Igor Netto, Igor Chislenko, Eduard Streltsov, Viktor Ponedelnik, Mikheil Meskhi and Murtaz Khurtsilava.


                   Valeriy Lobanovskyi                                                     Oleg Blokhin : Ballon D’Or 1975

The Last Hurrah under Lobanovskyi

The other good period of Soviet football was in the late 1970’s to late 1980’s under the mercurial Ukrainian manager Valeriy Lobanovskyi, who had successfully managed the Dynamo Kyiv club to three European trophies in the 70s. During this period, Oleg Blokhin of Dynamo Kyiv emerged as one of the best forwards in Europe winning the Ballon D’Or in 1975. In the 1986 World Cup the Soviets topped their group by goal difference, winning their matches against Hungary and Canada easily. They drew the other group game against the defending European champions, France in a match which the media described as a match between two genuine contenders for the trophy.  In the 2nd round they faced Belgium who were one of the best third placed teams to advance from the group stages. The Soviets were overwhelming favourites. The Soviet team dominated for long periods of the match and led by an Igor Belanov goal at halftime. The Belgians, unimpressive in the tournament till then, had two world class players in Jan Ceulemans and a young Enzo Scifo. Scifo equalised as the Soviet defence were put under pressure with counter-attacks and long balls by the opposition. Belanov restored the lead only to have Ceulemans equalise to take the match into extra time. The Soviets kept attacking and dominating their opponents in extra time, but conceded two counter-attacking goals, both of which were potentially off-side. Belanov completed his hat-trick by converting a penalty to reduce the margin. The Soviets laid siege to the Belgian goal during this period but could not equalise due to the magnificent performance of Jean Marie Pfaff, the Belgian goalkeeper. The exit of the Soviet team was described as a loss to the tournament.  Ukrainian Belanov went on to win the Ballon D’Or that year after a very successful club season with Dynamo Kyiv.

Igor Belanov with the Ballon D’Or in 1986.

The team won gold at the 1988 Olympics defeating Brazil with Romario, Bebeto, Jorginho and Tafferel in the final 2-1 in an enthralling encounter. In Euro 1988 the Soviet team topped their group beating Netherlands on the way to the final. In the finals they were favourites against the Dutch whom they had defeated earlier, but fell to the genius of Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten. Igor Belanov missed a penalty to add to their woes. It was ironic that Lobanovskyi was defeated by the team managed by Rinus Michel whose idea of total football he tried to incorporate in his side.  That was the last we saw of a strong Soviet side.

Decline and Fall

All this changed in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin wall, the subsequent advent of perestroika and glasnost and the demise of communism in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union as a nation broke into different countries like Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Belarus. The system which was in place was finished, as the financial support of the government was required for other important things. The state of the art facilities that they enjoyed were all destroyed due to neglect. The Soviet clubs which were majorly backed by large government organisations were left to fend for themselves financially.  This started an exodus as majority of the players started to move abroad to play for foreign clubs with lucrative contracts. The team did play as Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) for a few years and also managed to qualify for the Euro 1992 finals in Sweden. However, the CIS team was replaced by Russia in the finals by a FIFA decision as all the different countries wanted to develop their own national teams.

Facts figures and answers

The question which a lot of people ask is why does the current Russian team fail to produce similar results in international tournaments like the erstwhile Soviet teams? The answer is very simple – the current Russian team have the very industrious and organised mid-fielders and defenders. The Soviet team had their share of these players, but they had something extra. They had their creative Ukrainian mid-fielders, the lighting quick Belarusian wingers and very skilled Georgian full-backs. The current Russian national team has very few creative players like these. Similarly the Ukrainian and Georgian teams lack the organisation in defence and midfield of the Russian team. That was the essence of the Soviet team where the Russians would hold fort defensively and work hard. The Ukrainians, Belarusians and the Georgians would add the creative spark and flair. There have also been a few Latvian and Estonian defenders and wingers who have also been part of the Soviet teams. The Russians have played a little more than half the number of matches played by the Soviets till date.  One cannot compare a single country with a conglomeration of fifteen different countries who have played double the number of matches. The game in the former Soviet states has also been plagued by politics, corruption and the advent of oligarchs of different types into the national federations. This has meant that the development of the game has evolved from the disciplined approach of the state to the whims and wishes of individuals. It is also a major reason for the number of players from these countries shining in clubs abroad but the national teams lagging behind.

The Soviet oligarchs have taken more interest in foreign clubs than their own. Chelsea and Roman Abrahamovich is the obvious example but others like Alisher Usmanov who owns a large share of Arsenal and Vladimir Antonov who bought Portsmouth from his countryman Alexander Gaydamuk, are also there.  FC Schalke 04, the German Bundesliga club is sponsored by Gazprom, one of the major petroleum companies of Russia. It is a status symbol of the Russian elite glitterati to own a football club in a western nation. A few of these billionaires own some of the clubs at home as well. Leonid Fedun owns Spartak Moscow and the newest entrant to this elite group is Suleyman Kerimov, the owner of Anzhi Makhachkala. Anzhi have stunned the football world with a number of big name signings with massive sums of money like Samuel Eto and Roberto Carlos. Anzhi however is a product of the regional prestige of the Dagestan republic, who are proud of their roots and culture. The strange part is, the entire team stays and trains in Moscow, 2000 kilometres away and fly down to play their home matches in Makhachkala. This type of a system which is haphazard and based more on personal and regional egos and whims than logic, cannot possibly help in development of the game in the long run.

One positive point is that Russia will be hosting the World Cup in 2018. This will help in the building of a long term infrastructure like stadiums and training facilities. The Russian national team is also on the ascendancy with some good players playing in the major leagues of Europe. With the Russian system we can only say that either ‘madness is their method’ or ‘there is method in their madness’.

If we make a table of all the matches ever played by the Soviet Union it would read like this:





Goals For

Goals Against

Goal Difference








A team which has won nearly 56% of all their games and drawn a further 24% and lost only around 20% can be deemed to have a very successful record. Majority of the matches were against European opposition.

A similar table of all the matches played by Russia after the dissolution of the CIS:





Goals For

Goals Against

Goal Difference








This winning percentage is 52% with 24% matches drawn and loss percentage of 24%. The Russians have played more matches against lower ranked teams than their predecessors.


An all star Soviet Union squad of all times was selected by European Journalists in 1992 when the team was no longer in existence.  It is a tribute to a bygone era where individuals rose above regional and ethnic differences and felt proud to play under a single flag and nation.

Soviet Union All Star Squad (All Time)


Name: Nationality: Club (Most appearances): Soviet National Team tenure

 Lev Yashin: Russia: Dinamo Moscow : 1954 – 1967

 Rinat Dasayev: Russia:  Spartak Moscow: 1979 – 1990


    Vladimir Bessonov : Ukraine:  :  Dinamo Kyiv: 1977 – 1990

 Anatoliy Demayanko:  Ukraine:  Dinamo Kyiv: 1981 – 1990

 Revaz Dzodzuashvili : Georgia:  FC Dinamo Tbilisi: 1969–1974

 Evgeny Lovchev : Russia : Spartak Moscow: 1969 – 1977

 Albert Shesternyov: Russia:  CSKA Moscow : 1961 – 1971

 Aleksandr Chivadze: Georgia:  FC Dinamo Tbilisi: 1980–1989

 Murtaz Khurtsilava : Georgia : FC Dinamo Tbilisi: 1965 – 1973

 Vasily Rats: Ukrraine : Dinamo Kyiv: 1986–1990


 Valeri Voronin:  Russia: FC Torpedo Moscow: 1960 – 1968

 Igor Netto : Russia:  Spartak Moscow: 1952 – 1965

 David Kipiani : Georgia : FC Dinamo Tbilisi: 1974-1981

 Volodymyr Muntyan : Ukraine: Dinamo Kyiv: 1968–1976

 Oleksandr Zavarov : Ukraine: :  Dinamo Kyiv: 1985–1990

 Yuri Gavrilov: Russia: Spartak Moscow: 1978–1985

 Sergei Ilyin: Russia:  Dinamo Moscow: 1936-1939

 Khoren Oganesian: Armenia: Ararat Yerevan: 1979–1984

 Alexei Mikhailichenko: Ukraine: Dinamo Kyiv: 1987–1991


 Eduard Streltsov:  Russia : FC Torpedo Moscow: 1955–1968

 Valentin Ivanov: Russia:  FC Torpedo Moscow: 1956 – 1965

 Mikheil Meskhi : Georgia: FC Dinamo Tbilisi: 1959–1966

 Igor Belanov : Ukraine: :  Dinamo Kyiv 1985–1990

 Oleg Blokhin: Ukraine:  Dinamo Kyiv: 1972–1988

 Grigory Fedotov : Russia: CSKA Moscow: 1937–1945

 Viktor Ponedelnik : Russia: SKA Rostov-on-Don: 1960–1966

 Igor Chislenko: Russia: Dinamo Moscow : 1959 – 1968

A Brave New World

Evacuation routes to ships, escape plans, protection protocols, people being searched for concealed weapons, a one-armed man as a major character, a clash between a military dictatorship and a democratic coalition, a death threat and a moat to protect the main protagonists. At first glance it seems a fine plot of an Alistair MacLean or a John le Carre thriller; however the subject in discussion is the first final of the World Cup held on July 30, 1930.

Eighty one years on, the game and the tournament have both grown in epic proportions. So much so that the phenomenon was nearly nominated for the Nobel Peace prize a couple of years back. To understand the game and its huge impact on the world and its people, we need to travel back in history. Not as much the study of numbers and statistics, which apparently constitute a mechanical approach, let’s rather take a sneak peek into the major events, the people associated and other related  aspects significant to the game, that help transcend football from being merely a sport to a passionate way of life.
The first World Cup was conceived as a competition independent of the Olympics, which was then the main competition in the early part of the 20th century. The idea was primarily driven by Jules Rimet, the then President of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Countries like Uruguay, Italy, Sweden, Hungary, Spain and the Netherlands exhibited a keen interest to host it. FIFA did not have any voting system in place in those days so Rimet after much deliberation, named Uruguay as the host country of the inaugural World Cup tournament as they were the champions of the last two Olympic Games and also to commemorate their centenary of independence. The other idea was to spread the game beyond Europe.
 Even before the tournament started there were a lot of obstacles. For one, air travel was absent. Secondly, many European teams refused to undertake the long tedious journey aboard a ship. Rimet, however, managed to persuade four teams viz. Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia to participate. The Uruguayan organisers agreed that all expenditures shall be borne by them. The Romanians managed to participate due to the intervention of their new monarch Carol II, who personally selected the team and persuaded the employers of the players to ensure that their jobs were safe. The French team joined owing to the efforts of Rimet. Their star striker Manuel Anatol and regular coach Gaston Barreau could not make the trip though. The Belgians were similarly persuaded by the then FIFA Vice President Rudolf Seedrayers who was from the same country. The Yugoslavs were possibly the only European team to participate without any persuasion apart from all the expenses being paid. The ship SS Conte Verde served as the mode of travel for all the teams but Yugoslavia, who made the journey by a mail steamship named Florida. The Conte Verde also carried the trophy, then known as ‘Lady of Victory’, along with Jules Rimet and the three designated European referees. The ship made a stop at Rio where the Brazilian squad boarded. Another brief stop was at Santos where the teams bought plenty of fruits like bananas, oranges and pineapples. The ship eventually reached Montevideo on July 4, 1930, just nine days prior to the commencement of the tournament, with ten thousand residents of the city welcoming them.

The tournament proper started on July 13, 1930 with simultaneous matches featuring France versus Mexico and United States versus Belgium. Four groups had been made where Uruguay, Brazil, USA and Argentina were seeded. The seeding was more to ensure large crowds for knockout matches than actual strength of the teams. Surprisingly, all the seeded teams with the exception of Brazil made it to the semi finals. Yugoslavia was the only European team to make it to the semis. The South American teams were better equipped as they understood the concept of conditioning camps, training and tactics since they had been playing the Copa America, their continental championships, since 1916. Eventually the final came down to a match between the neighbours, Uruguay and Argentina, the original ‘El Clasico’. There are a few of interesting bits of trivia associated with this tournament. Penalties were difficult to score as they were taken from 16 yards out. The referees were dressed immaculately in coats and ties with golf plus fours and thigh length stockings. In fact, in many matches it was complained that the referees missed out on important events, as they were busy combing their hair or straightening their tie.
 The Argentina captain Manuel Farreira actually left the team before the last group match against Chile in order to appear for his Law examinations in Buenos Aires and returned just in time for the semi finals.
One of the biggest stars was the Argentinean mid-fielder cum defender Luis Monti. He had the quintessential build of a centre half but had a sublime range of long passes. He was also the original strong man who used a lot of thug-like tactics while undertaking his defensive duties. For instance, while at a group match against France, Monti managed to get his elbow on the opposition goalkeeper Alex Thépot’s face following which Thépot was unable to continue. Then Lucien Laurent was subjected to a fierce kick to the ankle which left him limping for the rest of the match. It is believed that Monti was much subdued in his performance in the final match owing to the death threats received earlier. This explanation is, however, offered by the Argentine media. Monti went on to play the next final match four years later representing Italy where he performed much better without any death threats hanging over his head.
The final match of the World Cup can alone form a subject for a gripping novel with several sub-plots. The two capitals of the finalists were across the Rio de La Plata – imagine a match between Manhattan and Queens of New York, each located in a different country. The game was held on a Wednesday, a working day, yet that did not in any way reduce the enthusiasm. The match started at 3:30 in the afternoon but the gates were opened at 9:30 in the morning and within two hours the Estadio Centenario was filled to the rafters. The early opening of the gates was to accommodate a thorough security check of every spectator for concealed weapons. This saw a considerable reduction in  the ground capacity – from 90,000 enthusiasts to the final attendance figure of 68,346. About thirty thousand Argentine supporters were delayed by fog over the river and could not make it to the stadium. Some political rivalry was evident as Argentina was a military dictatorship while Uruguay had a democratically elected coalition government. The referee John Langenus, a Belgian was quite worried about the safety of his life and demanded a safe evacuation route to the ship. He even demanded protective policemen as bodyguards during half time. A ten feet deep moat had been constructed around the field to prevent pitch invasion. There was a drawbridge to connect to the VIP box from the pitch. These are the small examples of the passion that the sport brings out in people, which is still evident today.
Line Up for the Final
Even before the kick off, there was a major problem. Both sides wanted to have the match played with a ball manufactured in their respective countries. Langenus suggested that a different ball be used in each half. A toss decided that the one manufactured in Argentina was to be used in the first half whilst the one made in Uruguay for the lsecond. Such an episode may sound like a matter of disbelief during the age of the ‘Teamgeist’ or the ‘Fevernova’, but this was more than a match; it was a clash that ‘mattered’.

The pitch was dry and dusty, and the Celeste and the Albiceleste fought the battle which would change the history of the game. Both teams started with a 2-3-4-1 formation with Héctor Castro and Guillermo Stábile playing as the lone forwards and Lorenzo Fernández and Monti playing in the centre of the three-man midfield for each side respectively. The hosts drew first blood in the 12th minute when the inside right, Héctor Scarone’s shot was blocked by the Argentine left back Fernando Paternoster, the rebound was picked by the centre forward Castro, who pushed the ball wide right. The outside right, Pablo Dorado charged in like a locomotive and shot underneath the goalkeeper Juan Botasso’s body and past Juan Evaristo who was on the line(1-0). Incidentally Juan’s brother Mario Evaristo was playing as the right out in forward line. Argentina replied eight minutes later with a picture perfect goal. Juan Evaristo, their right half, very recognisable because of his pale beret, took a return pass from Monti and found Farreira, the Argentine captain and inside left, who released Carlos Peucelle, their outside left. Peucelle the predecessor of the present day left wingers beat the opposition left half Álvaro Gestido with a burst of speed and took a fierce shot which left the goalkeeper Enrique Ballestrero standing, high inside his left-hand post(1-1). Gestido was trying to cover for his right half José Andrade who was absent in the left wing. Argentina then went on to dominate the game with their skillful passing and crisp movements with the ball. To add to this they had a world class forward in Stábile. It was now a question of not how Argentina would score but when? The answer came in the 37th minute. Monti hit a hopeful long ball which drifted over the Uruguayan captain and right centre back José Nasazzi to fall to Stábile who scored from close range with Andrade stranded on the line(1-2). Andrés Mazali, Uruguay’s star goalkeeper from the two Olympic Games triumphs had been dropped for breaking curfew. He was caught sneaking home for a conjugal visit. Those were not the days of the WAGs. His replacement Ballestrero who played for this tournament was not of the same class. Andrés Mazali might have saved this goal as Ballestrero was hopelessly out of position.  Nasazzi led the claims for offside but the ball was in the air for a long time. Argentina’s flair and skill was proving its superiority over the hosts’ organisation and industrial style of play. Then came the half time interval and everything changed!

In the second half the hosts started to impose themselves physically. The Uruguayans believed that they were much stronger in constitution than their neighbours and it began to show. The inside right of Argentina, Francisco Varallo re-injured his knee and was sent out to the right wing where he was completely neutralised by Ernesto Mascheroni. At this time Monti seemed to take the death threat to heart and did not play in his usual manner. What put the final nail in the coffin was the highest goal scorer of the tournament; Stábile missed a golden opportunity to put them two goals to the good in the 49th minute. The wind came out of their sails. Now Gestido and Fernandez, the halves of Uruguay were linking up in attack and Argentina were under pressure. In the 57th minute, a free kick by Fernandez reached Scarone in the right hand channel and he passed the ball to Castro, the forward who had one hand. Castro who was a carpenter by profession had lost his left hand from the wrist working on an electric saw. He received the ball with his back to the goal, chipped a clever overhead lob from that position which took both the opposition defenders José della Torre and Paternoster out of the equation and reached José Pedro Cea, the inside right who hit a ground shot past the goalkeeper Botasso(2-2). The equaliser had arrived and now Uruguay pressed forward for the winner. Ten minutes later Mascheroni dispossessed Varallo and ran forward on the left side and passed to the outside left “El Canario” (The Canary) aka Victoriano Santos Iriarte who ran inside and took a snap shot from outside the area which flummoxed Botasso who dived late (3-2). The stadium erupted with joy as the hosts had their noses in front. Argentina had a few chances when Stábile hit the top of the bar with a shot from ten yards out on the 72nd minute. In the 80th minute, the limping Varallo managed to beat Ballestrero who characteristically was out of position. The goal was averted when Andrade, the right half cleared the ball off the line by means of an acrobatic volley with his entire body off the ground. Uruguay made the game safe in the last minute when Dorado received the ball around the centre line in the right side and ran ahead and crossed for Castro who leapt above Della Torre and sent a looping header above Botasso’s flailing fingertips (4-2). It was game set and match. Langenus blew the final whistle and made it to his ship safely. Strangely Nasazzi, the captain fantastic of the winning team did not receive the trophy as Rimet presented it to Dr. Raúl Jude, the Uruguayan FA President.
A few more facts about the finalists which make for an interesting read: Eight of the Argentinian players were never capped again. Stábile, one of the stars of the tournament only played those four matches in his entire international career. Alberto Suppici, the Uruguayan coach similarly managed the team for only the four matches in this tournament and till date, at 31 years is the youngest manager to win the World  Cup. José Nasazzi was captain of the Uruguayan national team for all his 41 international matches. The day following the final match was declared a national holiday in Uruguay. On the flip side, the Uruguayan embassy in Buenos Aires was stoned by a mob. The two football associations broke off relations, the major reason why no further Copa America was organised till 1935. It was hailed as win by Uruguayan democracy over Argentine dictatorship; the triumph of Uruguayan organisation and industrial team game of commoners over the skill, finesse and individualism of the Argentinean elite class. All this was more of media hype than reality, but has added to the mystique of this great tournament.
It was the beginning of a new era in power football where FIFA elevated the game to a higher pedestal. The cup would soon come to Europe and become a tool in the hands of dictators and governments who were racing towards war. But for the moment it was football which was basking in its success and reveling in its glory.