This World Cup held in France was the last before World War
II. In 1934, Mussolini had used the World Cup in Italy to full
advantage as a propaganda platform. Two years later, Adolf
Hitler tried to do the same with the Berlin Olympics. Now,
with Europe teetering towards the brink of war, FIFA had to be
diplomatic over its choice of venue for the 1938 World Cup.
Argentina had applied to stage the finals and, believing the
venue would alternate between South America and Europe, they
were confident of playing host to the world's leading soccer
tournament. But FIFA were mindful of the problems with the
first competition in Uruguay, not to mention the travelling
difficulties. There was now 57 nations with membership in FIFA
and most of those were from Europe. It therefore made sense to
give the third World Cup to a European country, and that
honour fell to France. FIFA's choice was probably out of
loyalty to Jules Rimet, the man who played a big part in
getting the tournament started in the first place.
The tournament schedule was the same as in Italy four years
earlier, with knockout stage all the way. Argentina and
Uruguay were still absent from South America. Argentina
snubbed the competition because they had not been allocated
the tournament. Only Brazil represented that continent. 15
nations took part, and that meant one nation had to get a free
passage into the next round. Sweden was the lucky country. It
was to a very tight round, as five of the seven first round
matches needed extra time or a replay. Italy was in one of
those matches, they played Norway and were lucky not to get
eliminated when Norway got a late goal disallowed for offside.
Brazil beat Poland 6-5 when Leonidas and Willimowski scored
four goals each for their countries. Cuba surprised many by
beating Romania after a replay, and Germany were also knocked
out after a replay when they lost to Switzerland.
Defending champions Italy beat the hosts 3-1
in the quarterfinal, while Sweden finally entered the
competition and beat Cuba 8-0. Brazil beat the runners-up from
the last World Cup, Czechoslovakia after a replay. Italy
marched on to the final after beating Brazil in the semifinal
with 2-1. Brazil unbelievably had left the topscorer Leonidas
out of the team, to save him for the final! It was one of the
most controversial managerial decisions in World Cup history.
The other semifinal was between Sweden and Hungary. Sweden
with lots of confidence after their victory over Cuba had a
disappointing afternoon as Hungary trashed them 5-1 with
Zsengeller getting a hat-trick.
Leonidas was back in the team for the bronzematch against
Sweden and scored two goals as the South Americans won the
game 4-2. The final in Paris produced six goals, four to Italy
who defended the title. Read more about the final by clicking
on the "Final" link in the left column.