March 06, 2019 4 min read

The 1938 World Cup was held in France between June 4th and 19th, the second consecutive tournament to take place in Europe and on those grounds boycotted by both Argentina and Uruguay in protest at FIFA’s decision to stage the competition there. The European political climate was tense and Spain could not enter owing to the problems they faced throughout the country. Austria qualified for the finals, but in 1938 the country united with Germany, resulting in Austria’s withdrawal from the tournament, and some Austrian players becoming part of the German squad. Latvia, one of the countries in Austria’s qualifying group, had gone through to the finals, but were refused participation and as a result Sweden went through to the Second Round of the finals automatically in the absence of their scheduled first opponent, Austria.

Hosts France and World Cup holders Italy qualified automatically, with the remaining fourteen places allocated to European countries (eleven), two to America and the last place to Asia. Cuba, the Dutch East Indies, which became Indonesia in 1945, Poland and Norway were participating in the finals for the first time and joined Brazil, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland as the fifteen finalists.

The fifteen teams (in the absence of Austria) were drawn together in a straight knockout format, with extra-time played if the match was drawn after ninety minutes and replays if there was no result at the end of extra-time. The seven seeded teams included France, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Cuba, who, in the draw that took place in Paris in the March, avoided each other in the First Round, which with one exception proved to be very tight, involving extra-time in five of the matches. Two games went to replays, Germany and Switzerland drawing 1-1 after extra-time in a violent match in Paris, with Switzerland going through in the replay, 4-2. The German team included five Austrian players and the press comment that, "Germans and Austrians prefer to play against each other even when they're on the same team", may or may not have been telling.

In the second match, in Reims, Hungary defeated the Dutch East Indies 6-0. A close game, in Toulouse, saw Romania and Cuba draw 2-2 in normal time, with the score still drawn after extra-time, 3-3. Cuba went through to the Quarter Finals in the replay four days later, 2-1. Hosts, France, played Belgium in Paris and won comfortably, 3-1, and on the same day in Marseille, holders Italy needed extra-time to put Norway out, the final score 2-1 to the Italians. Extra-time also featured in the Poland-Brazil match in Strasbourg, an incredible game with the score 4-4 at the end of normal time and the Brazilians qualifying with a 6-5 result after 120 minutes. On the same day an equally compelling game was being played between the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia, with all of the goals scored in extra-time, the Czechs winning 3-0.

In the pre-TV age, all four Quarter Finals were played on the same day, June 12th, and started at the same time, Hungary going through against Switzerland, 2-0. In Antibes, Sweden, who had advanced straight to the last-eight stage owing to the withdrawal from the tournament of Austria, recorded the most comprehensive win of the tournament in their 8-0 defeat of Cuba. Italy eliminated France 3-1 in Paris in front of the tournament’s biggest crowd, and in the final game, Brazil versus Czechoslovakia in Bordeaux, a replay was required for the Brazilians to qualify, 2-1 the score after a 1-1 draw, after extra-time, in the first match, an unusually brutal game in which the Hungarian referee appeared to ignore many of the fouls committed by both sides, but did send off two Brazilian players as well as one Czechoslovakian. Several players were forced to leave the pitch through their injuries, including Nejedly with a broken leg. Planicka remained on the pitch until the end of extra-time with a broken arm. No substitutes were permitted in this, the last World Cup before the outbreak of world war.

The two Semi-Finals were held in Paris and Marseille, Hungary winning easily against Sweden, 5-1, and Italy going through to the Final, 2-1, against an under-strength Brazil, through two early second half goals. The World Cup Final, at Le Stade Olympique in Paris, between Hungary and holders Italy, and the Third Place play-off at Parque Lescure in Bordeaux, Brazil against Sweden, kicked off at the same time, at 5pm on June 19th. Brazil secured the third-place position with a 4-2 victory, after Sweden had taken a 2-0 lead through Jonasson and Nyberg. A Romeu goal a minute before half-time brought the score to 2-1, followed by Leonidas, who scored twice, and Peracio’s goals in the second half.

In the final, Italy retained their title, beating Hungary 4-2, Colaussi and Piola each scoring twice for the holders, Titkos equalising for Hungary after eight minutes and Sarosi scoring the Hungarians’ second late on. How apocryphal the story is of the Italian Vice-President of FIFA, Doctor Ottorino Barassi, hiding the Jules Rimet trophy in a shoe box under his bed for the duration of the second world war remains unclear, but the Italians were worthy holders, having retained the trophy and in their country it has been established as fact.


Remember the 1938 World Cup with this vintage World Cup poster from the Vintage Sports World Cup poster collection.  

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