- Sweden had ceded political control of Estonia to the Russian Empire
- A discrepancy exists over who scored the first qualifying goal
- Estonia threatened a thrilling fightback
The success of the inaugural FIFA World Cup™, held in Uruguay in 1930, created such excitement and expectation in football circles at the time that, in order to determine the 16 countries that would take part at Italy 1934, the game’s governing body decided to organise a qualifying phase for the first time.
Thirty-two teams, spread across three different continents, took part. Group 1 was composed of Lithuania, Sweden and Estonia, none of whom had participated four years previously. The Swedes and Estonians, representatives of two countries with a turbulent historical relationship, therefore found themselves squaring off in the first-ever World Cup qualifier.
When football and fate paired these two European nations together for the first time, two centuries had already gone by since Sweden had ceded political control of Estonia to the Russian Empire. On the pitch, the Estonians had played their first official match in 1920, while their most high-profile international outing to date had come in the 1924 Olympic Football Tournament in Paris, where they lost their only match to the USA. At the time, coach Bernhard Rein was just the second Estonian native to take charge of the Baltic side.
Sweden, on the other hand, had a more established pedigree. The Scandinavians had taken part in the maiden Olympic Football Tournament in 1908 in London, organised the second one themselves in 1912, and had won a bronze medal as recently as 1924, at the Paris Olympics. In 1930, they stopped playing purely friendly matches, competing in various regional competitions with other Scandinavian countries, but having not received an invitation to the World Cup in Uruguay that same year, the Swedes opted to try their luck at qualifying for Italy 1934.
History records Sweden forward Knut Kroon as the scorer of the maiden goal in a World Cup qualifier, although it is worth noting that the landmark opener created the first statistical discrepancy of preliminary competition, as some media sources at the time credited the strike to Estonia goalkeeper and captain Evald Tipner. Beyond this curious contradiction, the goal was a bad break for the visitors and a shot in the arm for the home side, who quickly built up a 3-0 lead in the first quarter of an hour through Lennart Bunke and Bertil Ericsson.
When Torsten Bunke, brother of Lennart, knocked in Sweden’s fourth just before the break, the match seemed over as a contest. Despite the prevailing heat, replies from Leonhard Kaas and Richard Kuremaa in the second half suggested an unexpected Estonian comeback could be on the cards. However, further goals from Bertil and Sven Andersson sealed a resounding 6-2 victory for Sweden, much to the delight of the 8,000 or so supporters in attendance in Stockholm.
What happened next
Following their win over Estonia, Sweden only needed to secure a draw in Lithuania to obtain their ticket for Italy 1934. The match on 29 June in Kaunas was played in front of 6,000 enthusiastic spectators, but the home crowd had little effect on the Swedes, who emerged victorious by a 2-0 scoreline, with both goals coming courtesy of Knut Hansson. The result ensured that they would finish top of their group and qualify for the second World Cup. The final scheduled group match between Estonia and Lithuania was cancelled, given that neither team could overtake the pool leaders with a win.
At the main event, Sweden produced one of the biggest surprises of the first round, knocking out previous runners-up Argentina 3-2. The winning goal that day was fittingly scored by Kroon, who in doing so wrote another remarkable page for himself in the history of Swedish football. Unfortunately for Kroon and his team-mates, a 2-1 defeat by Germany in the quarter-finals would bring their adventure to a close.