The FIFA World Cup has been running every four years since 1930. Or has it? In fact, officially there weren’t tournaments held between Italy’s victory in 1938 and Uruguay’s triumph in 1950. Indeed, there was once a gap of twelve years without a single World Cup tournament. Why was there such a long gap? Was there an alternative football tournament? Who won the World Cup in 1942 and 1946? We have some answers.
Italy won the 1938 World Cup with aplomb, beating Hungary 4-2 in the final to retain the trophy they had won in 1934. The next tournament was scheduled to be held in South America in 1942. However, things didn’t go according to plan.
Record books show that no one won the World Cup in 1942, but that’s not the entire story. The FIFA World Cup was set to take place in 1942 in either Nazi Germany or Brazil. The South Americans were outraged that Germany was even considered, as the previous two World Cups (1934 in Italy, 1938 in France) had also been hosted in Europe. Uruguay hosted the inaugural tournament in 1930 and the competition was supposed to be alternated between Europe and South America.
FIFA still hadn’t made the decision between Germany and Brazil when European hostilities broke out in September 1939, after the German troops invaded Poland. This was the start of the Second World War. As a result, it was decided that the 1942 World Cup would be cancelled.
Historians have often tried to research whether any World Cup was held unofficially during 1942 and there have been two cases put forward: one from Argentina and one from Nazi Germany. There was an unofficial world football tournament in 1942, which was held in Patagonia, Argentina. It involved twelve teams. There are not many books or even online mentions of this tournament, which has intrigued football fans with a love for the history of the game. At this tournament in Argentina, teams were made up of professional footballers and immigrants from around the world. Details are sketchy, but apparently the tournament contained acrobats, exiled revolutionaries, Nazi soldiers and local labourers. Lorenzo Garzella and Filippo Macelloni made a movie about this ‘lost World Cup’, which was also featured in a book by Daniele Mazzocca and Pier Andrea Nocella.
However, no one really has an answer as to which country won that unofficial World Cup in Argentina. In Germany, there was another opinion.
Even though FIFA didn’t organise and recognise a World Cup in 1942, there was a match held in Nazi Germany in front of almost 100,000 fans. It was billed as a clash of two of the best football teams in Europe, between Germany and Sweden. The match was recognised by the Unofficial Football World Championships as an ‘unofficial World Cup final’.
After wins against Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, the Nazi German team lined up against Sweden in Berlin’s Olympiastadion on the 30th of September 1942. The German team had previously lost 2-1 to Switzerland on Hitler’s birthday and players were warned if they lost any more matches, they would be sent to the Eastern Front. So the match with Sweden was some kind of ‘unofficial World Cup Final’, and one of the biggest football matches in Europe during the Second World War.
Sweden remained neutral during the Second World War and were given permission from the British forces to travel to Berlin for the match. The stadium was packed with 98,000 German fans, yet Sweden went 1-0 up. The Germans fought back to lead 2-1 with goals from Lehner and Klingler. However, Henry Carlsson levelled the scores to make it 2-2 for half-time. In the 71st minute, the unthinkable happened as Malte Martensson won the match for Sweden. No official trophy was handed out, but some die-hard Swedes still claim this as their World Cup victory, especially since the closest they have come since was as runner up in 1958, when they hosted the official World Cup. This match was also the beginning of the end of the Nazi German football team. From November 1942, the Nazi party suspended all national team games and most players were forced to join the armed forces.
When the war ended in 1945, talk about reviving the World Cup began. However, with the next tournament due in 1946, there was no chance of getting it organised within a year. There was, therefore, no World Cup in 1946, and it was decided that the next tournament would be held in 1949 in Brazil. Then it was pointed out how ridiculous it was to change the tradition of the tournament being held every four years, so the sensible decision was to reschedule the event for 1950. Brazil was chosen as host for 1950.
In 1946, Argentina beat Brazil 2-0 on the 10th of February in the South American Championship. This match is deemed by many South Americans as the unofficial World Cup final, and therefore Argentina was considered the unofficial 1946 world champion. FIFA did not recognise it.
When the World Cup reemerged in 1950, the Jules Rimet trophy was safe and well. But where had it been kept? British football magazine Four Four Two once ran the story of how FIFA Vice President Ottorino Barassi had hid the trophy in a shoebox under his bed the whole time! Apparently the Nazis searched his house for it and never found it.
So, while Barassi kept the trophy in a safe place, it was Brazil that saved the entire World Cup tournament. No other country except Brazil stepped in requesting to host the next World Cup. At the time, German teams were also banned from competing. Finally, the World Cup was scheduled to take place in Brazil in 1950. The format of the tournament was altered so there wasn’t an actual World Cup Final, merely a league to decide the winners. Uruguay famously beat Brazil 2-1 in the Maracana Stadium to clinch their second World Cup. When the tournament returned to Europe in 1954 (hosted by Switzerland), West Germany beat Hungary 3-2 in the first official World Cup Final after 16 years.