By 90Min
February 16, 2018

Since its 1930 start, the FIFA World Cup has only ever had its four-year cycle interrupted by the second World War.

Italy, featuring the likes of Silvio Piola and Giuseppe Meazza, were crowned back to back champions in 1938, but their chance at making it three in a row would have to wait another 12 years as conflict and turmoil across Europe and beyond and forced Fifa to abandon plans for tournaments in 1942 and 1946.

Both Brazil and Nazi Germany had applied to host the 1942 games, before European hostilities and the outbreak of war in 1939 led Fifa to call off the tournament before either nation could be selected as host.

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As a result the 40s remain largely a blank slate for international football, with competitive fixtures - in Europe at least - few and far between after fighting broke out. England did not play an official fixture between 1939 and 1946, while other European heavyweights like Italy, Germany, Austria and Hungary played just a few scattered friendlies, often under very trying and bizarre circumstances. 

But what if the 1942 World Cup taken place as scheduled? Who would've won it?

There are two hypothetical scenarios to consider here:

1) That World War II either never happened, or it happened but football kept calm and carried on regardless.

2) That World War II happened and only teams not involved went to the World Cup.

In scenario two, the main contenders are more obvious. Winners of the first ever World Cup Uruguay won their eighth South American Championships in the winter of 1942 on their own turf, while Argentina won the Copa America's pre-cursor the year prior. Both would've been among the favourites for a tournament stripped of holders Italy and the other big European hitters. 

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Uruguay took the South American Championships home in 1942 after winning six from six in the round robin tournament, scoring 21, conceding just twice.

Strong at the back they boasted the likes of Schúbert Gambetta, who would later lift the World Cup in 1950 and was named in the team of the tournament, in part for his marking of Brazil star Zizinho in the final game. They were also a potent threat up front, with beret-wearing Boca Juniors striker Severino Varela, who bagged five on home soil in 1942, including a hat-trick against against Ecuador.

Meanwhile free-scoring the Argentines might well have been the neutrals team. Known as entertainers they could've fielded an attacking trident including Hurucan's all-time top scorer Herminio Masantonio, left winger Enrique 'the unstoppable one' García and the great José Manuel Moreno.

One of Argentina's finest ever players Moreno, who would later be crowned the player of the tournament at the 1947 South American Championships. Despite a reluctance to train and a lifestyle that included heavy drinking and smoking, the lethal front man was named South America's fifth best ever player of all time in a 1999 poll conducted by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics.

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Beyond the two South American giants of the era, neutral Sweden - who beat Nazi Germany in a rare friendly in Berlin in 1942 and were semi finalists in World Cup 1938 - would probably have been the European force to be reckoned with. 

Their 3-2 away win over the Germans during the middle of the war is credited with marking the beginning of the end for the Nazi football team. Foreign affairs secretary Martin Luther even insisted after the defeat that, "because victory in this football match is closer to these people’s hearts than the capture of some city in the East, such an event must be prohibited for the sake of the domestic mood."

Much like Argentina, Sweden formed a potent attacking force. Henry Carlsson, who played for Atletico Madrid and won an Olympic gold in 1948, would've been supported on the wing by 'Black Lightning' Malte Mårtensson, who netted the winner over the Germans. However, how well they would've travelled, presuming the tournament was held in Brazil, away from the turmoil in Europe, is another matter entirely.

In the other hypothetical scenario, where the big European contenders of the time were involved, the competition is far more open.

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As potential hosts, and under the watchful eye of the Nazis hoping for a PR success story, Germany might've been expected to go far. However, whether they could've seriously competed is another matter entirely. After the defeat to Sweden in 1942, a humbling loss to Slovakia prompted the national team to be dissolved, with many of the players sent to the front line, never to return.

England, whose infamous World Cup defeat complete with a humbling defeat at the hands of USA in 1950 was still years away, may have been more serious contenders. The Three Lions would've had a 27-year-old Stoke winger by the name of Stanley Matthews at their disposal in the 'WM' formation pioneered by Arsenal visionary Herbert Chapman.

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Youngsters Tom Finney and Stan Mortensen would have also been options in an attack that could've seen Matthews link up with legendary Arsenal and Everton duo Cliff Bastin and Tommy Lawton to terrorise opposition defences.

While the 1950 games came as a rude awakening for England, who had always assumed themselves to be the creators and therefore the best in the world, it is worth noting that the Three Lions beat Italy twice in friendlies during the Azzurri's reign between 1934 and 1950, including a dominant 4-0 away win in Turin.

However, Italy were still the reigning champs for a reason and would've gone into the tournament as favourites after triumph in France four years prior.

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Some have argued that Vittorio Pozzo's all-conquering squad featuring the near mythical talents of Piola, Meazza and Gino Colaussi was the greatest in World Cup history. While football was a useful propaganda tool for the fascists in Germany in the build to and during the war, for Italy and Benito Mussolini it was an essential facet of nation building and demonstrating his mettle to the world.

With the double World Cup winners backed by the emerging talents of the 'Grande Torino' team, who would go on to dominate football in Italy in the 1940s prior to the Superga air disaster, Italy would surely have been the team to beat in 1942 as well.

However, neither Italy nor any of the others mentioned had a chance to win the 1942 World Cup and a generation of potential greats, heroes, villains and surprise stories lost their chance at immortality through footballing success on the world stage.

Furthermore, while many simply missed their chance at going to a World Cup, many others not only had their careers ended by World War II but also their lives, as a countless number of young men died on the battlefield with dreams of one day returning to play the sport they loved.

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