Five players on the Italian national team were technically not Italians; Orsi, Guatia, Monti and Demaria were Argentinians (Luis Monti had indeed been one of the backbones of Argentina's 1930 World Cup team) and Guarisi was Brazilian. The first three had crucial roles in an Italian team that qualified to the World Cup after a 4-0 victory over Greece, where the Greeks subsequently withdrew after the Italians promised to build a new stadium for them.
Despite a solid team led by the legendary goalkeeper Giampiero Combi, Italy had some controversial help from the referees in the quarter- and semi-finals against Spain and Austria respectively. After a scandalous 1-1 tie with Spain, Italy won the extra match 1-0, that still led to the Swiss referee Rene Mercer becoming excluded for life from refereeing by the Swiss Football Federation.
A narrow 1-0 victory in the semifinal on goals by Guatia against the excellent Austrian team, then gave Italy a place in the finals against Czechoslovakia.
Led by their outstanding captain and goalkeeper Franticek Planicka, the Czechoslovaks had played excellent, and had outplayed Germany in the semifinal, where a 3-1 victory did not reveal the qualitative different between the two teams. Oldřich Nejedly, the eventual top scorer of the tournament, scored two goals against the Germans.
The Final was a great day for Mussolini who presided over the stadium in Rome as as a Cesar for a gladiatorial match (Planicka is credited to have said about Mussolini that players greeted him as a gladiator greeted Caesar before they died in combat).
Mussolini would not accept defeat, and the pressure on the Italian team was huge. Luis Monti, who had also played in Uruguay in 1930, commented ironically many years later, that in 1930 he had feared being killed if Argentina won, and in 1934 he feared what should happen if they didn’t win.
As if the pressure was not large enough, Mussolini sent a personal message to the team to "win or die," and another note to coach Pozzo that read "May God help you if you do not win."
At the same time the Swedish referee Ivan Eklind, was subjected to great pressure; he was personally invited to dinner by Mussolini, and numerous allegations of corruption came to the fore after the match, where it was said that Eklind cheated the Czechs for a penalty and missed a couple of red cards to Italian players.
It must be added though, that nothing was ever proven and Mr. Eklind continued his international career as a referee after the World Cup.
The match between the elegant Czechoslovaks and the tactical Italians caught the attention of an unprecedented number of the international media of the time, and the game was watched and listened to in many parts of Europe.
They were not disappointed as they were witness to a dramatic battle between two different football philosophies in the midst of the ideological conflicts that were engulfing Europe. The Czechoslovaks combined skillfully and beautifully, while the Italians were more aggressive and tactically clever. In spite of this, there were no goals until 25 minutes into the second half, when the well-playing Czechoslovaks finally got started by Antonin Puc, whose long range effort was simply too hard for the Italian goalkeeper Combi to react to.
The goal nevertheless set the Italians in motion, perhaps for fear of how Mussolini would react to a defeat. The started attacking eagerly and only eight minutes before the end of the match the Argentine Juventus star Raimundo Orsi equalized for Italy. The goal was a brilliant piece of skill: he turned quickly, cheated a defender with a quick move and scored on an outstanding shot. Orsi was asked to repeat the feat in front of the press on the following day, but after many attempts was unable to do it!
After the goal, the physically strong Italians began to completely dominate the match, but the shaken Czechoslovaks still managed to get the 1-1, so the match went into extra time.
Five minutes into the extra time the legendary Milan attacker Giusseppe Meazza was allowed to rush down the right side and made a cross to Guaita in front of goal. Guaita stopped the ball and quickly turned to make the pass to the Bologna striker Angelo Schiavio who scored a deserved winner for the Italians.
It is perhaps a pity that so much doubt has been put on the Italian victory due to the controversial referees. There is no doubt that Italy had an outstanding team, one of the best in the world at the time (together with Uruguay, Argentina, Austria, England, Czechoslovakia and Hungary) and surely would have been a candidate for the World Cup title in spite of the controversies surrounding their victory (and they showed this four years later).
In 1934 Italy had become World champions at home in front of an ecstatic audience and a delighted Mussolini. It was the first - but not last - time, Italy, one of the world's biggest footballing nations took the title.
- 10th June, 1934, Stadio PNF, Rome
- Attendance: 55,000
- Referee: Ivan Eklind (Sweden)
Goals: 0-1 Puc (70), 1-1 Orsi (82), 2-1 Schiavio (95)
Italy: Combi, Monzeglio, Allemandi, Ferraris IV, Monti, Bertolini, Guaita, Meazza, Schiavio, Ferrari, Orsi
Czechoslovakia: Planicka, Ctyroky, Zenisek, Kostalek, Cambal, Krcil, Junek, Svoboda, Sobatka, Nejedly, Puc