FIFA World Cup 1938: Italy defend title before WWII breaks out

The 1938 WC was held under the shadow of Spanish civil war, annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, rebellious actions of Mussolini’s Italy and ongoing boycott of Uruguay.

Italy's national soccer team poses with the World Cup trophy after beating Hungary 4-2 in the World Cup final
Italy's national team poses with the trophy after beating Hungary 4-2 in the World Cup final [AFP]

Host: France
Teams: 16
Format: Knockouts, semi-finals, final
Matches: 18
Goals: 84
Winners: Italy
Runners-up: Hungary
Golden boot: Leonidas (Brazil)


The 1938 World Cup was held under the shadow of the Spanish civil war, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, the rebellious actions of Benito Mussolini’s Italy and the ongoing boycott of Uruguay.

When France was chosen to host the World Cup two years before the tournament, South American giants Uruguay and Argentina announced a boycott. The finalists of the first World Cup believed that tournament hosting rights should be alternated between Europe and South America.

Despite this controversy, Brazil and Cuba ensured the continent’s representation, with the former showing the first glimpse of flamboyance and flair that would be associated with them in the years to follow.

Austria, meanwhile, was abolished months prior to the tournament and was annexed into Germany.

This led to alleged rifts within the German squad and distress among some spectators during Germany’s games.

History of the world cups

How the football World Cup finally came about in 1930

The controversies, shocks at the 1934 FIFA World Cup

The Italian team caused controversy as well by making fascist salutes before kickoff and choosing to wear black as their away shirt, in line with the Fascist Party’s colours.

The Italians stamped their authority on the competition by becoming the first team to successfully defend its title.

Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo would write his name among the first legendary coaches of the game as he led the Azzurri to their second consecutive world title, as well as an Olympic gold medal in 1936.


Asia was represented in the tournament for the first time as Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, qualified while other Asian teams withdrew.

The tournament saw an average of 4.66 goals per match much to the delight of the spectators across the 10 host cities.

Six games went into extra time as penalty shootouts had not been introduced yet.


The tournament was marred by political unease across Europe, as well as continental unease between South America and Europe.

It led to several big football nations missing out on the tournament.

The third World Cup turned out to be the last in the pre-World War II era. The world had to wait 12 years before the next tournament.

Source: Al Jazeera