The 1938 FIFA World Cup A Historical Overview

The 1938 FIFA World Cup, held in France, marked the third installment of the prestigious international football tournament. It stands out not only for its athletic achievements but also for the complex political backdrop against which it occurred. The event was shadowed by the looming threat of World War II, geopolitical tensions, and significant changes in the format and participation rules. Despite these challenges, the tournament showcased exceptional football talent and memorable matches, etching its place in the annals of sports history.


The Road to France

The decision to host the 1938 FIFA World Cup in France was made during the 1938 FIFA World Cup Congress in Berlin, where the country was chosen over Argentina and Germany. This selection broke the previously established alternation between the Americas and Europe, as the 1934 World Cup had been held in Italy. This decision led to significant discontent in South America, particularly in Argentina, which felt it was their turn to host the tournament.

Political and Social Context

The political landscape of the late 1930s was tumultuous. The rise of fascism in Europe, the Spanish Civil War, and the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany all played a part in shaping the World Cup of 1938. These events influenced not only the participating teams but also the overall atmosphere of the tournament.

1938 FIFA World Cup France

Austria, a significant football power at the time, was forced to withdraw due to the Anschluss – the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. Many Austrian players were expected to join the German squad, but only a few did so. This reduced the number of participating teams to 15, an odd number that necessitated a bye for Sweden in the first round.

Tournament Format and Innovations

The 1938 World Cup continued with the knockout format introduced in 1934. Sixteen teams were supposed to compete in a single-elimination tournament, but Austria’s withdrawal led to an uneven arrangement. The teams that participated included Brazil, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, and Belgium.

One significant innovation in this World Cup was the introduction of a seeded draw to prevent stronger teams from meeting in the early rounds. This method aimed to ensure that the best teams would progress further, enhancing the competitiveness and excitement of the tournament.

Memorable Matches and Key Moments

First Round Highlights

The first round of the 1938 World Cup provided several thrilling encounters. Brazil and Poland faced off in one of the most memorable matches in World Cup history, with Brazil triumphing 6-5 after extra time. Brazilian forward Leônidas da Silva, known as the “Black Diamond,” scored a hat-trick, showcasing his remarkable skill and athleticism.

Another notable first-round match saw Cuba, making their only World Cup appearance, stun Romania with a 3-3 draw followed by a 2-1 victory in the replay. This result was a significant upset, demonstrating that smaller footballing nations could compete on the world stage.

Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals

The quarter-finals featured intense battles, with Brazil defeating Czechoslovakia 2-1 in a replay after their initial match ended in a 1-1 draw. Italy, the defending champions, faced France and secured a 3-1 victory, advancing to the semi-finals with confidence.

1938 soccer World Cup

In the semi-finals, Italy faced Brazil in a highly anticipated clash. Brazil, missing their star player Leônidas, fell 2-1 to the Italians. Meanwhile, Hungary demolished Sweden 5-1, setting the stage for a thrilling final between Italy and Hungary.

The Final: Italy vs Hungary

The final, held on June 19, 1938, at the Stade Olympique de Colombes in Paris, was a spectacle of skill and strategy. Italy, led by the tactical genius of coach Vittorio Pozzo, aimed to defend their title. Hungary, on the other hand, was determined to claim their first World Cup victory.

The match began at a frantic pace, with Italy taking an early lead through Gino Colaussi. Hungary quickly equalized through Pál Titkos, but Italy regained the lead with another goal from Colaussi and a strike from Silvio Piola. Although Hungary managed to score again through György Sárosi, Piola’s second goal sealed a 4-2 victory for Italy. This triumph made Italy the first team to win consecutive World Cup titles, a remarkable achievement in the history of the sport.

Legacy of the 1938 World Cup

The 1938 FIFA World Cup left a lasting legacy, both in terms of footballing excellence and its socio-political impact. Italy’s back-to-back victories cemented their place as a dominant force in international football. The tournament also highlighted the emerging talent from other nations, particularly Brazil, which would go on to become a football powerhouse in subsequent decades.

Moreover, the World Cup of 1938 demonstrated the power of sport to bring nations together, even amidst political strife. The competition showcased a range of footballing styles and strategies, contributing to the global development of the game. The performances of teams like Brazil and Cuba inspired many smaller nations to invest in football, fostering a more inclusive and competitive international landscape.


The 1938 FIFA World Cup was a remarkable event that encapsulated the spirit of international competition under challenging circumstances. Held against the backdrop of impending global conflict, the tournament brought together diverse nations to celebrate their shared passion for football. From Brazil’s dazzling play to Italy’s tactical prowess, the World Cup of 1938 provided unforgettable moments that continue to resonate in the history of the sport. Despite the political tensions and upheavals of the era, the tournament exemplified the unifying power of football and its ability to inspire and captivate audiences worldwide.

Sure, here’s a table summarizing the key matches, teams, winners, runners-up, and goals from the 1938 FIFA World Cup:

See Also: The 1934 FIFA World Cup A Historical Landmark in Football

First RoundBrazil vs. PolandBrazilPoland6-5 (AET)
First RoundCuba vs. RomaniaCubaRomania3-3, 2-1 (Replay)
Quarter-FinalsBrazil vs. CzechoslovakiaBrazilCzechoslovakia1-1, 2-1 (Replay)
Quarter-FinalsItaly vs. FranceItalyFrance3-1
Semi-FinalsItaly vs. BrazilItalyBrazil2-1
Semi-FinalsHungary vs. SwedenHungarySweden5-1
FinalItaly vs. HungaryItalyHungary4-2


  • AET: After Extra Time
  • Some matches required replays due to initial draws, showcasing the competitive nature of the tournament.

FAQs about the 1938 FIFA World Cup

1. Where and when was the 1938 FIFA World Cup held?

The 1938 FIFA World Cup was held in France from June 4 to June 19, 1938.

2. Why was the 1938 World Cup significant in terms of its political backdrop?

The tournament took place during a period of significant political tension, with the rise of fascism in Europe, the Spanish Civil War, and the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. These events influenced the participation and atmosphere of the World Cup.

3. How many teams participated in the 1938 FIFA World Cup?

Initially, 16 teams were set to participate, but due to Austria’s withdrawal following the Anschluss, only 15 teams competed.

4. Why did Austria withdraw from the tournament?
overall number of teams was reduced.

Austria withdrew because it was annexed by Nazi Germany in March 1938. Some Austrian players were absorbed into the German team, but the

5. What was the format of the 1938 World Cup?

The tournament followed a knockout format, with single-elimination matches leading up to the final.

6. Which teams reached the final of the 1938 World Cup?

Italy and Hungary reached the final of the 1938 FIFA World Cup.

7. Who won the 1938 FIFA World Cup final?

Italy won the final, defeating Hungary 4-2 to claim their second consecutive World Cup title.

8. Who were some notable players in the 1938 World Cup?

Notable players included Italy’s Silvio Piola and Gino Colaussi, as well as Brazil’s Leônidas da Silva, known as the “Black Diamond.”

9. What were some of the most memorable matches of the tournament?

Brazil vs. Poland (First Round): Brazil won 6-5 after extra time.
Cuba vs. Romania (First Round): Cuba advanced after a 3-3 draw and a 2-1 win in the replay.
Italy vs. Brazil (Semi-Final): Italy won 2-1 to reach the final.

10. What legacy did the 1938 FIFA World Cup leave?

The 1938 World Cup solidified Italy’s dominance in international football with their second consecutive win. It also demonstrated football’s ability to bring nations together despite political tensions and inspired smaller nations to invest in the sport.

11. How did the political tensions affect the tournament?

Political tensions led to the withdrawal of Austria and influenced the dynamics of team participation and fan engagement. Despite these challenges, the tournament proceeded and showcased high-level football.

12. Was the 1938 World Cup the last tournament before World War II?

Yes, the 1938 World Cup was the last tournament before World War II. The next World Cup was not held until 1950 due to the war.

13. Which country was initially considered as a host before France was chosen?

Argentina was a strong contender for hosting the 1938 World Cup. However, FIFA decided to hold the tournament in France, breaking the tradition of alternating between Europe and the Americas.

14. What was the impact of the 1938 World Cup on Brazil’s footballing future?

Brazil’s performance, especially that of Leônidas da Silva, signaled the emergence of Brazil as a football powerhouse. This tournament laid the groundwork for Brazil’s future successes in World Cup history.

15. How did the tournament handle the odd number of teams due to Austria’s withdrawal?

With Austria’s withdrawal, the number of teams became 15, which resulted in an uneven bracket. To address this, Sweden received a bye in the first round, automatically advancing to the quarter-finals.

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