When one thinks about the countries who love Football the most, England comes immediately to the mind. Modern Football was born in British soil and the passion for the beautiful game runs through their veins. While the sport has been venerated for decades not only there, but in almost the whole of Europe, there’s another place where people exhale their passion for Football: Latin America.
The sport wasn’t born here, but in the second half of the 1800s, there was a massive influx of European immigrants into South America, especially Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Among them were British immigrants, who brought their passion for Football with them. As these immigrant communities grew larger and spread throughout the continent, they started organizing their own football clubs and informal league tournaments to play with each other in the beginnings of the 20th Century.
Peñarol and Nacional of Montevideo star the biggest fixture in Uruguay, where the two most historic teams clash in a very tough and fast game every year.
The sport was picked up very quickly by other ethnic groups, and the fever for the game grew up rapidly. Maybe the reason behind the massive success of the sport was the low entry barrier football has; very little is required to play it, no additional equipment or fancy balls are needed, just something to kick around. Anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, could play football, and the field was astonishingly egalitarian and meritocratic place, in a rather classist and strongly divided society.
Thus, football became deeply ingrained in Latin American identities and culture, and this is the reason why the first World Cup in history was hosted in Latin soil. While countries like Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden submitted all their candidatures to be the host nation, Uruguay was the favourite, not just for their recent Olympic football gold medals won in 1924 and 1928, but due to the fact that the country was celebrating its 100th anniversary of independence in 1930.
A total of seven South American teams participated, more than in any World Cup latter done. Very few European nations participated because of the long and costly trip by ship across the Atlantic Ocean, and the length of absence required for players; clubs would have to renounce their best players for two months. Some refused to countenance travel to South America in any circumstances, but, eventually, four European teams made the trip by sea: Belgium, France, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil and the United States completed the list of 13 participants of the First World Cup ever held.
As a curiosity, The Romanians, managed by Constantin Rădulescu and coached by their captain Rudolf Wetzer and Octav Luchide, entered the competition following the intervention of newly crowned King Carol II. He selected the squad personally and negotiated with employers to ensure that the players would still have jobs upon their return. Can you imagine living in a time where teams had to cross oceans by boat to participate in a sport’s tournament?
The first FIFA World Cup opened at the brand-new Estadio Centenario in Montevideo on 18 July 1930. According to FIFA, It was the beginning of a new era in world football and the inaugural event proved a remarkable success, both in a sporting and a financial sense. At the other edge of the world, when the Congress convened in Budapest in 1930, it thanked Uruguay for staging the world championship for the first time in difficult conditions.
The 13 teams were organized into four groups, with Group 1 containing four teams, and the others containing only three. The four group winners progressed to the knockout semi-final stage. Extra time was available in the knockout matches if the two teams were level after 90 minutes, but this additional time was never required.
At the end, Uruguay and Argentina, two Latin American countries that held a strong rivalry, arrived to the final. It was played at the Estadio Centenario on 30 July, and feelings ran high and loud around town, as the Argentine supporters crossed the frontier with the war cries. An estimated 10,000-15,000 Argentinians made the trip, but the port at Montevideo was so overwhelmed that many did not even make landfall before kick-off, let alone reach the stadium. The official attendance: 93,000! The referee was Belgian John Langenus, who only agreed to participate in the match a few hours before the game, being strongly worried for his safety. Want to know what was one of his requests? A boat to be ready at the harbour within one hour of the final whistle, in case he needed to make a quick escape.
The Centenario stadium while holding the 1930 World Cup final.
Uruguay was champion and won with clear advantage. The official aggregate goal difference for the ‘Charruas’ was of over 12 goals in four games, remaining the highest average goal difference per match of any World Cup champion, and the second highest of any World Cup Finals participant, after Hungary in 1954. Those were glorious days for Uruguay and while today the national team isn’t as feared as back then, it’s something to admire, that’s for sure. Suarez, Cavani, Muslera and Godín are all remarkable Uruguayans that have played at top-class teams in these late years; At Russia they’ve been kind of shy until today when the defeated Russia 3-0, showing how marvelous they can be. We’ll see how good their performance will be at this World Cup!