Uruguay’s ‘garra charrúa’ spirit sees them win 1930 World Cup

Francisco Varallo

Francisco Varallo receives an Argentine football jersey from his daughter Maria Teresa during a ceremony honouring him at his birthplace of La Plata February 12, 2010. Varallo, the last survivor of the first World Cup final, died on August 30, 2010, after celebrating his 100th birthday. He featured in the 1930 World Cup final clash between his country and neighbouring Uruguay.

Photo credit: File | AFP

What you need to know:

  • The creation of the World Cup was meant to undercut the Olympics, and this game would go a long way in doing just that.
  • The first World Cup final, as it turned out, was a rematch of the gold medal game at the Olympics just two years earlier.

The buzz in Montevideo and throughout Uruguay and in neighboring Argentina was palpable in the days leading up to the July 30 final at the Centenario.

The creation of the World Cup was meant to undercut the Olympics, and this game would go a long way in doing just that.

The first World Cup final, as it turned out, was a rematch of the gold medal game at the Olympics just two years earlier.

In the three days between Uruguay’s semi-final demolition of Yugoslavia and the final, interest throughout the country indeed reached a fever pitch.

While Argentina was confident of a victory, Uruguay saw this game as an opportunity to get one over on their larger neighbor. With tensions simmering, extra police were deployed outside the Centenario.

Belgian ref Langenus

As fans packed into the stadium, Uruguay’s coach Alberto Suppici opted for a more defensive formation.

The referee for the game was John Langenus of Belgium.

Langenus had already officiated three games at the tournament as the main match official, and two others as a linesman.

He had also officiated at the 1928 Olympics, although this game would turn out to be the biggest of his career. Langenus had been on the receiving end of criticism, most notably in the semifinal between Argentina and the United States when he whistled a foul against the Americans.

English journalist Brian Glanville described the incident this way in his book The Story of the World Cup: “At this the team’s medical attendant raced, bellicose, on to the field, to berate Langenus. Having had his say, he flung his box of medicines to the ground, the box burst open, various bottles smashed, including one full of chloroform, and its fumes rose to overpower the American. He was helped from the field.”

A peculiar disagreement before kickoff on which team should provide the match ball forced Fifa to intervene.

Langenus ultimately decreed that the Argentines could provide the ball for the first half, the Uruguayans for the second. Before 69,000 spectators (20,000 of them Argentines who had made the trip), Uruguay again confirmed its global supremacy.

Tactically, both teams lined up in a similar formation—a 2–3–5 with a multi-skilled, two-way player in the middle of the park— although they featured contrasting styles within that same framework.

The emphasis in those days was on attack, and the final, in that regard, did not disappoint. Both teams featured inside forwards who tracked back, essentially turning the formation into a 2–3–2–3.

While Argentina relied on the individual flair of Monti in midfield, Uruguay used passing to effectively break down the opposing defense and outmaneuver any Argentine attempt at an offside trap. The Argentina-Uruguay rivalry, a derby given the geographic proximity of the two nations, continues to this day. Argentina led 2–1 at halftime.

After just 12 minutes, Pablo Dorado put Uruguay ahead, before Argentine winger Carlos Peucelle equalised eight minutes later.

In the 37th minute, Stábile, who would finish as the tournament’s top scorer with eight goals, gave Argentina the lead as the sides headed into the dressing room.

Uruguay’s offensive might would shine through in the second half, scoring three unanswered goals for the 4–2 win. Uruguay tied the game 12 minutes into the second half thanks to Cea’s fifth goal of the tournament, before Santos Iriarte scored in the 68th minute to make it 3–2 off a 25-yard shot.

With a minute left in the match, Castro scored a fourth to seal the win for Uruguay. The final whistle brought with it hugs on the field and loud cheers from the flag-waving crowd.

The Uruguayan belief of garra charrúa, a spirit that highlights the importance of tenacity alongside skill, had come into play for Uruguay.

Literally meaning “the claw,” this characteristic brings to the forefront the mentality Uruguay would employ in 1930 and at future World Cups when players believed they had greater fury and intensity compared to their opponents.

The notion of garra isn’t new. It dates back centuries and has come to mean different things in different eras. The phrase comes from the Charrúa Indians, a tribe of indigenous warriors.

Overshadowed by their South American neighbors, La Celeste have always had to fight harder to maintain their status as a soccer nation.

Rimet, writing in his journal, noted the enthusiasm of that day.

“In truth, I have rarely seen a storm of enthusiasm, of released emotion, comparable to the one that arose from the stadium bleachers at the end of this match,” he wrote. 

“Maybe the Uruguayans attached to their triumph excessive significance, but they shouted their joy with such conviction that it almost seems, in this minute, shared by the whole mass of spectators. The squall grew again when the [Uruguayan] national flag was hoisted atop the stadium.”

Death threats

Uruguay’s triumph wasn’t without controversy. Monti, it turns out, had been on the receiving end of death threats on the eve of the game. Uruguayan gangsters had also gotten to Monti in the days leading up to the match.

Following those threats, Langenus demanded (and received) a police escort so he could safely depart the stadium once the game was over.

Curiously, Langenus was also tasked with working as a journalist, writing up dispatches and sending them back to Europe via ship. The German soccer magazine Kicker, which did not send a correspondent to the tournament, ran Langenus’s reports of the first-round matches near the end of July.  

The report regarding the World Cup final appeared a month after it had been contested.

Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a negative word said regarding the refereeing that had taken place.

In Buenos Aires, upset Argentines threw rocks at the Uruguayan consulate.

In Montevideo, the government declared the following day a national holiday.

Rimet presented Nasazzi with the trophy that would eventually come to bear his name and would be awarded to the world champions for the next 40 years.
Uruguay, undefeated at the tournament, could not have given its citizens a better gift in the year of its centenary.

For Fifa, the tournament had been a big success.

Sunday: 1934 World Cup: The second edition of the World Cup is held in Italy at a time of sweeping political unrest throughout Europe