The Wunderteam had wrecked Italian optimism. The man who oversaw esteem-crushing home losses to the Austrians ahead of the 1934 FIFA World Cup™ should stick to writing about calcio for La Stampa, declared the consensus.
Vittorio Pozzo was not, however, a quitter. He persuaded an ageing goalkeeper to postpone his retirement. He persuaded an unemployed heavy drinker to swap whisky and poker for the most rigorous of fitness regimes. And he told two men who despised one another that they would be sharing a room for a couple of months. Here is the enchanting statistical story of Italy’s 1934 and ’38 World Cup campaigns.
minutes within 24 hours is what seven Italians and four Spaniards are the only men in World Cup history to have played. Gli Azzurri and La Roja kicked off their 1934 quarter-final replay, which the hosts won 1-0, just twenty-one-and-a-half hours after their 120-minute first encounter had ended. Giampiero Combi, Luigi Allemandi, Eraldo Monzeglio, Luis Monti, Enrique Guaita, Raimundo Orsi and Giuseppe Meazza played in both games for Italy.
Italy goals is what Meazza made it with a spot-kick winner against Brazil in the 1938 semi-finals – a record that stood for 35 years until Gigi Riva got his 34th. As Il Balilla prepared to take that penalty, the elastic in his shorts snapped and they fell down. Meazza held them up with one hand as he stroked the ball past penalty-saving specialist Walter.
minutes is all Italy were away from defeat in the 1934 Final – the closest a World Cup-winning side has been to missing out on the Trophy. Orsi equalised against Czechoslovakia in the 82nd minute, before Angelo Schiavio grabbed an extra-time winner.
consecutive World Cup victories is what Italy achieved from their quarter-final replay in 1934 to the ’38 Final – a record that stood for 68 years until Brazil managed 11 straight wins. No other country has achieved more than six successive wins.
foreign-born players won the World Cup with Italy in 1934: Attilio Demaria, Enrico Guaita, Luis Monti, Raimundo Orsi (all Argentina), Anfilogino Guarisi (Brazil), Felice Borel (France) and Mario Varglien (Austria-Hungary; now Croatia). The only other World Cup-winning squad with more than two overseas-born players was France in 1998, whose quartet comprised Marcel Desailly (Ghana), Christian Karembeu (New Caledonia), Lilian Thuram (Guadeloupe) and Patrick Vieira (Senegal).
goals was the margin by which Italy thrashed USA in the 1934 first round (7-1) – the joint-second-biggest knockout-phase victory in World Cup history. It ties Hungary’s 6-0 reverse of Dutch East Indies in 1938 and Germany’s 7-1 thumping of Brazil in 2014, and trails only Sweden’s 8-0 demolition of Cuba in 1938.
of the men who played in Italy’s solitary 1934 World Cup qualifier – and their final game before the tournament – didn’t even make their squad, despite a 4-0 thrashing of Greece. A couple of weeks before kick-off, Carlo Ceresoli broke his arm saving a Pietro Arcari shot, prompting Pozzo to make Giampiero Combi, whom he had persuaded to postpone his retirement, his first-choice goalkeeper, while ‘The Old Master’ surprisingly overlooked Mario Montesanto, Pietro Serantoni, Otavio Fantoni and Nereo Rocco, who went on to become one of the most successful coaches in history.
was the position Giuseppe Meazza came in Guerin Sportivo’s ranking of the 50 greatest players of the 20th century. Pele (1st), Diego Maradona (2nd), Alfredo Di Stefano (3rd) and Johan Cruyff (4th) were the only players the world’s oldest sports magazine placed above Meazza.
weeks before the 1934 World Cup kicked off, Pozzo made one of the boldest decisions in Italian football history. Luis Monti and Angelo Schiavio loathed one another – they had almost come to blows during Bologna’s South American tour in 1929 and had clashed repeatedly thereafter, culminating in the Juventus hardman violently stamping on his prostrate rival’s knee during a Serie A title showdown in 1932. Juve, who had been losing, won that match 3-2 and ultimately the Scudetto, and Schiavio labelled Monti “a criminal” – an almighty insult at the time. When they arrived at Italy’s pre-World Cup training camp by the Western Alps, Pozzo announced to a flabbergasted squad that Monti and Schiavio would be rooming together for the next two months!
players – Giovanni Ferrari, Guido Masetti, Giuseppe Meazza and Eraldo Monzeglio – is all that made both Italy’s 1934 and ’38 World Cup-winning squads. By contrast, 14 of the men who helped Brazil conquer the tournament in 1958 retained their place in their ’62 squad.
weeks before he summoned his preliminary squad for the 1934 World Cup, Pozzo – against the advice of his peers – walked into a dingy Rome tavern to locate Attilio Ferraris. The tough-tackling midfielder hadn’t played for Italy in 18 months and, after being sacked by Roma in March 1934 for disciplinary reasons, had fallen deep into alcoholism and gambling. “Leave your cigarettes, drinks and billiards cue immediately, come with me, and you have a chance of playing at the World Cup,” Pozzo told Ferraris in no uncertain terms. Amazingly, despite being drunk, Ferraris followed Pozzo and turned up at Lake Maggiore for Italy’s pre-World Cup training camp, according to Pozzo, “in the best shape out of everyone”.
World Cup Finals for two different countries in a distinction unique to Monti. The tough midfielder played for Argentina, his country of birth, against Uruguay in 1930, and for Italy against Czechoslovakia in 1934.
goals per game is what Gino Colaussi managed for Italy in 1938 – a record for an Italian at the World Cup. His strike partner Silvio Piola averaged 1.2 goals per game. They are followed by Christian Vieri (1.0), Angelo Schiavio (1.0), Riccardo Carapellese (1.0), Toto Schillaci (0.86), Alessandro Altobelli (0.71), Paolo Rossi (0.64), Raimundo Orsi (0.60) and Roberto Baggio (0.56).
win in 12 matches: that was Italy’s unnerving record against Austria heading into their 1934 semi-final. The Wunderteam had smashed La Nazionale 4-0 in Genoa and won their last meeting 4-2 in Turin in the Central European Cup in February 1934. Italy nevertheless caused a major upset by keeping a clean sheet and eking out victory thanks to Enrique Guaita.
World Cup Final has involved both sides being captained by goalkeepers – the 1934 decider. Giampiero Combi and Frantisek Planicka skippered Italy and Czechoslovakia respectively.
clean sheets is what only one World Cup-winning side kept – Italy in ’38. Gli Azzuri beat Norway 2-1, France 3-1, Brazil 2-1 and Hungary 4-2.