A look back to the first-ever World Cup Finals 88 years ago and a final that featured bitter rivals – and a one-armed man.
There was no qualification for the tournament with every country that entered taking part, although many from Europe didn’t even bother to enter including Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands and Spain who had all offered to host the tournament but had lost out to Uruguay. The home nations, citing the high cost of travel to South America, declined an invite and in fact, it was only after the intervention of tournament instigator Jules Rimet that four countries from Europe – France, Romania, Yugoslavia and Belgium – agreed to make the arduous journey.
Three of the teams, France, Romania and Belgium, travelled in the SS ‘Conte Verde’, along with Rimet, other FIFA officials and the European referees. The ship docked at Rio De Janeiro on the way and collected the Brazilian team, and the total journey took almost three weeks. Yugoslavia meanwhile travelled on the mail steamship ‘Florida’ which set out from Marseille.
The draw for the group stages took place mere days before the first match and, of the Europeans only Yugoslavia made it out of their group only to be thrashed 6-1 by Uruguay in the semi-final. The other semi saw Argentina hammer the United States by the same score so the final was set between the two fierce foes, Uruguay and Argentina.
One of the Uruguayan’s star men was Peregrino Anselmo. A member of the gold medal-winning squad at the 1928 Olympics, Anselmo scored twice in the semi win over the Yugoslavs but was injured late in proceedings and this thrust an unlikely hero into the limelight – Héctor Castro.
Castro was more than just an understudy. He had scored Uruguay’s first-ever World Cup goal, the only strike in the 1-0 group stage win over Peru, but had lost his place in the team and was only restored to the line-up after Anselmo’s injury.
Born in Montevideo in 1904, Castro lost an arm in an accident with an electric saw when he was 13 (giving him the nickname ‘El Manco’ – ‘The one-armed’) but this failed to deter him from reaching the top. He joined Club Nacional as a 19-year-old and the club celebrated a league title in his first season. He was also a member of the gold medal squad at the Amsterdam Olympics although, like Anselmo, he didn’t play in that final.
After their easy semi victories, the South Americans rivals were all set for the big match.
The build-up saw rumours of bribes offered to Uruguayan players and at least one death threat to Castro, who had a reputation as a ‘bad boy’ thanks to his chain-smoking, heavy drinking and gambling antics. He received a phone call the night before the game and was told he would ‘never enjoy another sunset’ should Uruguay carry off the trophy. But carry it off they did.
For (to date) the only time in its history, the final was played on a Wednesday and fans crammed into the Estadio Centenario, with thousands of Argentine fans making the trip across the River Plate to see if Uruguay could repeat their Olympic victory of two years before or if their fierce rivals could extract their revenge.
The captains meet
Prior to the match there was a dispute over which team should provide the match ball. Eventually FIFA intervened and decided that the first half would be played with a ball provided by Argentina whilst in the second a Uruguayan ball would be used.
The match itself was full of incident – and goals. Pablo Dorado struck first to give the hosts the lead but goals from Carlos Peucelle and star striker Guillermo Stábile – who scored a total of eight goals in the tournament, saw Argentina finish the first period 2-1 up.
In the second half, playing with their ‘own ball’ Uruguay dominated. Pedro Cea equalised after 57 minutes then Castro set Santos Iriarte up for the goal to give them the lead. It was left to ‘El Manco’ himself to score the fourth goal just minutes before the final whistle to ensure that the home team became the first recipients of the famed trophy.
The winners celebrate
The following day was declared a national holiday in Uruguay, whilst in Buenos Aires stones were thrown at the Uruguayan consulate.
Four years later the tournament was held in Italy and Uruguay, in response to Italy’s refusal to travel in 1930, declined the invitation to take part. Argentina and Brazil, the South American representatives, failed to make it past the first round as the hosts claimed the crown. In fact the Uruguayans did not compete in the tournament again until it was staged in Brazil in 1950, and they win it for a second time.
And as for Castro, he retired in 1936 having been part of three championsip winning teams at Nacional. Moving into management he assisted Scotsman William Reaside when Nacional won the title in 1940 then took over and led the team to five titles. He took over as national team coach in 1959 but sadly passed away after suffering a heart attack in 1950, aged just 55.
In all likelihood Castro would be a star Paralympian were he playing in the modern game. But in 1930 he had the chance to prove himself at the very highest level – and took it.