KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- All the focus in England is being aimed at Tuesday’s Euro 2020 reprise against Germany. But Wembley sees another historic duel before then: Italy v Austria today..
The pair have met 35 times since 1912. Italy have won 16, Austria 11. Their last meeting was a 2-2 friendly draw in 2008.
But the most historically significant confrontation was all the way back in the 1930s – and the echoes live on.
In 1934 Italy and Austria were the two greatest powers in continental football. Their clubs fuelled much of the drama in the Mitropa Cup, forerunner of the Champions League.
Their national teams were outstanding. A matchup in the final in Rome would have been the ideal scenario at the 1934 World Cup in Italy.
A fine, physical, ambitious Italian team, managed by the charismatic Vittorio Pozzo, capitalised on their status as hosts of the first World Cup to be staged in Europe.
Austria’s artistic Wunderteam were led by the remarkable Hugo Meisl. He was federation secretary and national manager rolled into one.
Kings of style
Meisl was the mastermnd who had brought English coach Jimmy Hogan to Vienna to teach Austrian footballers the short-passing game which had set the winning style for a generation.
Italy and Austria boasted the two superstars of their era in Giuseppe Meazza and Matthias Sindelar.
Unfortunately the World Cup draw defied the dream. The old rivals did not meet in the final but the semi-finals instead.
At 23 Meazza, from Ambrosiana-Internazionale, was seven years Sindelar’s junior. Italy, in his image, were expected to grow stronger during the match even though they had a rugged quarter-final replay against Spain in their legs.
Austria made the quicker start but the first shot on goal was delivered by Italy’s own veteran centre-forward Angiolino Schiavio. When the Austrians sought to reply Sindelar suffered increasingly rugged treatment from Italy’s former Argentina centre-half Luisito Monti.
Swedish referee Ivan Eklind, reportedly already on a promise of Italian support for the final, waved play on.
Years later Pozzo, laconically, wrote: “The two men shared a natural antipathy. The Viennese did not appreciate the power and resolve of Monti and Luisito had no respect for the ballet the Austrians sought to dance around him.”
In the 19th minute Austrian keeper Peter Platzer parried a shot from Schiavio and collided with Meazza. The ball rolled loose against a post and Italy’s ex-Argentina winger, Enrique Guaita, scored at close range. Platzer and his fellow defenders protested to Eklind in vain.
No VAR back then of course.
Austria pursued an equaliser but Italy’s goalkeeper-captain, Gianpiero Combi, denied efforts from star forwards Rudolf Viertel, Karl Zischek, the great Pepi Bican and Anton Schall.
At the other end Guaita, Schiavio and Meazza found Platzer equally defiant but that was how it ended.
Italy went on to beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the final. Austria, without the bruised and battered Sindelar, lost the third-place playoff 3-2 to Germany.
Later Meisl wrote: “What happened was exactly what we had feared. It was impossible to beat Italy in such a match. We have to accept it – but that doesn’t mean their football is superior.”
Italy won the World Cup again in 1938. By that time Austria no longer existed, having been swallowed up in Hitler’s Greater Germany. Meisl did not live to see it; he had died in 1937. Sindelar died in mysterious circumstances in 1939.
Meazza played on until 1947, scoring a then record 33 goals in 53 appearances for Italy. He died in 1979, 11 years after Pozzo.
Eklind survived all of them. He died only in 1981. He remains, at 29, the youngest man ever to have refereed a World Cup Final.