The first FIFA World Cup and its Antwerp Olympics 1920 connection

Here’s how Uruguay hosted and won the first FIFA World Cup for men in 1930.

By Utathya Nag
Picture by Getty Images

From July 13 to 30 of 1930, the first FIFA World Cup for men was held in Uruguay and it changed football forever.

What started as an invitational tournament with just 13 teams, developed into the giant that is the FIFA World Cup we know today. The marquee football tournament is one of the most-followed sporting events in the globe.

To put it into context, over 200 countries from six continents played in the qualifiers to win one of the 31 berths available for the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. The hosts get automatic qualification.

Here’s an overview of how it all started - the first FIFA World Cup 1930 in Uruguay.

The prelude - Olympics 1920 in Antwerp sows the seeds

Ever since FIFA, world governing body for football, was established in 1904, the need for a men’s world championship for the sport was mooted and the Olympics proved to be the perfect stage to lay the foundation for one.

Though football was played at the Olympics in 1900 and 1904, it was included only as a demonstration sport and was competed between club and scratch teams from various countries.

Interestingly, football was included as a medal sport at the Olympics starting from the London 1908 Games and it was also the first time proper international teams took part. At the 1912 Summer Games in Stockholm, too, all participating teams were from Europe.

At the 1914 FIFA Congress, a landmark proposal was ratified by the world football federation, who agreed to recognise the Olympic football tournament as a ‘world football championship for amateurs’ and underlined its eagerness to manage the event.

With the 1916 Olympics scrapped due to World War I, the proposal finally took effect from the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. With Egypt joining 13 European teams at Antwerp, it became the first inter-continental football championship at the Olympics.

The following two editions of the Olympics, in 1924 and 1928, saw more non-European teams enter the fray. South American team Uruguay won both these editions.

FIFA were aware of the growing global appeal of the beautiful game and wanted to construct another world championship for the sport outside the Olympics. Another reason was the fact that, at the time, only amateur players were allowed to participate at the Olympics.

But with the growing number of professional players, particularly across Europe, a football World Cup was the need of the hour.

FIFA World Cup 1930 - Uruguay steps up as hosts

At the FIFA Congress held in Amsterdam on May 28, 1928, the federation officially decided to organise its own world football championships. The day officially marked the birth of the FIFA World Cup.

Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden all submitted their candidatures to host the inaugural edition but the hosting rights eventually went to Uruguay.

Uruguay were celebrating their 100th anniversary of independence in 1930 and hosting the football World Cup particularly appealed to the government. The sport was hugely popular in the country after Uruguay won back-to-back gold medals at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics.

Moreover, Uruguay’s national football federation was willing to cover all costs, including the travel and accommodation expenses for participating teams. Any possible profit would be shared while Uruguay offered to take on any deficit. At the FIFA Congress in Barcelona in 1929, Uruguay were officially announced as the first host country of the FIFA World Cup.

There were no qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup 1930 in Uruguay, making it an invitational tournament with every FIFA-affiliated country invited to play. It was the first and last time in FIFA World Cup history that no qualifiers took place.

Challenges

While North and South American teams like Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and the United States of America were eager to participate, getting the European teams on board became a huge issue despite Uruguay’s substantial financial commitments.

In fact, no European team had accepted the invite by the deadline date in February 1930. The primary reason was the economic hardships caused worldwide by the Great Depression at the time. Very few players wanted to travel so far and for so long as they feared losing out on whatever regular income source they had.

Jules Rimet, the FIFA president at the time, intervened and personally convinced France, his home country, and Yugoslavia to send teams. German-Belgian FIFA vice-president Rodolphe Seeldrayers convinced Belgium.

Romania too came on board after Carol II, the newly-crowned king of Romania, who reportedly personally selected the squad. He negotiated with the employers of the players to ensure they still had their jobs upon return.

With the addition, the first FIFA World Cup became a 13-team affair with Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, the USA, France, Belgium, Romania and Yugoslavia participating besides hosts Uruguay.

The European teams made long ship journeys to reach Uruguay.

FIFA World Cup 1930 venues

The inaugural FIFA World Cup was entirely held in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo with three stadiums, Estadio Centenario, Estadio Pocitos and Estadio Gran Parque Central, hosting the matches.

The 90,000-capacity Estadio Centenario, built as a celebration for the centenary year of Uruguayan independence, was the central venue for the inaugural FIFA World Cup.

Referred to as the ‘temple of football’ by Jules Rimet, the Estadio Centenario hosted 10 of the 18 FIFA World Cup 1930 matches, including both semi-finals and the final.

FIFA World Cup 1930 Tournament format

The 13 participating teams at the FIFA World Cup 1930 were divided into four groups.

Group 1 featured four teams while the other three had three sides each. In each group, teams played each other once in a round-robin format. Each of the four group winners progressed to the semi-finals.

Here’s how the groups panned out at FIFA World Cup 1930:

Group 1: Argentina, Chile, France, Mexico

Group 2: Yugoslavia, Brazil, Bolivia

Group 3: Uruguay, Romania, Peru

Group 4: USA, Paraguay, Belgium

Who won the first FIFA World Cup

Eventually, Argentina, Yugoslavia, Uruguay and the USA topped their respective groups and entered the knockout rounds.

Incidentally, both Argentina and Uruguay steamrolled Yugoslavia and USA, respectively, by identical 6-1 margins to set up the final clash of the inaugural FIFA World Cup.

The final was a high-octane affair as the two neighbouring countries already had a storied football rivalry. Just two years back, the Uruguay men’s football team had edged out Argentina to the 1928 Olympic gold medal after a 2-1 win in a replay. The first match had ended in a 1-1 stalemate.

Tens of thousands of Argentinian fans made the short trip via ferries across the Rio de la Plata river for a chance to witness their team avenge the painful defeat of the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.

Chants of Victoria o muerte (victory or death) by the away fans echoed through the streets of Montevideo on matchday. Over 93,000 fans filled up the Estadio Centenario for the final.

There was a huge uproar before the match as a debate ensued about which team would provide the official match ball. FIFA president Jules Rimet had to intervene and it was decided that Argentina would provide the ball for the first half while the Uruguayan team’s ball would be used for the second.

The match proved even more dramatic.

Just 12 minutes in, Pablo Dorado put the home side ahead with a low shot from the right but Argentinian winger Carlos Peucelle beat Uruguay goalkeeper Enrique Ballestrero with a powerful shot to equalise just eight minutes later.

In the 37th minute, Guillermo Stabile put Argentina ahead to take a 2–1 lead going into half-time.

The home team, however, mounted a comeback in the second half with Pedro Cea finding his mark at the hour mark to make it 2-2. Santos Iriarte scored a goal in the 68th minute to give Uruguay the lead for the first time in the match and Hector Castro sealed the 4-2 victory and trophy for his team with just one minute left on the clock.

Thus, Uruguay became the first FIFA World Cup winners in 1930. Rimet presented the trophy, later renamed the Jules Rimet Trophy after him, to the head of the Uruguayan Football Association, Raul Jude.

July 31 was declared a national holiday in Uruguay in honour of the historic victory.

FIFA World Cup 1930 records

The first two matches at the FIFA World Cup - a Group 1 fixture between France and Mexico and a Group 4 opener between USA and Belgium - were played concurrently on July 13.

France won their match at the Estadio Pocitos by a 4-1 margin. French striker Lucien Laurent scored the first goal in FIFA World Cup history, courtesy of his 19th-minute opener against Mexico.

Laurent beat the USA’s Bart McGhee to the record by just four minutes as the American netted his team’s opening goal in the 23rd minute down the road at the Estadio Parque Central.

However, with the United States winning their match 3-0, their custodian Jimmy Douglas became the first goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in the FIFA World Cup.

Four days later, on July 17, USA’s Bert Patenaude became the player to score the first hat-trick at the FIFA World Cup after he scored all three of the team’s goals in another 3-0 win over Paraguay at the Estadio Parque Central.

Patenaude’s second goal in the match was a bone of contention for years, and was often credited to his team-mate Tom Florie or attributed as an own goal by Aurelio Gonzalez. FIFA, however, clarified the matter in 2006 and awarded Patenaude the record.

Argentina’s Guillermo Stabile (vs Mexico) and Uruguay’s Pedro Cea (vs Yugoslavia) also scored hat-tricks in the tournament. 

Guillermo Stabile, in fact, went on to top score in the tournament with eight goals and was followed by Cea with five.

Alberto Horacio Suppici, who was the Uruguay coach at the time, was only 31 when he led his team to the 1930 FIFA World Cup title. To date, he holds the record for being the youngest coach ever to win a football World Cup.

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