FIFA World Cup 1938: Italy defend title before WWII breaks out | Football News

The 1938 World Cup took place in the shadow of the Spanish Civil War, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, rebellious actions by Mussolini’s Italy and the ongoing boycott of Uruguay.

host: France
teams: 16
format: knockouts, semifinals, finals
matches: 18
Goals: 84
winner: Italy
runners-up: Hungary
Golden boot: Leonidas (Brazil)


The 1938 World Cup took place in the shadow of the Spanish Civil War, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, the rebellious actions of Benito Mussolini’s Italy and the ongoing boycott of Uruguay.

When France was chosen to host the World Cup two years before the tournament, South American giants Uruguay and Argentina announced a boycott. The finalists of the first World Cup felt that tournament rights should be alternated between Europe and South America.

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Despite this controversy, Brazil and Cuba ensured representation of the continent, with the former displaying the first glimpses of extravagance and flair that would be associated with them in the years that followed.

Austria, on the other hand, was abolished months before the tournament and annexed by Germany.

This led to alleged rifts within the German squad and desperation among some spectators during German national team games.

How the World Cup finally came about in 1930

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The controversies and shocks of the 1934 World Cup

The Italian team also caused controversy by giving Fascist salutes before kick-off and opting to wear black for their away kit, which matches the colors of the Fascist Party.

The Italians imposed their authority on the competition by becoming the first team to successfully defend their title.

Italian Vittorio Pozzo put his name among the game’s first legendary coaches when he led the Azzurri to their second consecutive world title and Olympic gold medal in 1936.


Asia was represented at the tournament for the first time as Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, qualified while other Asian sides withdrew.

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The tournament saw an average of 4.66 goals per game, much to the delight of viewers across the 10 host cities.

Six games went to overtime as penalty shootouts had not yet been introduced.


The tournament was marred by political unease across Europe, as well as continental unease between South America and Europe.

This resulted in several major footballing nations missing out on the tournament.

The third World Cup was the last before World War II. The world had to wait twelve years for the next tournament.


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