Poland v Brazil (1938 FIFA World Cup)

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1938 FIFA World Cup
Round of 16
Date 5 June 1938
Venue Stade de la Meinau, Strasbourg
Referee Ivan Eklind (Sweden)
Attendance 13 452

Poland v Brazil was a football match held during the 1938 FIFA World Cup in France and still remembered by Polish fans of this sport as the one in which Poland national football team debuted. To qualify to the tournament Poland had to beat only one team - Yugoslavia. In the first leg, on October 10, 1937 at Polish Army Stadium in Warsaw, Poland won 4-0 (goals by Leonard Piątek - 2, Jerzy Wostal and Ernest Wilimowski). In the second leg (at Stadion FK Partizan, Belgrad, April 3, 1938), Poles lost 0-1 (goal by Blagoje Marjanović) but, due to better goals difference, the white-reds qualified.

It is quite obvious that Józef Kałuża, manager of the National Team, and trainer Marian Spoida, decided to choose almost the same players who had beaten Yugoslavia. There was only one difference - injured Wostal (AKS Chorzów) was replaced by Warta Poznań's Fryderyk Scherfke.

The team[edit]

To Strasbourg, France, where Poland was going to play its first game versus Brazil (June 5, 1938), Kałuża and Spoida took 15 players:

On the roster, there were two athletes who had never before put on a white-red jersey - midfielder Stanisław Baran and goalkeeper Walter Brom (who was then 17 years and 4 months old - up to this day Brom is the youngest goalkeeper on FIFA’s World Cup list of participants).

In Poland, on stand-by reserve, seven players stayed behind. Those were:

Preparations[edit]

Brazil[edit]

Even though Brazil was not regarded as the world’s top team in the 1930s, it was still believed to be a very good, high quality team. The Brazilians later proved it - after defeating Sweden (4-2) they finished the 1938 tournament in 3rd place. It was this performance that gained them their reputation.

Poland[edit]

Under these circumstances, the Polish team, which had never before advanced to such a level, was supposed to lose the game against the South Americans. Thus, the defeat was not a sensation. However, all fans were surprised at the style with which the Poles played its lone game of the tournament - white-reds got to the extra time, only then losing 5-6.

Interesting is the fact that the Polish team was gathered together just a week before the game. This was due to the Polish Football League games - coaches of the teams did not want their best players to leave their sides earlier because in the 1930s, most Polish athletes were amateurs - they had to work on a daily basis. Thus, the training camp in Wągrowiec (near Poznań) lasted for a week only - just enough for some players to get acquainted with each other. A few days before the game, the Poles got into the train and went to Strasbourg.

Originally, the game was supposed to take place in Toulouse, in southern France. Polish officials, however, issued a complaint stating that the sweltering heat there would be helpful for the Brazilians, who are used to such weather. The game’s location was moved to Strassbourg, but not because of the complaint. There were numerous, last moment corrections before the whole tournament. This was due to complications after the withdrawal of Austria, which after the Anschluss was incorporated into Germany.

The game[edit]

Players at first round kick off Brazil - Poland.

First half[edit]

At 5 p.m. sharp Swedish referee Ivan Eklind blew his whistle for the first time. Strasbourg’s Stade de la Meinau was filled with some 15,000 fans, including a several thousand group of Poles - mostly immigrants, who worked in coal mines in northern France. Brazilian fans were not numerous, and the French were mostly rooting for exotic team from South America.

Back in those days, teams were mainly concentrated on attack. So it is not surprising that in Kałuża’s lineup there were as many as 5 forwards (Piec, Wilimowski, Wodarz, Piątek and Scherfke). Midfielders were Góra, Nyc and Dytko, and the defenders - only Szczepaniak (captain) and Gałecki. In the goal there was Madejski. It must be mentioned that in 1938, football regulations did not allow any replacements. As Poland lost the game vs. Brazil (5-6), which meant going back home, only the 11 players mentioned above were given the chance to appear on the field.

Little is known about the first goal, which Brazil’s Leonidas da Silva (also known as Black Diamond-Diamante Negro) scored in 18th minute. There was no description of it in Polish press, Polish participants of the game did not remember it, either. However, we know that five minutes later Ernest Wilimowski dribbled past three defenders and Brazilian goalie Batatais. The latter managed to dump the Pole to the ground, which meant a penalty kick. It was scored in 23rd minute by Scherfke, who aimed at the right corner of the goal. This was the first, historical goal of Polish National Team in FIFA’s World Cup.

Second half[edit]

After the first half, the Brazilians were winning 3-1 (goals by Leonidas, Romeu and Peracio) and the Poles were mainly in defense. Halftime was the turning point. First of all, Kałuża yelled loudly at his players, then it started to rain. South Americans were having problems on wet, slippery turf, while Wilimowski started his show. In 53rd and then 59th minute, Poland’s topscorer twice beat Batatais, after individual performances, which were described in the press as “circus-like”. So, in 59th minute the score was 3-3.

Soon afterwards, the rain stopped. It was a boost for the Brazilians, who in 71st minute scored (by Peracio). However, a minute before time Wilimowski scored his third goal, which meant extra time.

Extra time[edit]

After a short break, the Brazilians attacked the Polish goal. Two goals by Leonidas (in 93rd and 104th minutes) settled the game for good. Poles, led by amazing Wilimowski, fought back - in the 118th minute he slotted the ball in. During the last minutes, Brazil was desperately defending the result. Even though Wodarz, on a free kick, was close, and then Nyc’s shot hit a crossbar, Poland lost 5-6.

It is said that Leonidas' goal at 93" was scored without him wearing the right boot, which tore and was left off his foot in the swampy pitch. The goal was given though, as Brazil played the match with black socks and thus (also due to all the mud which covered the pitch resulting of the rain beforehand), the lack of a boot went undetected by the referee.

Strasbourg, Stade de la Meinau, June 5, 1938.

Poland - Brazil 5:6 (1:3, 4:4). Goals: Scherfke (23. penalty) Wilimowski (53., 59., 89., 118.) - Leonidas (18., 93., 104.), Romeu (25.), Peracio (44., 71.).

See also[edit]