Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Wed 24 October 2007

All the Presidential Men (Part 4)

The war intervenes
The 1934 World Cup was hosted in Italy, only the second to be held and the first to be staged in Europe. Uruguay had won the inaugural event four years earlier in their own country but with only four nations from Europe bothering to make the long trip, Uruguay reacted strongly by boycotting the competition in 1934.

It added a sour note to Jules Rimet's ongoing reign as President of FIFA but this was compounded when the Italian government used the event to maximise its political influence under the leadership of Mussolini. Even so, the second World Cup went ahead, albeit using a new format - knockout matches being played instead of first round pools.

Of the sixteen teams taking part, only four were from outside Europe. Brazil and Argentina were South America's only representatives but they returned home almost as soon as they'd arrived having been beaten in their respective first round games. A similar fate befell Egypt - the first team to represent Africa at the World Cup - as was the case with the United States who were well-beaten 7-1 by the hosts.

Italy proved to be strong contenders and with the advantage of a fervent and partisan home support behind them, they reached the Final which they won 2-1 against Czechoslovakia after extra time.

The competition was already attracting much interest around the world and it seemed the 1938 edition would return to South America again, but when Jules Rimet's home country of France was awarded the hosting rights, the South Americans weren't happy. They felt the location of the host country would alternate between them and Europe.

When the third World Cup finally came around, only Brazil travelled the long journey once again, but they were joined by Cuba and the Dutch East Indies for another treacherous series of knockout games. This time, Brazil made it through to the semi-finals only to be beaten by defending champions Italy 2-1 while Cuba reached round two were they were thrashed 8-0 by Sweden.

The hosts, France, were unable to repeat the achievements of their two predecessors and were beaten by Italy in the second round as well. Italy were still the team to beat on the international stage and they became the first team to defend their title when they beat Hungary in the Final 4-2.

The 1938 World Cup was the last to be played before the outbreak of World War II and though the conflict was still a year away, ominous signs were in evidence. Spain was in the grip of a Civil War and Austria had qualified but then withdrew as they were swallowed up by Hitler's growing German empire.

While Europe was being ripped apart by the Second World War, Jules Rimet took evasive action to ensure FIFA's World Cup trophy didn't fall into the wrong hands. During Germany's occupation of France, Rimet hid the World Cup under his bed to keep it out of sight from the invading army. It did the trick - the war ended in 1945, the trophy remained safe and sound, and the following year FIFA acknowledged the part Rimet had played in ensuring a successful opening period of World Cup history by naming the trophy after him.

With 25 years of presidency under his belt, Rimet looked to restore the World Cup Finals back to their rightful place. Under his jurisdiction, the world's biggest football competition would be held once again in 1950, this time in Brazil. Before that, Stanley Rous, head of the Football Association, had realised that the absence of the British nations from the tournament had gone on too long and was now working against them. Rous decided, therefore, to restore links with FIFA by organising an exhibition match in Glasgow in 1947 between a Great Britain XI and a Europe XI. The aim was to promote a peaceful, unified Europe as well as to raise funds for FIFA who, thanks to the ravages of war, were now well and truly on their uppers.

The match, named by the press as 'The Match of the Century' was a great success and was watched by a crowd of 135,000.. Jules Rimet was understandably delighted to receive the resulting donation of £30,000, but to some more important was the fact that the next World Cup would now feature the home nations of Great Britain for the first time.

And so to Brazil, 1950. The war-ravaged nations of Europe were reluctant to host a sporting competition in the light of recent events and having missed out on the 1938, this was seen as the ideal opportunity to allow another South American country to host the Finals.

Sadly, Rimet would again have to oversee numerous withdrawals before the tournament even began. Scotland qualified as runners-up to England in the Home International Championships but dropped out because they weren't British champions. India withdrew because FIFA wouldn't allow them to play in bare feet and France opted not to fly to Brazil as their first round matches were due to take place in venues 2,000 miles apart.

In the end, thirteen teams took part in four pools, though the fourth consisted only of Uruguay and Bolivia. The former beat the latter 8-0 and subsequently went through to the final pool stage. Hosts Brazil easily qualified from their group while in Pool 2 England suffered a double humiliation when they lost 1-0 to the USA and failed to qualify for the last round. Even double World Champions Italy went out in the first round after failing to beat eventual pool winners Sweden.

Instead of semi-finals, the 1950 World Cup used a round-robin group format to decide which of the last four would win the trophy. Brazil were many people's favourites to win it, especially after a 7-1 demolition of Sweden and a 6-1 thumping of Spain, but they hadn't reckoned on the threat of previous winners Uruguay. In the final match of the group in front of a crowd of nearly 200,000 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's early 1-0 lead was overturned as Uruguay won 2-1. Brazil's time was yet to come but for their near neighbours a golden era had reached its peak.

On June 21st 1954, Jules Rimet (now 80 years of age) announced his retirement. During his time at the head of FIFA, he'd seen its membership grow from 24 countries to 82 with a world championship put in place and growing in stature with every passing year. All that remained was for Rimet to watch the World Cup unfold in Switzerland before stepping down from his position.

The 1954 tournament was the first to be broadcast live on television and what people saw was a tactical masterclass on the part of West German team coach Sepp Herberger. By engineering an 8-3 defeat in the first round to hot favourites Hungary, Herberger considered the resulting route through to the Final to be an easier one, having finished second in the group.

His forecast turned out to be correct. While Hungary had to fend off the strong challenges of Brazil and Uruguay in the knockout stages, West Germany easily dealt with Yugoslavia and Austria before meeting the Hungarians for a second time in the Final.

While some people were expecting a repeat of the 8-3 result two weeks previously, the West Germans had other ideas. Despite going down 2-0 early on to goals by Ferenc Puskás and Zoltán Czibor, Herberger's team fought back with two goals of their own from Max Morlock and Helmut Rahn. The game remained close for a further hour until six minutes from time Rahn scored his second to win the game for West Germany.

It was a thrilling final and a fitting end to Jules Rimet's period as President of FIFA. As he handed the trophy that bore his name over to West German captain Fritz Walter, there was a tangible sense of one era ending and another just beginning. Rimet's successor would certainly have a tough act to follow with many ambitions still yet to be fulfilled.

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