Italy Defeats Hungary to Win the 1938 FIFA World Cup

The World Cup in France was played in the play-off system.

In the first round, after a fierce match and additional time Poland, a first-time player in the cup, lost to Brazil 5:6. In the second phase Brazil put up a fight with Czechoslovakia and won the game, only to lose to Italy, the defending champion, in the semi-finals. Even though the German team was strengthened by Austrian players, it failed to defeat Switzerland. The Hungarians did well, beating strong teams from Switzerland and Sweden on its way to the final game. They were then easily defeated by the favourite team from Italy. The Italians won for the second time and defended their title as World Cup champion. The Brazilian team won 3. place after a 3:1 victory over Sweden.

Some argued that Hungary - or at least its goalkeeper - allowed Italy to win, as a measure to save the lives of the Italian Team, which had received telegrams by Benito Mussolini with "Vincere o morire!" (mistranslated as "Win or die") written on them. Hungarian goalkeeper Antal Szabó expressed his relief following his side's defeat against Italy despite letting in four goals in the loss. Referring to Mussolini's pre-match threats, Szabó quipped "I may have let in four goals, but at least I saved their lives". Actually, this is not the case. "Win or die" was a typical slogan of encouragement from fascist era, meaning "Victory or bust!" or "do your best to get victory". The fascist regime held sporting heroes and champions in high regard, greatly using them in their propaganda machine, so an act like the one suggested by Szabó was not realistic. Szabó's words may have been perhaps an honest misunderstanding.

Due to World War II, the World Cup would not be held for another 12 years, until 1950. As a result, Italy were the reigning World Cup holders for a record 16 years, from 1934 to 1950. The Italian Vice-President of FIFA, Dr. Ottorino Barassi, hid the trophy in a shoe-box under his bed throughout the Second World War and thus saved it from falling into the hands of occupying troops.