The Brazilians started the tournament winning a spectacular 6-5 over Poland after extra time. Brazil’s shining star was Leonidas da Silva, who scored four of Brazil’s goal, and eventually went on to become the top-scorer of the tournament with eight goals.
In the quarterfinals Brazil had faced the elegant Czechoslovaks in what became a disappointingly violent match, where both the 1934 top-scorer, the Czechoslovaks Nejedly and captain Planicka, fractured bones during the encounter. The match ended 1-1, and an extra match had to be played where only two of the original 11 Brazilians could play.
They nevertheless won, and Brazil was in the semifinals.
With Europe on the verge of war, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was determined that Italy should again show fascism’s apparent superiority and win the World Cup for the second time in a row, this time in France, where many Italian political refugees had been seeking asylum.
After narrowly defeating Norway 2-1 in the first round, Italy had defeated the French hosts 3-1 in the quarterfinals, in a match full of political undertones, where the Italians played in black shirts. After this victory, they were to face the Brazilians in the semifinal.
Brazil-Italy has since become the most classic match in World Cup football, but this 1938 semifinal in Marseille was the first time they were to face one another.
In spite of the fact that they were facing the defending World champions, the Brazilians were extremely confident; so sure were they of their victory that they purchased all plane tickets from Marseille to Paris before the final, and the Brazilian coach decided not to line up some of the stars like Leonidas, Tim or Brandão, but rather spare them for the final: “We don’t need them to defeat the Italians!”, he even said arrogantly.
However, as the semifinal started, the arrogant Brazilians did not look so strong against the efficient, strong and tactically intelligent Italians, who completely managed to close down on the Brazilian attack, and first half was a rather eventless affair that ended 0-0.
In the second half, Brazil was still unable to force through the strong Italian defence, and on a deadly counter-attack Gino Colaussi brought Italy ahead 1-0.
Five minutes later, a controversial situation led to Italy’s second goal; the Swiss referee Hans Wutrich awarded Italy a penalty kick after the Brazilian defender Domingos da Guia had kicked Piola, apparently in retribution for an earlier kick.
The Brazilian goalkeeper Walter seemed confident that he could save the shot as the legendary Milan-star Giuseppe Meazza stepped up to take the kick. Just as Meazza was about to kick, his pants fell off, and while Walter was laughing, he pulled up his shorts with one hand and scored Italy’s second goal.
This rather odd goal was the last goal Meazza scored for Italy.
In spite of Romeu scoring a late goal for Brazil, the Italians had deservedly won and made it to their second World Cup final in a row. Italy had certainly been the better team, and the Brazilian arrogance in not playing some of their best players proved a fatal mistake. This was nevertheless only the first of many classic encounters between these two national sides.
The Italians now had to go to Paris for the final, tried to buy the plane tickets from the Brazilians. However, the disappointed Brazilians wouldn’t sell them, and the Italians were forced to take the train for the final in Paris. This didn’t affect the Italians though, who were succesful in defending their title by winning 4-2 against Hungary.
- 16th June, 1938, Stade Velodrome, Marseille
- Attendance 33, 000
- Referee: Hans Wutrich (Switzerland)
Goals:Gino Colaussi (55), Giuseppe Meazza (60) (pen), Romeu (87)
Italy: Olivieri; Foni, Rava, Seratoni, Andreolo, Locatelli, Biavati, Meazza, Piola, Ferrari, Colaussi
Brazil: Valter, Machado, Lopes, Luisinho, Romeu, Zeze Procopio, Afosinho, Patesko, Peracio, Martim, Domingos