The FIFA Football World Cup & the Military (2)

Austria did not take part in the 1938 football World Cup. They had just been annexed by Germany (as part of the anchluss and build-up to the Second World War) and so the country no longer existed. However, the best Austrian players did take part, the Germans having pinched them all for their own team.

Without Austria, the finals of the football World Cup were a team short. FIFA offered the spare place to England, who turned it down, and consequently the tournament went ahead with just 15 teams. Sweden, who had been due to play Austria, received a bye to become the only team ever to reach the quarter finals of the competition without playing a match.

Five of the seven first round matches required extra time to break the deadlock; two games still went to a replay. In the first replay, Cuba advanced to the next round at the expense of Romania; Cuba was beaten in the next round by Sweden 8-0. In the second replay, Germany, which had led 1–0 in the first game against Switzerland, led 2–0 but eventually was beaten 2–4. This loss, which took place in front of a hostile, bottle-throwing crowd in Paris, was blamed by German coach Sepp Herberger on a defeatist attitude from the five Austrian players he had been forced to include. A German journalist later commented that “Germans and Austrians prefer to play against each other even when they’re in the same team”. (Hesse-Lichtenberger, 2003, p.85).

This remains, as of 2014, the only time in World Cup history in which Germany failed to advance to the final eight (they did not enter in 1930 and had been re-admitted only after the 1950 WC).

In finals, Italy played Hungary, winning 4-2. Rumour has it, before the finals Benito Mussolini was to have sent a telegram to the team, saying “Vincere o morire!” (literally translated as “Win or die!”). This should not have been meant as a literal threat, but instead just an encouragement to win. However, no record remains of such a telegram, and World Cup player Pietro Rava said, when interviewed, “No, no, no, that’s not true. He sent a telegram wishing us well, but no never ‘win or die’.” (Martin, 2014)


Coleman, M. (2018) Wicked World Cup. London: Scholastic Ltd.

FIFA (2006) Jules Rimet Cup. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 20 March, 2018].

Hesse-Lichtenberger, U. (2003) Tor!: The Story of German Football. London: WSC Books.

Martin, S. (2014) World Cup Stunning Moments: Mussolini’s blackshirts’ 1938 Win. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 20 March, 2018].


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.