Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 37-The First ‘Battle of the River Plate’ (1930)

FIFA had always been cozy with the IOC up until 1928 with FIFA running the football competition at the Olympics from 1920 to 1928 for amateur players. After the IOC decided to dump football for the Los Angeles games in 1932 due to a row over the amateur status of players FIFA decided to break off on their own and thus the World Cup was born.

At a FIFA meeting in Barcelona, Uruguay was chosen as the hosts seeing as they were the Olympic Champions, a football powerhouse at the time and celebrating 100 years of independence. This move pissed off the Europeans in their ivory towers with many refusing to make the trip to Uruguay due to the tyranny of distance (three weeks in a boat? No thanks) among other petty reasons.

With no qualifying and an open invitation sent out to all FIFA members Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, USA and Paraguay all signed up with not one European nation entering before the deadline. With the cup looking like it would be a farce of NAB-Challenge-like proportions before it even kicked off invitations were sent to the heads of state in Europe to make sure at least a handful came which seemed to work with Yugoslavia, Belgium and France (thanks to FIFA boss Jules Rimet) coming along. Romania also ended up signing up with King Carol giving the players three months off work and promising them their jobs when they got back, he did get to pick the team of course.

13 teams had entered with one group of four teams and three groups of three teams drawn for the first round, the top place getters all going through to the semi finals. Argentina topped their group and were undefeated while Uruguay, Yugoslavia and astonishingly enough the Americans (with a team full of ex pat English stars might I add) all breezed in to the semi finals. In the semi finals both games were amazingly one sided with 6-1 wins to both Argentina and Uruguay to set up a replay of the 1928 gold medal match at the Olympics and another reason for the neighbours on the Rio de la Plata to despise each other even more.

Argentines had taken to the tournament with great vigor and tried to get across the river in all manner of seacraft with some 15,000 making the trip in the end. The port at Montevideo was so packed that many of the Argentines had to wait on their boats and never made it on to land, hope they had a radio. The match would be played at the brand new Estadio Centenario, venue of Australia’s showdowns with Uruguay in recent times. With the game due to kick off at 2pm local time the gates were opened at 8 in the morning and some 93,000 people had crammed in by noon to await the showdown before they locked the gates.

The trouble was the showdown almost never happened with officials from both teams arguing over what ball should be used, the first of many petty arguments on the day. FIFA stepped in and said that Argentina would provide the ball in the first half and Uruguay in the second, the ruling is rumoured to be behind the saying ‘a match of two halves’. The referee chosen was also a reason why the match almost never went ahead. The Belgian Jean Langenus wanted a boat in the harbour ready to go and promises from officials for his safety before he would go near the game just in case the locals got nasty at the end of the match and he had to flee to the open sea.

The opening minutes saw the two teams “discovering” each other but after 12 minutes the home side took the lead when Pablo Dorado shot through the legs of goalkeeper Botasso. Eight minutes later, the scores were levelled when Carlos Peucelle picked up a pass from Varallo and beat goalkeeper Ballesteros with a powerful shot. Argentina took the lead in the 37th minute after Stábile scored, but it was to be one of the game’s most controversial incidents. When he collected the ball, Stábile looked offside – the Uruguayan captain Nsazzi later agreed with that but despite appeals to the referee Langenus would not change his mind and the goal stood.

In the second half Uruguay got back into the game when Pedro Cea scored after 57 minutes. At 2-2 both teams had chances to score a decisive goal. The Argentineans with attacking trio, Peucelle, Evaristo and Stábile could spoil the party for the hosts. But Uruguay eased any concern in the 68th minute when Santos Iriarte scored a cracking goal from more than 25 yards. The stadium exploded in celebrations. It was a goal worth winning any World Cup final. Topscorer Stábile almost spoiled the party hitting the crossbar a few minutes later, but then that crucial fourth goal came for the hosts. It was scored in the very last minute by Castro, who headed home a Dorado cross.

The man who accidentally lost parts of his left arm suddenly became a national hero. He had scored Uruguay’s only goal in their opening match against Peru, but was then dropped. Now he was recalled and scored the goal that secured Uruguay the World Cup. The final whistle went and Uruguay could celebrate, Rimet handed the trophy (the one that would later be named after him) to the victorious side and history was made. The Uruguayans celebrated and declared a national holiday the next day while the defeated Argentineans sulked and threw missiles at the Uruguayan embassy back home. A day of many firsts was July 30 1930. The first cup final, the first underdog hero in Campos, the first controversies, the first win for a host nation and the beginning of the greatest show on earth.

The last survivor of the match, Francisco Varallo, died in 2010.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Dilettante. Traffic Nerd. Behind the Almanac World Cup 100. Keen Cat, Cardie, Socceroo/Matilda, Glory Bhoy.

Leave a Comment