Classic Azzurri Matches – Italy vs Czechoslovakia 1934
On June 10 1934, Italy won their first World Cup with a 2-1 win after extra time against Czechoslovakia in front of over 55,000 fervent supporters and an expectant Benito Mussolini at the Stadio Nazionale PNF in Rome.
After a failed bid to hold the inaugural World Cup four years earlier, Italy would host the tournament against a backdrop of overt stage management by a fascist regime eager to showcase its supremacy and gain prestige on an international stage.
Investing in monumental modern stadia in eight host cities, as well as printing over one hundred thousand billposters to be placed throughout the peninsula, a huge burden of expectation from both the public and regime was placed on the team.
Many have since sought to undermine the 1934 World Cup win arguing that the home advantage given by the regime and pressure put on referees, particularly in the quarter-final replay with Spain and semi-final against Austria, was immense.
However, Italian football has never been as successful as it was following the creation of a unified Serie A in 1929 and the Azzurri further asserted their abilities with an Olympic gold medal and another World Cup win in France during the 1930s.
The propaganda power of football was not lost on the fascists and their influence may have overshadowed the competition, but the guidance of visionary coach Vittorio Pozzo and his squad of star players should not be underestimated.
Given complete control over every detail of preparations, the Turin-born tactician adopted a semi-militaristic approach to the proceedings as he assembled his side nearly a month before the tournament began for training.
The 22-man squad contained an initial eight players from the Juventus team that had just won its fourth successive Scudetto, while right-sided Roma midfielder Attilio Ferraris was called up on the condition that he quit smoking.
“I want a group of players I can trust,” Pozzo told the censored sporting press ahead of the tournament.
“Then I can set to work with a group of men who are both physically and mentally strong.
“I like to be clear and straightforward with my players so they can gain confidence thanks to the honesty and fairness they are shown.”
After surprisingly announcing his retirement at just almost 32 years old, Juventus goalkeeper Gianpiero Combi was certainly one of the players that Pozzo could turn to following an unlucky turn of events on the eve of the tournament.
Invited to the training camp to lend his vast experience to other players, Combi returned to play a crucial role in the competition and even captained the team when his successor Carlo Ceresoli of Ambrosiana-Inter broke his arm.
Holders Uruguay refused to take part as the Azzurri had pulled out of the previous tournament, while both Argentina and Brazil sent weakened teams with the reported intention of strengthening ties between governments.
However, three South Americans would still star in the 1934 World Cup as oriundi (foreign players of Italian ancestry) as Luis Monti, Enrique Guaita and Raimundo Orsi all ‘helped’ Italy against Czechoslovakia.
Twelve of the 22 that played in the final had come to blows two years earlier amid unsavoury violent scenes during both legs of the Mitropa Cup semi-final between Juventus and Slavia Prague.
Both sides had been expelled from the competition after goalkeeper Frantisek Planicka was struck by a stone thrown from the crowd leading to Slavia refusing to complete the remainder of the match in Turin.
No such incidents would reoccur in Rome, instead there was only a clash of styles that pitted the skillful artistry of the Central Europeans against the aggressive and tactically astute Azzurri.
Antonin Puc would give Czechoslovakia the lead on 71 minutes with a shot from a narrow angle before they could have sealed the match as Jiri Sobotka missed an open goal and Frantisek Svoboda hit the post.
But with nine minutes remaining, Orsi equalised with a spectacular swerving strike past Planicka that he would fail to repeat into an empty net after 20 attempts the following day.
The inclusion of oriundi had been controversial, exemplified by an article in the October 5 edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport debating whether Orsi could be considered an Italian citizen on his initial arrival to join Juventus in 1928.
However, the contribution of the talented left-winger was vital and as the game went to extra time, Pozzo’s preparation and conditioning methods also paid off against their weary opponents.
Five minutes into extra time, Giuseppe Meazza ran unchecked down the right side and his cross was perfectly laid off by Guaita for Bologna striker Angelo Schiavio to score the winning goal, as the Azzurri became world champions.