Padraig Whelan Date: 26th August 2011 at 3:27am
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The Italian national side has always had a proud tradition of being one of the strongest when it comes to contesting honours on the big stage and the teams of the 1930s under the astute guidance of Vittorio Pozzo were some of the greatest calcio has ever seen.

The World Cup wins of 1934 and 1938 and the Olympic gold medal of 1936 gave the Italian nation a great pride in their football team and set the bar very high for teams of future generations. In fact, who knows what the team would have gone to win were it not for the Second World War breaking up the team and disrupting football for a large spell. However, the Azzurri could be very proud of what they achieved during this decade.

Undoubtedly, the main behind the glories of this era was the national coach, the enigmatic Vittorio Pozzo. Before he arrived on a permanent basis in 1929 (having led the side to the 1912 Olympics), la nazionale had over 30 managers presiding over the squad in a short 15 year period so Pozzo provided a much needed sense of stability which he certainly did by remaining in charge of the team for almost 20 years.

In those two decades, his side would only lose a mere 11 games and won an impressive 60 in this time. There was no doubt that this was a side that it would take a great deal to get the better of. He learned a great deal from a time spent in England studying and watched with a keen eye how the English sides prepared and played matches and was even rumoured to be quite a big Manchester United fan. In fact, when the time came for Pozzo to come home he didn’t want to leave and his parents had to buy his return ticket for him.

It was to be a wise move though for Pozzo to return to his homeland as he took over the national team and set the wheels in motion for the greatest era ever for the national side. The 1934 World Cup was to be where it all began for his side as the competition for the Jules Rimet trophy arrived on home soil for only the second ever installment of the tournament. A total  of 16 teams made the journey to Italy but the hosts would not be denied in their bid for glory. The entire country was gripped by the World Cup frenzy and in turned out in great numbers to all of the home side’s games and created a tremendous atmosphere in each game.

No major tournament is without its controversy though and it has been said that this particular Italian side benefited from dubious refereeing decisions in their favour to help them on their way and none more so than in the quarter final against Spain where Giuesppe Meazaza’s winning goal appeared to be scored from an offisde position. Nevertheless, Italy advanced before meeting Czechoslovakia in the Final itself.

The Final was an exciting affair by all accounts and the hosts got the win they deserved to secure their first World Cup victory. However, with ten minutes remaining in the game the Azzurri were a goal down before Raimondo Orsi collected the ball and drove into the area before feinting the ball from his left foot onto his right in a flash and curling it past the goalkeeper with a piece of sublime skill to equalise.

The goal stunned everyone inside the stadium and the next day reporters brought Orsi back onto the field to try and repeat the feat but after trying 20 times to recreate his magical goal he had to give up and go home. The winning strike was scored by the team’s top scorer Angelo Schiavio who collected a pass from the injured Meazza and slotted home to win his side the World Cup sparking wild celebrations across the country.

The now infamous Berlin Olympics in 1936 were next up for the World Champions who were intent on securing a second successive tournament win. It took yet more luck and perseverance with referees to ensure the Italians advanced past the opening round against the United States when, after Annibale Frossi put them ahead, Azzurri defender Archille Piccini viciously hacked down two American players but referee Carl Weingartner was aggressively prevented from sending the defender off as players held his arms back and covered his mouth in protest.

Amazingly, Piccini managed to stay on the pitch and Italy advanced with a 1-0 win. Italy swept aside Japan and Norway before meeting Austria in the Final. The match was to be decided in extra time and a double from Frossi was enough to give his side the gold medals and a place in history.

Italy automatically qualified for the 1938 World Cup Finals in France as a result of being the reigning champions and disposed of Norway once more in the opening round to set up a quarter final tie with hosts France. Gino Colaussi’s early strike was immediately cancelled out and it took two second half strikes from Silvio Piola to safely secure the Azzurri’s passage to the semi finals. It was here that they met an over-confident Brazil side who were in fine form.

In fact so confident were the Brazilians of reaching the Final that they rested a total of eight players for the match including star striker Leonidas da Silva who would go on to finish as top scorer. It was a decision that was to cost the side dearly when Colaussi scored to put his side ahead before Giuseppe Meazza (who had been playing in a pair of ripped shorts) coolly slotted home a penalty to send the Italians to the Final. After the penalty hit the back of the net amusingly enough Meazza’s ripped shorts fell down to give the South American contingent of the crowd something to smile about.

The Brazilians arrogant apporach was to effect the Italians further in their preparation for the Final as they had been so assured of their progress to the match in Paris that they had already booked the only flight meaning that the Azzurri squad had to travel by packed train and many players had to stand for the majority of the journey.

Rumour also has it that in preperation for the game, the squad received a telegram from one overly fanatical supporter which told that the team to either “win or die.” The Italians went on to stun Hungary in the Final by putting in a fantastic display of attacking football and win 4-2 as a brace each from Colaussi and Piola ensured Italy became the only side ever to successfully defend the world title.

So stunned was Pozzo at the victory that he didn’t realise there was a bucket of water leaking into his shoes.

The decade, and with it Italy’s era of dominance, was brought to an end all too quickly by the onset of World War II and by the time normal service had resumed on the international stage, Pozzo and many of the star players of the 1930s had departed and it would be many years before the Azzurri managed to reassert themselves once more.

However, the Italian side that played during the ’30s still remains the most successful ever to wear the famous blue jersey with those two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal.

Follow Padraig Whelan on Twitter: @PWhelan88

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