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Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Slow Boat to Montevideo - World Cup stories


International footballing authority, FIFA’s decision to hold the first World Cup in 1930 in Uruguay infuriated Europe which considered itself the center of the soccer universe; so much so that initially no European country entered until Uruguay offered to cover team’s travel expenses. One of the four teams to take up the offer was Romania, sparked by the encouragement of the newly-crowned King Carol II, a devoted soccer fan.  Not only did he pick the team but he made sure all the players would still have their jobs when they returned. 

An arduous train journey followed by two weeks on a ship together with the Belgian and French teams dispatched the Romanians in Montevideo on July 4th. On July 14th they beat Peru 3-1 in front of 300 spectators, the smallest crowd ever to watch a game at the World Cup finals. Their next and last game in the tournament was a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of hosts and eventual winners Uruguay, in front of 80,000 spectators. That was followed by the arduous trip back to Romania and a place in soccer history. 

Such was the relatively haphazard organization of the first World Cup that the Romanian manager was pressed into service as a linesman in a couple of matches, albeit in a different group. 

An additional footnote to the first World Cup was the performance of the U.S. who finished third.  The U.S. won their group by beating both Belgium and Paraguay 3-0. Against Paraguay, Bert Patenaude of the U.S. became the first player to score a hat-trick in the finals. 

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