Italian progress: First round exit
Football Italia recounts Italy’s steps through the World Cup, tournament by tournament. In 1950, an Italian team still recovering from the Superga air disaster had a tournament to forget in Brazil.
Italy qualified for the 1950 tournament in Brazil as holders and received a relatively appealing draw. Sweden were the stiffest challenge and Paraguay offered a healthy test but India were the weakest of the entrants. However, due to a combination of the travelling required to reach Brazil and FIFA rules regarding playing barefoot the All India Football Federation withdrew, leaving Italy’s group with just three teams – a development that would have dire consequences.
Of course, any ambition of winning the prize for a third time had been devastated by the tragic Superga air disaster in 1949. Ten of the 18 Torino players who died in that terrible chapter of calcio history were internationals, including skipper Valentino Mazzola.
Of the 11 men who lined up against Sweden in the opening game only two had more than 10 appearances while Carlo Parola marked the occasion by passing into double figures. In nine World Cup games Italy had never been beaten, and only once had they conceded twice, but that proud record was to end.
Sweden were Olympic champions but had travelled to Brazil without the famous Gre-No-Li trio from Milan – Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm – although the squad did contain eight future Serie A imports such as Lennart Skoglund and Hasse Jeppson. Things started well for Italy as Riccardo Carapellese poached an opener after seven minutes. However, Jeppson and Sune Andersson put Sweden ahead by the break. A second from Jeppson ensured defeat and, despite Ermes Muccinelli pulling one back, Ferruccio Novo took the dishonour of being the first Italian tactician beaten at a World Cup.
The format of the three-team group meant that Italy were eliminated before they got a chance to bounce back. Sweden’s draw with Paraguay four days later gave them an insurmountable lead and as a result the Azzurri made wholesale changes for their next game. Paraguay could still force a play-off with Sweden but they were no match for the Azzurri second string, who won 2-0 thanks to skipper Carapellese and Egisto Pandolfini.
Perhaps as a superstitious result of Superga, the squad travelled to Brazil by boat – vastly reducing their preparation time in Brazil.
Both Paraguay and prospective opponents India qualified for the tournament without kicking a ball due to the withdrawal of their opponents Ecuador, Peru and Burma.
Pandolfini, Leandro Remondini and Ivano Blason all made their Azzurri debuts in the game against Paraguay. For Remondini and Blason it was their only Italy cap.