June 19 – Win or Die

FOR those of you who have seen David Brent’s ill-advised bash at motivational speaking, you will know that there are many different approaches to geeing up a team before a big match.

On this day in 1938 Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini brought his particular brand of encouragement to bear when his national team faced Hungary in the World Cup final in Paris.

Italy were reigning champions having triumphed on home soil in 1934 when holders Uruguay did not defend their title and Argentina sent a weakened squad because they were so worried about the Italians poaching members of their team who had Italian heritage, as had already happened with the captain Luisito Monti, Raimundo Orsi and Enrico Guaita. Known as Oriundi, these Argentine/Italian players were instrumental in securing the trophy in 1934.

By 1938, with the Second World War looming in Europe, the World Cup was an ideal arena for a bit of national posturing and Mussolini was perhaps keen to improve his standing as third in the list of the Big Three dictators of the day by retaining the World Cup.

After beating Norway, France and then Brazil, Italy faced Hungary in the final and just to make sure his players were fully focused on winning Mussolini sent each of them a telegraph which simply read: “Vincere o morire.”

Literally translated this means “Win or die,” and word got out before the match that the Italians were not so much playing for a win bonus as a loss death sentence.

Two goals each from Gino Colaussi and Silvio Piola were enough to give the Italians a 4-2 win over Hungary, Pál Titkos and György Sárosi getting their goals.

The Italians had retained their trophy but some observers felt the Hungarians had perhaps given them a bit of an easy ride with Mussolini’s words in mind.

Antal Szabó, the Hungarian goalkeeper is reported to have said after the match: “I may have let in four goals, but at least I saved their lives.”

A noble act indeed although what an excuse to come out with after you have just lost the World Cup final.

The last laugh may be on Szabó after all though as Mussolini’s note “Vincere o morire” was not intended literally and is simply a rabble-rousing term which just means, “go out there and do your best lads!”

Still, in those days you can understand why a telegram with a death threat on it would have been taken seriously when coming from a fascist dictator.

Here are the goals from the final, and don’t forget to swing by this way tomorrow when we’ll be looking at a player might have been nicknamed the Flying Dutchman, had he not been afraid of flying.

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David Brent's ill-advised bash at motivational speaking, you will know that there are many different approaches to geeing up a team before a big match. On this day in 1938 Italy's fascist dictator Benito Mussolini brought his particular brand of encouragement to bear when his national team faced Hungary in the World Cup final in Paris.">
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