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If the inaugural World Cup was held at the commencement of a worldwide economic depression, the subsequent edition came along in the middle of an ongoing economic malaise, with the added socio-political development of dictatorial governments in a number of European countries.
1934 would be the first time the World Cup was held in Europe, in fascist Italy, and similar to the Berlin Olympics two years later, Benito Mussolini would use the event for political and propaganda purposes.
Italy had been chosen to host the tournament ahead of Sweden, and it was also the first time that countries had to qualify. A total of 32 countries were part of a qualification stage, to come down to the final 16 participants.
Four non-European countries were represented. Three from the Americas – Argentina, Brazil and the USA – while Egypt would be the first African country to compete in the event, and the first outside of Europe and the Americas.
Uruguay became the first, and to date only, nation to not defend its title, choosing to boycott in response to several European nations not making the trip to their nation four years earlier.
A unique aspect of this edition was that it was organised on a knock-out basis. This meant Argentina, Brazil and the USA made the Atlantic crossing simply to play one game, all three losing as follows:
Italy 7 defeated USA 1
Spain 3 defeated Brazil 1
Sweden 3 defeated Argentina 2
Egypt also lost its one game, to Hungary, 4-2 – although their sea crossing was shorter.
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A noteworthy aspect about the eight knock-out games played in the first round is that every team scored at least one goal, for an average rate of 5.4 per game. Such was football in 1934.
Even this early, draws in knock-out games had to be contended with, and this had to be dealt with in the second round when Italy drew with Spain 1-1. They replayed a full game, which Italy won 1-0.
Italy then defeated one of the pre-tournament favourites, Austria, by the same scoreline to make the final.
In the other semi-final, Czechoslovakia had a strong win against their more fancied neighbours, Germany, winning 3-1.
Given the time period, it’s unclear what the qualification rules were for players, but Italy had at least two players who were born in Argentina to Italian immigrant parents.
One of the stars of the tournament was Raimundo Orsi, who not only was born in Argentina, he had won an Olympic silver medal with said nation in 1928. In 1929, he was recruited by Juventus and represented Italy for the next five years.
In the final itself, Czechoslovakia took the lead late in the game, via winger Antonín Puč. Within ten minutes, Orsi equalised with a curling strike into the top corner and the game went into extra time (the first it was used in a World Cup final).
In the 97th minute, Bologna striker Angelo Schiavio put Italy in the lead and they held on, giving the home nation its very first World Cup with a 2-1 win.
This also meant that the first two editions of the World Cup had been won by the host nation, but this would not be repeated until 1966.