The defending world champions of Italy were to defend the title in France, where many Italian refugees from Fascism had sought asylum, and for Mussolini it was important that Italy should win in the face of this.
When the Italians faced the French hosts in the quarterfinals in a preview of one of the most classic matches in European football, the match was played amid the political undertones. In line with the political climate, the Italian team put on black shirts, the colour of the Fascist party, and made the Fascist salute before the start of the match, upsetting the 61,000 spectators in Paris. However, the enmity of the spectators did nothing to Italy’s superiority, and they deservedly won 3-1.
In the semifinal Italy had defeated the excellently playing Brazilians, who had arrogantly underestimated the Italians, who were still eager to show that their title in 1934 had been no coincidence of favourable referees.
Hungary seemed to have had an easier road to the final: defeating the Dutch East Indies 6-0 in their first match, they had first won 2-0 against Switzerland in the quarterfinals, and demolished Sweden 5-1 in the semifinals. Thirteen goals in three matches spoke of a team that loved to attack, and also in possession of some extraordinary players, among whom the legendary Újpest FC striker Gyula Zsengeller stood out with seven goals (he trailed Leonidas from Brazil as the most scoring player in the tournament though).
The final in Paris was thus an encounter between efficient and tactically-minded Italians with a solid defense, against the more technical and elegant Hungarians. Before the match, Mussolini sent a note to each player of the national team with the Fascist cry of “Vincire o morire!” (“Win or die!”), and this perhaps incited the Italians for a strong start, when the Triestina striker, Gino Colaussi brought Italy ahead after only six minutes. However, only two minutes later Pal Titkos equalized for the Hungarians.
The Italians were not shaken though, and played a great match, and based on the formidable defense that has become legendary for Italian sides, they also had a great attack. First, the legendary Lazio striker Silvio Piola brought Italy ahead 2-1 and then Colaussi scored his second goal to make it 3-1, the score at half-time.
The Italians seemed to relax their grip in the second half, but were still strong in defense, until a defensive error (the only one) allowed the Hungarian captain György Sárosi to make a second for Hungary. While the score 3-2 would perhaps make other teams nervous, this didn’t happen to the Italians, who instead started attacking to seal off the match, leading to Silvio Piola scoring an outstanding goal after beautiful combination with Amedeo Biavati. Piola, who is still the most prolific goalscorer in the Serie A, and is creditted for having invented the bycicle kick, thus made it into the World Cup history as well.
Italy had become deserved world champions by playing efficient, tactical and solid in defense, the kind of qualities that have made them great since.
After this final the Italians would hold on to the trophy for 12 years, since the following two World Cups were cancelled due to the war that descended on the world.
- 19th June, 1938, Stade Colombes, Paris
- Attendance: 55,000
- Referee: Georges Capdeville (France)
Goals: 1-0 Colaussi (6), 1-1 Titkos (8), 2-1 Piola (15), 3-1 Colaussi (35), 3-2 Sarosi (70), 4-2 Piola (80)
Italy: Olivieri, Foni, Rava, Seratoni, Andreolo, Locatelli, Biavati, Meazza, Piola, Ferrari, Colaussi
Hungary: Szabo, Polgar, Biro, Szalay, Szücs, Lazar, Sas, Zsengeller, Sarosi, Vincze, Titkos