The Azzurri Years – France 1938

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In controversial style France had been chosen to host the 1938 World Cup, Uruguay and Argentina were horrified as they had been under the impression that the tournament would alternate between the two continents and they responded by not entering the tournament in protest. As Europe tittered on the brink of war Spain became another casualty, torn apart by civil war they were forced to withdraw. The tournament was therefore due to start with sixteen teams but before the games began Austria was annexed by Hitler’s Germany. This resulted in Germany including Austrians in their squad and this also left Sweden with a by to the next round.

Italy started the tournament with four survivors of the World Cup winning squad of 1934, two of them Giuseppe Meazza and Giovanni Ferrari would again be the driving force being Italy’s success. With Vittorio Pozzo still in charge and a new found sensation in striker Silvio Piola the Italian team looked as though it had the capabilities of going all the way.

Italy’s opening game was against Norway in Marseille and proved a testing one, Pietro Ferraris had given the World Champions the lead after only two minutes but Norway fought back to equalise and take the game to extra time. Lazio’s maverick forward Silvio Piola scored for The Azzurri and saw them line up against Olympic Champions France in the next round. The Stade Colombes outside Paris packed in 59,000 supporters to watch this epic quarter final. Mussolini had insisted that the Italian team wear black shirts for the game indicative of the countries political agenda. The first ten minutes saw two goals as the Azzurri scored first through Gino Colaussi, France leveled a minute later but any signs of a come back were wiped out when Piola struck twice in the second half. The hosts for the first time would not win the World Cup.

The semi finals saw Italy travel back to Marseille to face a Brazilian side who had been in superlative form. Leônidas had been Brazil’s star man, nicknamed the ‘Black Diamond’ he had impressed scoring five goals already in the competition. Brazils coach Ademar Pimenta however, left his star man out of the tie against Italy saying that he was “resting Leonidas for the final” . This fatal touch of arrogance was Brazil’s downfall as they succumbed 2-1 to an in form Italian side, goals from Colaussi and Meazza sealing the win.

The Final was to be played at the Stade Olympique de Colombes against a Hungry team that many thought could win this competition. The “artisans de la victoire” was the way that L’Auto newspaper chose to honour Meazza and Ferrari the next day for their contribution in Italy’s 4-2 victory over Hungry. A brace each for Colaussi and Piola was enough to give Vittorio Pozzo’s Italy a second successive World Cup and a record that still stands to this day, it was also the end of an era as a year later Europe was plunged into war. Italy would not win another World Cup for 44 years.

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