1934 saw Italy host the second ever Fifa World Cup. Italy had not taken part in the first competition in Uruguay in 1930 as the distance was seen as too far. This had been the view of a few other European countries and so it came to be that World Champions Uruguay, offended by this snub chose to boycott the event four years later, a decision which rendered them unable to defend their title. Turin, Milan, Genoa, Trieste, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples were chosen as the venues for the games with Benito Mussolini determined that the World would see how capable Italy were of hosting such a great event. The dictators influence however, did enflame political debate about exactly how much the tournament would be used for Fascist propaganda.
Italy under the disciplinarian Vittorio Pozzo started the using a 2-3-2-3 formation, this was more fluid and stronger defensively than the very attacking 2-3-5 formation used by most other countries. Pozzo also fielded the ‘oriundi’ which were foreign players with Italian blood. This is not uncommon today but was a move questioned at the time. He was famously quoted saying “If they can die for Italy, they can play for Italy.” in relation to the players eligibility for military service.
When the tournament kicked off, Pozzo’s military like preparations paid off immediately with The Azzurri demolishing the United States 7-1. Angelo Schiavio’s hat trick, a brace from Raimundo Orsi and goals from Giovanni Ferrari and Giuseppe Meazza giving Italy their first World Cup victory. The goal scorers were apt as it was the fore-mentioned players who were the driving force behind Italy’s success. In the next round against Spain, things were a lot tougher for the Azzurri, Ferrari’s second of the tournament was cancelled out and the game went to extra time and then a replay. It was Meazza who settled the next match by a single goal that left Italy jaded and with a trip to the San Siro to face Austria’s ‘Wunderteam’ managed by Hugo Meisl.
This was the clash of the decade involving not only the two best managers and arguably the two greatest teams but also of two footballing ideologies, the Danubian School versus the Metodo. The game was hard fought in pouring rain but Italy came away victorious after a single goal from Enrique Guaita settled the match. They would now meet Czechoslovakia in the final.
The final in Rome saw 45,000 people come out to fill the Stadio Nazionale PNF. Italy battled hard against determined Czech team and there were plenty of dubious challenges, many of which went unpunished. Questions have been asked since about Mussolini’s influence over the referee, Swede Ivan Eklind (also the referee of Italy’s semi final). Despite this, the Azzurri went behind on 76 minutes when Antonín Puč struck a low shot past the keeper to the horror of the Italian crowd. Five minutes later however, and Raimundo Orsi had leveled the game and taken it to extra time. It was a cross from Meazza that found Guaita who skilfully played in Schiavio who took his chance well and the game ended 2-1. Italy had won their first World Cup and in doing so had created a legacy and sense of pride and expectation that lives on to this day.