Could anyone imagine a country turning down the chance to play in the World Cup today? The circumstances would have to be pretty extreme for a football association to make the decision now, because anything short of extreme would make passing on a chance to play in one of the world’s biggest sporting events a questionable decision, to say the least.
Suffice it to say, a lot has changed in eight decades, because that was the situation in some of the early tournaments. Still, the foundation had to be laid somewhere, and it all started in June 1930 in Uruguay.
The first two World Cup titles would be won by the host countries, and while that pattern was broken in 1938, Italy would become the first country to lift the trophy twice in a row.
Here, we take a look at the three tournaments that preceded World War II and the journeys that Uruguay and Italy took to World Cup title glory.
1930 World Cup (Uruguay)
Final: Uruguay 4-2 Argentina
Uruguay’s counterparts in Group 3 were Peru and Romania. In their opener, Hector Castro scored Uruguay’s first-ever World Cup goal, and his 65th minute strike was enough to see Uruguay past Peru 1-0. Their meeting with Romania would decide the group, and Uruguay would roll 4-0, with all four goals coming in the first half.
The group win advanced Uruguay into a semifinal meeting with Group 2 winners Yugoslavia, and after falling behind in the fourth minute, Uruguay scored six unanswered goals to book a berth in the final against Argentina.
In the final, Argentina overcame an early 1-0 deficit to lead 2-1 at halftime. In the second half, Uruguay equalized shortly before the hour mark through Pedro Cea, and in the 68th minute, Santos Iriarte scored what proved to be the winning goal. Castro sealed the deal in the 89th minute, and Uruguay became the first World Cup champions.
1934 World Cup (Italy)
Final: Italy 2-1 Czechoslovakia
As in the inaugural World Cup, the host country would take the title in 1934. In response to a lack of European involvement in the first World Cup, Uruguay passed on the chance to repeat.
In the first round, Italy faced the U.S. The match was over in the first 30 minutes, as Italy scored three goals to take command on the way to a 7-1 rout. Spain provided a sterner test in the second round, and after a 1-1 draw in their first meeting, the two squared off the very next day in a replay.
In the semifinals, another early goal would do the trick, as Enrique Guaita’s 19th minute winner saw Italy past Austria. The final in Rome pitted Italy against Czechoslovakia, and all of the excitement would be saved for the end. The Czechs went ahead 1-0 in the 76th minute, only for Raimundo Orsi to equalize five minutes later. The tie went to extra time, and in the 95th minute, Angelo Schiavio won the World Cup for Italy.
1938 World Cup (France)
Final: Italy 4-2 Hungary
In the first round, Italy faced Norway, and the reigning champions grabbed a second-minute lead through Pietro Ferraris. That 1-0 lead would hold until the 83rd minute, when Norway’s Arne Brustad leveled matters and sent the match into extra time. In the fourth minute of extra time, Silvio Piola scored what proved to be the winner to send Italy to the final eight.
In the quarterfinals, Piola would again be the hero, scoring twice in the second half to lift Italy to a 3-1 win over hosts France. That set up a semifinal meeting with Brazil, and after a goalless first half, Italy took control shortly before the hour mark with goals from Gino Colaussi and Giuseppe Meazza and went on to win 2-1.
Hungary had outscored opponents 13-1 in advancing to the final, and thusly it was no surprise that the final in Paris was filled with goals. However, it would be Italy’s day, as Colaussi and Piola both netted braces to allow Italy to repeat as World Cup champions.
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