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1934: Mussolini pulls the levers

The 1934 finals were contested against a backdrop of fascism in Italy, and politics may have played a part in the final result.

1934: Mussolini pulls the levers
With the fascists of Europe beginning to get a stranglehold on power, FIFA - refusing to put politics ahead of a successful tournament - decided that Italy should host the second FIFA World Cup. The event was well organised but overshadowed by the overt stage managing of Benito Mussolini's black-shirted regime.

Questionable decisions
Propaganda posters featured Hercules, foot on ball, arm outstretched in fascist salute - and the Italian team was happy to follow suit, similarly greeting Mussolini, who witnessed all of Italy's matches. The Italian dictator's passion for football may also have had something to do with a number of questionable refereeing decisions which seemed to go in the home side's favour.

Uruguay absent
Enthusiasm for the World Cup had increased to such an extent that a qualifying round had to be held to reduce 32 entries to the 16 that would contest the finals. Sadly, Uruguay, the reigning champions, declined to compete. Angry at the Europeans who had refused to take part in the first World Cup, the Uruguayans responded in kind becoming the only winners not to defend their title in the process.

Weakened Argentina
Argentina, beaten finalists four years earlier, eventually agreed to come although they sent a weakened team in an attempt to avoid poaching by the top Italian clubs, who had already lured away several South American stars. Indeed four of them were in the Italian squad and one - Luigi Monti - had even played for Argentina in the 1930 World Cup final.

Yugoslavia bow out
In Europe, the British were still in their self-imposed exile from FIFA and the main surprise of the qualifiers was the elimination of Yugoslavia - semi-finalists in 1930. Chasing victory in their final qualifier - against Romania - they hit the woodwork eight times in a 2-1 defeat. Italy also had to qualify - the first and only time the host nation has had to do so. However, it was not too much of a problem as they thrashed Greece 4-0 in Milan.

Straight knockout
Unlike the previous competition, the 1934 World Cup was a straight knockout tournament with eight teams seeded to keep them apart. Consequently after the first round only European nations were left in. Quickly back on the boat back home were Argentina (who lost 3-2 to Sweden), Brazil (who lost 3-1 against Spain), Egypt (4-2 losers against Hungary) and the United States (defeated 7-1by Italy).

Joy for Czechoslovakia
In the four all-European first-round matches, the French put up a valiant performance in a 3-2 defeat by the Austrian 'Wunderteam', the Germans fought back from 2-1 down to beat Belgium 5-2, Switzerland edged out the Netherlands 3-2 and Czechoslovakia, thanks largely to their brilliant goalkeeper František Plánièka, just squeezed though 2-1 against Romania.

Plánicka saves the day
Plánicka was Czechoslovakia's inspiration again in their quarter-final against Switzerland. The Swiss had much of the play but could not capitalise and the Czechs eventually ran out 3-1 winners. Germany also progressed 2-1 against Sweden and Austria won a bruising encounter with Hungary 2-1. The match of the round, however, was the marathon between Italy and Spain in Florence.

Dubious tactics
In a game which sadly displayed the ugly side of football the hosts opted to intimidate the Spanish - especially their brilliant goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora. The match, almost incidentally, ended in a 1-1 draw after added time but such was the effect of the violence - largely unchecked by an ineffective referee - that the Spanish had to make seven changes for the following day's replay.

Next-day replay
An eleventh-minute goal by Italy's Giuseppe Meazza sealed the replay, although the game was not without controversy as the Spanish had two goals ruled out, one for offside, the second - bizarrely - after the referee recalled play for a free-kick in Spain's favour.

Driving rain
In the semi-finals the Italians took on Austria. The 'Wunderteam', inspired by their legendary striker Matthias Sindelar, were thought by many to be over the hill but even so had recently beaten Italy in Turin. However, driving rain reduced the pitch to a quagmire negating the Austrians' more intricate game and allowed Italy - despite the exertions of their 210-minute quarter-final - to prevail, the only goal coming in the 19th minute from the Argentinian-born Enrico Guaita.

Germany thwarted
All Italy was now anticipating a glorious victory so it was a shock when the final kicked off at Rome's national stadium on 10 June with the Czechoslovakians - who had beaten Germany 3-2 in the other semi-final - holding the upper hand for much of the match.

Puc strikes
Indeed Monti - who, uniquely, was playing in a second World Cup final for his second team - had to be at his defensive best to keep Italy level. Finally, with just 14 minutes remaining, Antonín Puc scored from a narrow angle to put the Czechoslovakians ahead.

Missed opportunities
With the home side panicking, the Czechs could have sewn it up but Jirí Sobotka missed an open goal and František Svoboda hit the post. However, the Italians dug deep and with nine minutes to go Raymundo Orsi curled in a sensational equaliser to send the game into extra time.

Italy triumphant
The Italians began to impose themselves in extra time and deservedly claimed the winner when Angelo Schiavio fired home to ensure that, for a second time, the host nation emerged victorious in the World Cup final and making sure the black shirts in the 55,000 crowd did not have to go home with red faces.

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