Hosts Uruguay beat arch-rivals to first world crown
FIFA's decision to hold the first FIFA World Cup™ in Uruguay did not meet universal acclaim, as Europe was plunged in the midst of an economic crisis. Participation in a FIFA World Cup taking place overseas involved a long sea journey. Moreover, for some clubs it meant having to go without their best players for two months - a problem that is still topical today.
The organisation of the first FIFA World Cup looked rather different from today's with no qualifying competition, the 13 teams entered by invitation and the final draw was not made until the teams arrived in Uruguay.
France met Mexico in the opening match and duly won 4-1, but the first final was contested by the hosts and their neighbours Argentina. After trailing 2-1 at the interval, Uruguay went on to prevail 4-2 and thus won the cup which had been designed by French sculptor Abel Lafleur.
The first FIFA World Cup, the first football legends
Although football was officially born in 1904 with the founding of FIFA, it was not until 1924 and the Olympic tournament in Paris that the international game really came into its own. There for the first time, teams from other continents arrived to take on the Europeans. The tournament was an unmitigated success: 50,000 spectators watched Uruguay beat Switzerland in the final. In 1928 however, when many nations abstained from the Olympic tournament in Amsterdam, the time was obviously ripe for a new independent football tournament to be established especially in view of the growth of professional football.
On 26 May 1928 in Amsterdam, the FIFA congress voted that a new tournament was to be organised in 1930 which was to be open to all member nations. On 18 May 1929, the Barcelona congress voted that Uruguay should be the first nation to host a FIFA World Cup.
As holders of the Olympic title and the fact that 1930 marked its 100 years of independence it was appropriate to choose Uruguay to host the first tournament. Although the news was greeted enthusiastically in all football-playing countries, many European nations harboured reservations about the prospect of crossing the Atlantic, a journey which promised to be long, tiring and costly. Thus, more and more European associations broke their promise to participate.
Two months before the tournament was due to commence, not a single European country had entered the competition, but thanks to Rimet's personal efforts, four set sail to Montevideo: Belgium, France and Romania on the SS Conte Verde, and Yugoslavia on the MS Florida.
A tremendous sporting success
The first FIFA World Cup only attracted 13 nations, including four Europeans, eight from South America and a representative team from the United States. On the field of play however, the quality of football produced was of the highest standard. And whilst the public had expected to see a South American domination, the four teams from Europe did more than hold their own as typified by the French team, beating Mexico 4 - 1 and going down narrowly to Argentina 1 - 0 in an epic struggle. The referee, who had blown the final whistle six minutes early, finally - after fierce protests - recalled the players to the field, some of whom were already in the shower!
First final, first legend
A few days later in the colossal Centenario stadium (100,000 capacity), the atmosphere was electric as spectators were awaiting the South American final between Uruguay and Argentina. At half-time, Uruguay were down 2-1, but fought back bravely and put three second half goals passed the stunned Argentinans, ending the game with a 4-2 victory. The FIFA President Jules Rimet presented the " Victoire aux Ailes d'Or " trophy, a statuette 30cm high, made of gold and weighing 4 kg, to the Uruguayan captain José Nazassi. Celebrations in Montevideo went on for several days and nights and the day after the famous victory, the 31 July, was proclaimed a national holiday. The ball had begun to roll for football's most prestigious prize and the universal nature of the game had been officially proclaimed!