Uruguay conquer in battle of the balls

  • ​On This Day in 1930 Uruguay became winners of the very first FIFA World Cup

  • The teams squabbled over whether to use an Argentinian or Uruguay ball

  • 'The One-Armed One' sealed victory for his country

The Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Paris 1924 was a landmark in the history of the game, the first official competition in which national teams from Europe and the rest of the world faced each other. Watched by a crowd of nearly 50,000, the final of that ground-breaking tournament saw Uruguay defeat Switzerland 3-0 to win gold, to the surprise of many.

The success of that competition encouraged the then FIFA President Jules Rimet to press ahead with his plans to stage a world championship separate to the one organised by the International Olympic Committee. Meeting on 26 May 1928 in Amsterdam, where the Uruguayans would retain their Olympic title just days later by beating Argentina 2-1, the FIFA Congress gave the green light to Rimet’s visionary project.

Six countries applied to host the inaugural FIFA World Cup™, to be held in the middle of 1930. Making a bid along with Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden were Uruguay, who argued that they deserved to stage the tournament in their capacity as reigning two-time Olympic champions and because the nation was celebrating the centenary of its independence that very year.

That argument proved persuasive, though the decision to award the competition to the Uruguayans attracted criticism and led to several countries pulling out of the tournament.

Despite those teething problems, the FIFA World Cup had become a reality. That inaugural tournament gave rise to many an unforgettable story, all at a time when the world had yet to fully recover from the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and was undergoing profound social and political changes, driven by movements such as that led by Mahatma Gandhi in India and a succession of military coups in South America.

The tournament itself exceeded FIFA’s expectations and produced a much-hoped-for Final as the feted hosts took on their neighbours from across the River Plate in a repeat of the 1928 Olympic decider.

In the latest of its Classic Match series, FIFA.com looks back on that six-goal showdown, at the end of which Uruguay emerged as football’s first official world champions.

The stakes Widely tipped to reach the Final, the two foes made serene progress through the competition, winning all their games en route to the showpiece. Playing one more match than their neighbours by virtue of being drawn into a four-team section in the first round, Argentina kicked off with a 1-0 defeat of France in Group 1 and then beat Mexico 6-3 and Chile 3-1 before sweeping to a 6-1 win over the USA in the semi-finals.

Uruguay emerged from Group 3 without conceding a goal, edging out Peru 1-0 and then putting four goals past Romania without reply. A goal down to Yugoslavia after just four minutes of their semi-final, the double Olympic champions stormed back to win 6-1.

Those perfect runs set the scene for the next chapter in the rivalry between Argentina and Uruguay, which had already been running for 28 years, with memories still fresh of the gold-medal match in Amsterdam and their decisive meetings in the Copa America competitions of 1926 and 1927.

The story Both sides used the same 2-3-5 formation in the Final, a common line-up at the time. The hosts' most impressive players on their run to the deciding game of the competition were the defender and captain Jose Nasazzi, midfielder Jose Andrade, and forwards Hector Scarone and Pedro Cea, while Argentina had been indebted to the performances of Luis Monti at the back and forwards Carlos Peucelle and Guillermo Stabile, who ended the finals as top scorer.

A feisty duel was expected, though the sparks began to fly even before kick-off. In the absence of an official match ball, both sides turned up with one of their own, prompting the Belgian referee Jean Langenus to order that each half be played with a different ball. He then tossed a coin to decide which would be used in the first half, that honour going to the Argentinian-manufactured ball.

That did not stop the home side from taking an early lead, however, Pablo Dorado shooting home at Albiceleste goalkeeper Juan Botasso’s near post 12 minutes in. Recovering quickly from that early blow, Argentina assumed control of the game and equalised just minutes later when Peucelle rounded off an excellent team move with a fierce drive. By the time the interval came around the men in blue and white were in front, courtesy of Stabile’s fine finish from a narrow angle.

The Argentinians almost extended their lead after the restart when centre-forward Francisco Varallo shot against the upright. To make matters worse, Varallo then aggravated a knee injury he had carried into the match, a setback that allowed the hosts – cheered on by a capacity crowd of over 60,000 at the newly built Estadio Centenario – back into the game.

As their opponents fell back, the Uruguayans took control, overturning the deficit in 11 second-half minutes. First, Cea pulled them level near the hour mark, popping up on the left to complete a fluid move that had begun on the opposite flank. Then, Victoriano Iriarte fired them into the lead with a powerful long-range effort.

But Argentina refused to lie down. The woodwork was all that prevented Stabile from restoring parity as the clock ticked down, a let-off that Uruguay took full advantage of, however, by sweeping down to the other end, where Hector Castro sealed the game and the world title with a close-range header.

The star No-one played a more inspirational role in Uruguay’s triumph than Jose Nasazzi. Nicknamed El Mariscal (The Marshal) and El Gran Capitán (The Great Captain), he barked out orders, led from the front and drove his team forward when they needed it most, setting an example that future Charrúa skippers have been proud to follow.

What they said “All I wanted to do was win. I suffered so much when the Uruguayans started kissing the shirt and I can’t tell you how much I cried when it was all over. Even today it hurts me to think about that game, a game we had in the bag. Sometimes when I’m dreaming I actually believe we were the champions.” Francisco Varallo, Argentina attacker.

What happened next? Uruguay did not take part in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups, returning to the competition in 1950 to pull off one of the biggest shocks in the history of the game: a 2-1 defeat of hosts and favourites Brazil in the final and deciding match of the tournament, an event enshrined in footballing history as Maracanazo.

It was not until four years later in Switzerland that La Celeste lost their first World Cup match, going down 4-2 to Hungary in the semi-finals. The Uruguayans would finish that tournament in fourth place.

Argentina’s next Final would come on home soil in 1978, when they landed their maiden world title with 3-1 extra-time victory over the Netherlands.