The world’s greatest sporting tournament kicked off in 1930 when hosts Uruguay walked off with the inaugural World Cup in Montevideo.
Only 13 nations participated, far fewer than the 32 who will descend on Russia in 2018 for the latest edition of the showpiece event, as many European teams decided against making the long trip.
Seven South American countries, plus France, Yugoslavia, Romania, Belgium, the United States and Mexico opted to compete, with all sides invited to play in an era before qualifying was introduced.
With an odd number, three of the groups contained three teams and one had four, with Argentina beating all-comers to top their group and advance to the semi-finals.
Yugoslavia, the USA and hosts Uruguay also made it to the last four with a 100% record and the home nation had little trouble advancing to the final, with a 6-1 thrashing of Yugoslavia having gone behind after just four minutes of the contest.
Pedro Cea was the hero, netting a hat-trick at the age of 36, while Peregrino Anselmo hit a brace and Santos ‘El Canario’ Iriarte added a sixth.
Argentina managed a similar score line in downing the US, with Carlos Peucelle and Guillermo Stábile both scoring twice in the second period after Luis Monti and Alejandro Scopelli had given them a 2-0 half-time lead.
The stage was set for a South American showdown in front of 93,000 fans and the match was a repeat of the 1928 Olympic final, which Uruguay had won 2–1 after a replay.
There were 10 boats laid on to ferry Argentina fans across the River Plate to the neighbouring country but, with excitement running at fever pitch, it is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 fans actually made the trip in all manner of sailing vessels.
With the history between the two teams it seemed likely that it would be a spiky affair and, with no official match ball, both teams turned up with their own.
Arguments raged as to which one they would use until Belgian referee Jean Langenus ruled that each half would be played with a different ball.
The toss of a coin ensured Argentina’s ball was used for the first 45 minutes but Pablo Dorado put the hosts ahead in just 12 minutes.
Peucelle, possibly Argentina’s player of the tournament, levelled affairs eight minutes later before Stábile netted to give the visitors a 2-1 half-time advantage.
That was certainly not in the script but Uruguay were 3-2 up by the 68th minute as Cea and Iriarte found the net to send the home faithful into raptures.
A nervy final few minutes saw Stábile hit the woodwork but Héctor Castro then made the game safe with a close-range header as time ran out and, with echoes of England’s 1966 triumph, the fans roared their heroes on to glory.
There is nobody left alive who played in the final after Argentina’s Francisco Varallo died in 2010 at the age of 100, and he proved just how much it meant when, just before his death, he admitted it still “hurts me to think about that game”.
Whether the millionaire players of today have the same attitude is open to debate but next year’s World Cup will no doubt be as keenly contested…and if the latest friendlies are anything to go by, we can expect some closely fought battles!
Take Tuesday nights clash between France and England. As the tipsters over at bethut.co.uk predicted, the game ended with a French win, but the game was far from certain. A red card for the hosts and a penalty award against them showed the tension between the teams and served as a good example of the type of closely fought gameplay we can expect in Russia 2018.
Stábile ended the 1930 tournament as top scorer, with eight, but it was right-back and captain Jose ‘El Mariscal’ Nasazzi who will be forever remembered as the driving force behind the triumph for Alberto Suppici’s men.