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Want to know who was behind the biggest surprise defeat of the 1950 tournament? It’s in here. Curious about what happened to the Jules Rimet trophy when it was in England? Turn to the chapter on World Cup 1966. Wondering what the term Total Football means? You’ll find the answer here — along with much, much more, including a bonus chapter on the Women’s World Cup and lists of winners, runners-up, and scores of past Cups. And because it all comes from Matt Christopher, young readers know they’re getting the best sports writing on the shelf.
Copyright © 2010 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
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First eBook Edition: June 2010
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A Game for the Ages
In 1894, soccer was poised to join baseball, football, and basketball as one of the most popular sports in the United States. Everything pointed to its success. It had a set of standard rules, just like the others, and it had its own professional league, just like the others. The teams had access to newly constructed baseball stadiums, so finding big venues to play in wasn't a problem. And soccer had a widespread fan base, particularly among European immigrants setting up new lives in the United States. In their countries, soccer was king.
In the United States, however, soccer sank into virtual oblivion while baseball, football, and basketball rose to greatness. Why?
The answer seems to lie in the way the sport was handled. In Europe, soccer clubs were organized and managed by people who loved the game. Here, it was run by the baseball team owners who cared more about making money than they did about promoting soccer itself. When the first professional league failed to turn a profit, these men shut it down to focus on baseball.
While soccer was fading far into the background of the American sports scene, it was spreading like wildfire in many other countries. In fact, it was well on its way to becoming what it is today: the most popular sport on the planet.
The sport we call soccer and others call football was born on December 8, 1863, in Great Britain. On that day, a group of eleven English teams formed the London Football Association and published a set of rules by which the sport was to be played. Those rules were adopted by other countries in the coming decades, and while they have been modified since, they have remained essentially the same.
Soccer's roots stretch thousands of years further back in time, however. The oldest known form of the game, t'su chu, was played in ancient China as early as 2500 BC. Three thousand years later, the Japanese developed a different version of the game, called kemari, that was a combination of modern-day hacky sack and soccer. The ancient Greeks competed in their own kicking game called episkyros.
The Romans adopted the Greek sport, which they renamed harpastum. Harpastum was very popular with Roman soldiers. They introduced it to the peoples they conquered during the expansion of the Roman Empire, including those living on the British Isles. The Brits took to it right away—and soccer has been part of British culture, in one form or another, ever since.
The rules set down by the London Football Association in 1863 were quickly accepted by other countries. Soon, soccer blossomed from a club sport into an international phenomenon. To help fuel the fire, seven countries—France, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden—decided to create a governing organization for the sport. They founded the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, in Paris on May 21, 1904. Within the year, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Austria, Hungary, Germany, and Italy had joined FIFA as well.
One of FIFA's first acts was to propose an annual championship tournament among the national teams. It wasn't a new idea. England and Scotland had played each other in just such a competition back in 1872. FIFA's tournament, however, would be on a much grander scale and therefore would, it was hoped, increase international interest in the sport even more.
The proposal was met with great enthusiasm. The inaugural competition was set for 1906.
But that competition never took place. It was canceled for one simple reason: none of the teams sent in applications! In the wake of such a colossal failure, the tournament idea was scrapped, to be revisited at a later date.
As it turned out, that date was much, much later. The 1908 and 1912 Olympics were in part to blame for the delay. After all, the Games included soccer matches between the best teams in the world, so why would another, very similar competition be necessary? Then, from 1914 to 1918, World War I threw many nations into utter chaos. After the war, the 1920 Olympics overshadowed all other international competitions.
In 1924, however, FIFA's new president, Jules Rimet, resurrected the tournament idea. Rimet wanted to turn soccer into an international sports sensation. The tournament was a big part of his plan to reach that goal.
The pieces fell into place soon after the 1924 Olympic soccer competition. The gold-medal winner was Uruguay, which played a fast-paced, thrilling style of soccer that captivated fans and left them clamoring for more. Rimet witnessed that enthusiasm and knew the time was right for FIFA's tournament.
A Uruguayan diplomat named Enrique Buero agreed. He, too, had seen the crowds cheering for his country's players. At the time, Uruguay was struggling to be accepted into international circles, but soccer had pushed his nation into the limelight as nothing else ever had. Buero realized that if Uruguay hosted FIFA's tournament, the country would gain the attention it needed.
Buero approached Rimet with an offer to hold FIFA's tournament in Uruguay in 1930, his country's one hundredth birthday. Rimet was delighted but cautious. After all, while he wanted the tournament to happen, FIFA hadn't seriously considered the idea for nearly twenty years. And even if the Fédération did decide to hold the competition, there was no guarantee that it would accept Uruguay as the host nation.
The first hurdle was jumped in 1927, when FIFA officially agreed to pursue a world championship. The second hurdle, however, proved more difficult.
In 1929, five other countries expressed interest in playing host. It took all of Rimet's powers of persuasion to convince them to withdraw. When they did, Uruguay was selected as the host of the first FIFA tournament—or "World Cup" as it was already being called.
But selecting a country in which to play soccer and actually playing in that country turned out to be two very different things. In 1929, Europe and the United States were wading waist-deep in economic disaster, and most of their players could not afford a journey to South America. The trip to Uruguay was also very time consuming; it would leave many European teams without their best players for two months.
As the date for the World Cup neared, the European teams began pushing for a change of location.
"Hold the World Cup in Rome," they suggested, "and then we'll play."
But by then, plans were already in place for Uruguay to host. Changing the location, with the tournament so near, was not feasible.
Once more Rimet stepped in. He managed to get four European nations—Belgium, France, Romania, and Yugoslavia—to commit to playing in the tournament in Uruguay. With the United States, Mexico, and seven South American countries also on board, that brought the total number of teams competing in the first-ever World Cup to thirteen.
It had taken twenty-four years—or thousands, if you went back in time far enough—but at last, the dream of an international soccer competition was about to come true.
The Host Is the Most
On July 15, 1930, Argentina and France met to play the second game of the first World Cup—a match that would go down in soccer history, not because of its exciting action or high score, but because it produced one of the oddest endings to any match ever played.
The teams were equals in every way, leading to a scoreless first half. It wasn't until the eighty-one-minute mark, in fact, that Argentina's Luisito Monti booted the ball into the net. Argentina 1, France 0.
France redoubled its efforts and, as the clock wound down to the final minutes, got within striking range of Argentina's goal. They had just launched their attack when suddenly the referee blew his whistle to signal that the game was over. Time, it seemed, had run out for the French.
Or had it? It turned out that the referee had misread the clock. There were actually six minutes left to play!
Players were called back to the field—some of them out of the locker-room showers—and the game resumed half an hour later. Much to France's disappointment, however, the final result was the same. Argentina defeated them, 1–0.
France's loss came on the second day of the 1930 World Cup. That same week, nine of the thirteen participating teams were forced out of the competition, leaving Yugoslavia, Uruguay, and the United States to join Argentina in the semifinal round.
That two South American teams, Uruguay and Argentina, had made it so far in the competition was no surprise. After all, Uruguay was the reigning Olympic champion and boasted top scorer Pedro Cea. Argentina had offensive might, too, including Luisito Monti and Guillermo Stábile, who was nicknamed El Infiltrador, or "the Infiltrator," for his ability to worm his way past the defense.
The United States, still a newcomer to soccer, had reached the semifinals by literally muscling its way past the competition. Its players were big, but not as skilled as those on other teams. Argentina ran roughshod over them, outscoring the bewildered Americans six goals to one.
Yugoslavia was a surprise team and something of a mystery to the other nations. No one had seen enough of its style of play to know how it might fare against Uruguay. But how it fared was badly: the host country trounced the Yugoslavs, 6–1.
That victory set the stage for one of the most anticipated and highly charged finals the soccer world had ever known.
Uruguay and Argentina had been rivals on and off the pitch for years. All of South America was watching to see which country would come out on top. Nothing less than national pride was on the line.
In fact, when the Uruguayans found out that Argentina's star player, veteran Pancho Varallo, had a broken foot, they rejoiced in the streets. In response, the Argentine coach ordered Varallo to play despite his injury. To do otherwise, the coach intimated, would make Argentina appear weak.
Eighty thousand fans packed into Centenario Stadium, a brand-new arena built especially for the finals (and completed just days before the match!). Emotions in the stands were running hot—so hot, in fact, that police were ordered to search spectators for weapons in order to prevent violence.
The first World Cup finals began at three thirty on July 30. Within the first minutes, Argentina lost one of its key players when Varallo fell to the ground, writhing in pain from his foot injury.
The loss of Varallo gave Uruguay an instant boost. Twelve minutes into the first half, they attacked the goal. Pablo Dorado got his foot on the ball and kicked. One second later, Uruguay was on the board—and Dorado was in the record books for scoring the first-ever World Cup finals goal.
But Argentina didn't let up. Eight minutes later, Carlos Peucelle answered with a goal for his side. El Infiltrador added a second one for Argentina and caused the first disagreement of the game in doing so. Uruguay claimed that Argentina had been offside—that is, there hadn't been two defenders between the offensive player and the goalie when the shooter received the pass. Therefore, they argued, the goal didn't count.
But the referee stood by his call. The goal stayed on the board.
Argentina went into the second half with a one-point lead over the world champion. They didn't keep that lead for long, however. At the fifty-seven-minute mark, Pedro Cea of Uruguay booted the ball into the net to tie the game. Eleven minutes after that, teammate Santos Iriarte did the same. Now Uruguay had the lead, 3–2!
- On Sale
- Jun 1, 2010
- Page Count
- 128 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers