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!
That was too much for Pancho Varallo to bear. He signaled to his coach that he wanted to go back into the game, pain or no. When he limped onto the field, he did more than change the lineup: he brought new life back to the flagging Argentines, inspiring them to play harder. He himself played as hard as he could despite his injury and, late in the game, very nearly tied the score.
In fact, according to Vallaro, he had tied the score. Uruguay’s goalkeeper, he argued, had knocked one of his shots back after it had crossed the goal line. But once again, the referee had the final word on the play. He said the ball had been deflected before it crossed the line and, therefore, was not a goal.
Uruguay sealed the win with another goal a minute before the game ended, making the final score Uruguay 4, Argentina 2. The Olympic champs were victorious again!
Raucous celebrations erupted throughout the stadium, in the streets, and throughout the host country. Jules Rimet presented the Victory Cup (renamed the Jules Rimet Cup in 1946) to the Uruguayan Football Association’s president, beginning a tradition that remains unbroken today.
By all accounts, the first World Cup had been a huge triumph for the sport of soccer. The only question now was, how could FIFA build on this success and make the second competition even better?(Continues...)