FIFA World Cups are rarely strangers to controversy. In fact, FIFA World Cups and controversy are so familiar they probably have pet names for each other like ‘fifi’ and ‘connie’.
In recent memory there was the 2002 World Cup where the host nation South Korea made it all the way to semi finals, due in part to a string of inexplicable refereeing decisions, particularly against Italy and Spain.
England fans would be quick to point to Mexico 86’ where they were to suffer a quarterfinal exit at the hand of Diego Maradona. Yet after some research through the annals of FIFA world cup history it is without doubt that the most controversial world cup is Italy 1934.
Controversy had begun before a ball had even been kicked as Mussolini’s Italy were given the honor of hosting the tournament as the result of a unanimous decision by a private committee.
The ‘home nations’ knew something didn’t smell right and pulled their teams out immediately. Chili, Peru, and Uruguay (the lattermost the defending champions) also declined to participate, so this would be the first time in the tournament’s history that the defending champions wouldn’t return to defend their title.
The tournament was beginning to lack any kind of legitimacy so Mussolini made the bold move as to do away with the initial group format. In selecting the national team Mussolini also came across an age-old problem that is still very much evident today. The Italian national team boasted some good players, but not quite enough. Ever the pragmatist ‘Il Duce’ decided to select four Argentinian internationals players and one Brazilian international to play for his team. He also decided to roll his sleeves up in the administrative side of thing and took it upon himself to personally select the match officials for each game.
It’s difficult to even imagine what could have been going through the heads of the players who were to take part in the tournament, but for the Italy team I imagine something altogether less abstract and more bullet shaped were they to offer a poor showing.
On May 27th the sixteen teams finally got underway, and just two weeks later to both the relief and indignation to the international football community Mussolini’s Italy were lining up against the talented, yet inexperienced Czechoslovakia national team in the final.
Italy’s brutal playing style had been widely commented upon throughout the entire tournament, yet never more so than in the final. Czechoslovakia walked into what at least reads like an all out assault that day in Rome, and lost the game 2-1 in extra time despite finishing the game with just eight players left on the pitch.
Now, luckily for Brazil they probably wont have to rely on much controversy to see them through… however, 2018 will see the tournament go to Qatar for the first time, and I would put my house an series of bizarre refereeing decisions – much like the ones we saw in South Korea – taking place.