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Over 200 nations from around the globe spent more than two years playing in close to 900 matches in order to become one of the 32 teams to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

How times have changed.

QUICK FACTS

  • Number of participating teams: 13
  • Top scorer: Argentina's Guillermo Stabile (8 goals)
  • Number of games: 18
  • Total goals scored: 70
  • Average goals per game: 3.89
  • Highest scoring game: Argentina's 6-3 win over Mexico on July 19
  • Total attendance: 434,500
  • Average attendance: 24,139

The inaugural World Cup, held in Uruguay in 1930, is the only competition in which teams did not have to qualify - instead, 13 nations were invited to participate.

Unlike today when countries fight and scrap just to earn a World Cup berth, the first tournament was seen as a nuisance by a handful of nations.

A ROUGH START

That the 1930 World Cup was even awarded to South America in the first place did not sit well with Europe. The other four countries, aside from Uruguay, that aspired to host the inaugural competition - Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden - thumbed their noses at FIFA and decided not to participate.

Austria, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia all took a pass. Belgium, Romania, Yugoslavia and France originally said yes, but then backed out. Although Uruguay offered to pay all travel and hotel expenses for the visiting teams, the prospect of making the long boat ride, a three-week journey in those days, dissuaded the Europeans from coming.

Two months before the scheduled start of the World Cup, not a single European nation was committed to playing. The soccer federations of all the Latin American nations were beside themselves, and threatened to pull out of FIFA.

MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT: Uruguay's 4-2 victory over Argentina in the final. Down 2-1 at halftime and buoyed by the sea of rabid fans packed into Montevideo's Centenario stadium, Uruguay came alive in the final 45 minutes to defeat its South American rival.

MAN OF THE TOURNAMENT: Guillermo Stabile. Nicknamed El Enfiltrador - The Infiltrator, Stabile sat out the first game and was only called into duty in Argentina's second contest when a teammate could not play. The Argentine ace went on to bag eight goals in four matches - including a hat trick against Mexico - to finish as the top scorer in the tournament.

SPOTLIGHT: The first goal in World Cup history was scored by Lucien Laurent in the 19th minute of France's 4-1 win over Mexico on July 13.

Laurent was playing in the French first division when he was called into service to fight in World War II. He was taken prisoner by the Germans and spent three years as a POW before being released in 1943. He returned home and played three more years before retiring from the game.

Laurent, the only surviving member of the 1930 French team to see France win the 1998 World Cup on home soil, died April 11, 2005 in Besançon. He was 97.

AND ANOTHER THING: The entire tournament was played in one city - Montevideo - and only three stadiums were used to host all 18 games: Centenario (built specifically for the World Cup), Pocitos and Parque Central.

Centenario was not completed in time for the start of the World Cup - three months of rain slowed things down. Five days into the tournament, construction on Centenario was completed and Uruguay christened the new stadium by defeating Peru 1-0 in its opening match.

Centenario could hold approximately 100,000 spectators, but attendance for the Uruguay-Argentina final was held back to 90,000. The largest crowd of the tournament was 93,000 for Uruguay's 6-1 win over Yugoslavia in the semifinals.

Finally, FIFA president Jules Rimet stepped in and exerted some pressure. Belgium, Romania, Yugoslavia and France all did an about-face and decided to participate, after all.

The four European teams set sail together from Villefranche-Sur-Mer, a small town on the French Riviera, on June 21, 1930 - stopping in Rio de Janeiro to pick up the Brazil team - before finally arriving in Montevideo on July 4.

The 13 teams were divided into four groups: Pool 1 consisted of Argentina, Chile, France and Mexico; Pool 2 saw Yugoslavia grouped with Brazil and Bolivia; Uruguay competed in Group 3 alongside Romania and Peru, while Pool 4 was made up of the U.S., Belgium and Paraguay. The four pool winners would advance directly to the semifinals.

France and Mexico played in the first-ever World Cup game on July 13, with the French emerging 4-1 winners.

Uruguay and Argentina, finalists in the gold-medal game at the Amsterdam Olympics two years earlier, were the pre-tournament favourites and it was hardly a surprise when they easily topped their groups. Yugoslavia and the United States won both of their first-round games en route to winning their respective pools and advancing to the final four.

The semifinals saw Argentina thrash the United States 6-1, and Uruguay won by the same score against Yugoslavia.

THE FINAL

The day before the final, thousands of fans in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aries made the trip across the River Plate by boat to see their heroes try and vanquish Uruguay in the all-South American final.

A crowd of 90,000 spectators jammed into Montevideo's magnificent Centenario stadium for the electric matchup on July 30. Comically, the game was delayed when both teams insisted on using a ball of their own choice.

Pablo Dorado put the home side up after only 12 minutes, but Carlos Peucelle equalized eight minutes later for Argentina when he beat Uruguay goalkeeper Enrique Ballesteros with a powerful shot.

The visitors took a 2-1 lead before half-time when Guillermo Stabile, the tournament's top scorer, found the back of the net. Uruguay captain Jose Nasazzi protested that Stabile was offside, but Belgian referee Jean Langenus let the goal stand.

The second half was all Uruguay.

Pedro Cea went on a scintillating run and drew Uruguay even with his goal in the 57th minute. Santos Iriarte made it 3-2 in the 68th minute, and Hector Castro sealed the result with his second goal of the tournament in the final minutes, scoring on a header off a cross from Dorado.

After the match, Jules Rimet presented the World Cup trophy - 35 centimetres in height, made of gold and weighing 3.8 kilograms - to Nazassi, setting off celebrations in Montevideo that lasted for several days.

Uruguay was crowned world champion, and the World Cup was well on its way to becoming the biggest sporting event in the world.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

  • The 1930 World Cup is one of only two tournaments that did not stage a third-place game. The 1950 competition in Brazil is the other.
  • Argentina's Francisco Varallo is the last survivor of the first World Cup final. Born Feb. 5, 1910, the former Argentine striker has outlived all 21 other players from the 1930 final.
  • Bertram Patenaude of the U.S. is recognized by FIFA as having netted the first hat trick in World Cup history, scoring all three goals in a 3-0 win over Paraguay on July 17. However, some historians say Argentina's Guillermo Stabile was the first to do it, with three goals two days later against Mexico. Some match reports list Patenaude's second goal against Paraguay as credited to Thomas Florie.
  • Only 300 fans attended Romania's 3-1 win over Peru on July 14 in the first round, the lowest recorded attendance for a single game in World Cup history.
  • Brazilian referee Almeida Rego mistakenly stopped the July 15 game between France and Argentina when he blew the final whistle six minutes too early. After fierce protests from the French players, he realized his error and re-started the match. Argentina, leading 1-0 before Rego's mistake, held on for the win.
  • Romania only agreed to play in the World Cup after King Carol gave the players time off from their work so they could compete and guaranteed that their jobs would be waiting for them upon their return from Uruguay.
  • The day after the 1930 final, July 31, was declared a national holiday in Uruguay.
  • Peruvian Mario de Las Casas has the distinction of being the first player in World Cup history to be expelled. He was sent off in Peru's 3-1 loss to Romania in the first round.
  • The first goal scored on a penalty shot in the World Cup was by Manuel Rosas of Mexico. He beat Argentine goalkeeper Angelo Bossio.
  • The draw for the 1930 World Cup did not take place until the teams arrived in Uruguay just days before the tournament began.