The Unwritten Chapters: FIFA's Lost World Cups of 1942 and 1946

Have you ever wondered if there was a World Cup between 1938 and 1950? Who hosted the games? Who won?

What was the Jules Rimet trophy doing in Patagonia in 1942? (c) Il Nobile Calcio

Editor's Note: Just as the qualifying rounds of the 2026 FIFA World Cup in the United States, Canada, and Mexico kick-off, there were intriguing chapters in the history of the world's most prestigious global sports tournament that are shrouded in mystery. The 12-year gap that separated the 1938 and the 1950 editions was brought about by the unprecedented devastation and chaos of World War II, the uncertainties of early postwar reconstruction, and the rising tension of the Cold War. That's the official narrative as far as we are all concerned. Yet, there are stories that tell a different thing - there were the unofficial staging of the 1942 and 1946 FIFA World Cup. One place is where you would least likely expect.

In the annals of football history lies a tale seldom told — the story of FIFA's lost World Cups. A captivating narrative suspended in the tumultuous backdrop of global war and rising tensions of a new one, this controversial story unveils the hypothetical destinies of two tournaments, slated for 1942 in Germany and 1946 in Brazil, that never saw the light of day. As we unravel the threads of this intriguing saga, we traverse the early history of international football, where the seeds of global competition were sown amidst the Olympic Games. The rise of fascism casts a shadow over potential host nations, altering the course of football's premier event.

Through the lens of what could have been, we delve into the imagined landscapes of the 1942 FIFA World Cup in Germany and the 1946 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Who were the favorites, and which cities would have hosted these historic tournaments? Amid the chaos of war, unofficial World Cups emerged, leaving an indelible mark on football history.

In the midst of uncertainties and speculations, we contemplate the burning question: Which country would have claimed victory in the lost FIFA World Cups?

Early History

The origin story of global football competition can be traced back to the venerable stages of the Summer Olympics, where the beautiful game took its first tentative steps onto the international scene. In the inaugural modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, football was notably absent, as the sport's global reach was still in its nascent stages. Nevertheless, historical records suggest that an unofficial football tournament might have been organized during these Games, featuring teams from Athens and Smyrna (Izmir), then part of the Ottoman Empire. However, this claim has been contested by some, including Bill Mallon, who asserts it as an error perpetuated in various texts.

International Football at the Olympics

It wasn't until the 1900 and 1904 Olympic Games, as well as the Intercalated Games of 1906, that football tournaments were contested. However, these early competitions involved various clubs and scratch teams, lacking the true international character that would later define the World Cup. Despite the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognizing the 1900 and 1904 tournaments as official Olympic events, FIFA does not endorse this view, and the Intercalated Games are also not acknowledged today. Notably, in 1906, teams from Great Britain, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and France withdrew from an unofficial competition, leaving Denmark, Smyrna, Athens, and Thessaloniki to vie for glory, with Denmark emerging victorious.

The 1908 Olympics was the first time national teams competed

A pivotal moment arrived in the London Games of 1908 when the Football Association organized a proper international tournament featuring six teams. By 1912, the number of participating teams increased to eleven, with the Swedish Football Association taking charge of the organization. However, these early matches were often unbalanced, as evidenced by high-scoring games. Notable performances included Sophus Nielsen and Gottfried Fuchs, each scoring ten goals in a single match. The matches strictly adhered to amateurism, a reflection of the Olympic rules of the time, prohibiting countries from fielding their full senior national teams.

England secured convincing victories in the first two official Olympic football tournaments in 1908 and 1912, defeating Denmark on both occasions. The amateur nature of the contests meant that players, including some English members, were associated with professional clubs, such as Ivan Sharpe of Derby County, Harold Walden of Bradford City, and Vivian Woodward of Chelsea.

Uruguay as "World Champions"

The 1920s witnessed a transformative period for global football, particularly with the rise of Uruguay. The 1920 final against Belgium saw a significant protest as the Czechoslovakia national football team walked off the field to contest the refereeing of John Lewis and the militarized atmosphere in Antwerp. However, the 1924 and 1928 Summer Olympics marked a turning point, with Uruguay emerging as a dominant force in international football.

In the 1924 Olympics, Uruguay secured victory in the final against Switzerland with a resounding 3–0 scoreline. Four years later, in 1928, football took center stage as the most popular event at the games. The final, an all-South American affair, witnessed Uruguay triumph over Argentina with a 2–1 scoreline. This event is often regarded as "football's first world championship," as no other major international tournament existed at the time.

The back-to-back Olympic gold medallists were the inaugural World Cup winners

These tournaments prompted FIFA to reevaluate the role of the Olympics in representing the true strength of international football. The limitations imposed by the Olympic movement, which allowed only amateurs to participate, hindered nations from competing on equal footing. Inspired by the growing popularity of international soccer, FIFA envisioned the need for a dedicated international tournament, leading to the establishment of the World Cup.

The culmination of this vision occurred in 1930 when Uruguay hosted the inaugural FIFA World Cup, marking a historic moment in football history. The tournament saw Uruguay emerge as the first official world champions, winning all four of their games with a combined score of 15–1.

The Rise of Fascism

The success of the World Cup prompted subsequent editions in 1934 (Italy) and 1938 (France). However, the dark clouds of fascism began to cast a long shadow over the future of World Cup hosting. The rise of fascist regimes, particularly in Germany, had profound implications for the trajectory of the World Cup. The 1942 and 1946 editions were initially slated to be hosted by Germany and Brazil, respectively. The unfolding political landscape, with World War II on the horizon, cast doubt on the feasibility of these events. The impact of fascism on the world of football would be felt in subsequent years, influencing the choices of host nations and leaving an indelible mark on the sport's history.

The specter of war not only deprived the world of the 1942 and 1946 World Cups but also disrupted the football schedule for the Summer Olympics, which would have taken place in 1940 (Tokyo or Helsinki) and 1944 (London) had global conflict not intervened. As we delve into the hypothetical scenarios of the lost World Cups, the geopolitical backdrop of fascism becomes a crucial element in understanding the unfolding narrative of football's interrupted legacy.

Hosting the Next World Cup

Just as Italy celebrated their great victory at the 1938 World Cup in France, there was great expectation that the Azzurri would win it again in four years' time. No one had foreseen the outbreak of World War II even though conflicts had already started in faraway lands - the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 and the Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937. At the same time, Nazi Germany already annexed the Rhineland and completed Anschluss with Austria by then. There was an air of appeasement all around so hosting the next World Cup would have gone to Germany by 1942.

Nothing wrong with that, right? Well, Europe was plunged into war after September 1, 1939, as German tanks and planes blitzed through Poland and eventually conquered most of the continent. Then Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, to plunge the whole world into a global war. By 1942, the Axis Powers were pushing the Allies to the brink.

The staging of the FIFA World Cup in 1942 faced considerable uncertainty and disruption. Even before Adolf Hitler became the undisputed leader of Germany, there was an official bid to host the tournament and a proposal was submitted at the 23rd FIFA Congress held on August 13, 1936, in Berlin. Concurrently, Brazil entered the fray by expressing its intent to host the prestigious event in June 1939.

However, the outbreak of hostilities cast a shadow over the plans for the 1942 World Cup. The escalating conflict led to the cancellation of further preparations, leaving the tournament in limbo without a designated host country. Consequently, the 1942 FIFA World Cup did not come to fruition, as the world found itself engulfed in the chaos of World War II.

The war, which raged on for several years, took a toll on FIFA's organizational capabilities. Struggling to maintain its operations, it faced severe constraints in both financial resources and personnel to strategize and plan for a post-war tournament once the hostilities ceased. As the war concluded in 1945, it became evident that FIFA, grappling with the aftermath, lacked the capacity to orchestrate a World Cup in 1946 as well.

In a symbolic twist of fate, FIFA's first meeting post-war took place on July 1, 1946—roughly the time when the 1946 World Cup would traditionally have been held. During this meeting, the organization acknowledged the impracticality of arranging a 1946 World Cup given the constraints and challenges it faced. Looking ahead, when FIFA plotted the schedule for the subsequent World Cup in 1949, the decision was made not to designate a specific host country.

Amidst the post-war landscape, the footballing world experienced a notable void in major international tournaments in 1946. However, one exception was the 1946 South American Championship, where Argentina emerged triumphant by defeating Brazil with a 2–0 scoreline on February 10, 1946. This championship served as a glimpse of footballing action during a year otherwise marked by the absence of a global spectacle, underscoring the impact of the war on the sporting calendar and FIFA's organizational capabilities.

Although FIFA never managed to organize a World Cup in 1942 and 1946, what if they did?

The 1942 FIFA World Cup in Germany

By this time, Nazi Germany was at its peak as its armies pushed for greater territorial gains toward the Soviet Union. If a FIFA World Cup were to push through, the occupied countries wouldn't be able to compete and if they did, it would be just token opposition for the host country. Neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland might be able to send their teams. North and South American teams, sans the USA and the Dominion of Canada, won't risk sending their teams into an ongoing global conflict. The Japanese Empire might send its own team, including that of its puppet Manchukuo or any members of the so-called Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere like Siam, Indochina, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, or the Philippines.

Meanwhile, captured Indian soldiers in North Africa may be forced to play for a token Indian team. As the whole African continent remained under colonial rule, there won't be an African team that will see action.

The selection of host cities and venues for the 1942 World Cup would have been a crucial decision. Unfortunately, the specifics of these choices remain speculative due to the cancellation of the tournament. The games would have been played in the same venues as the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin - Poststadion, Stadion am Gesundbrunnen, and Mommsenstadion. While the Olympiastadion hosts the final. Other cities would have included football hotbeds like Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Munich.

Who Were the Favorites to Win?

Determining the favorites for the hypothetical 1942 World Cup involves an analysis of the football landscape of the time. Uruguay, having secured victory in the Copa America on home soil shortly before the scheduled 1942 competition, held a distinct advantage. Their runner-up finishes in 1941 and 1939 showcased consistent prowess.

Brazil, while not yet achieving the heights of their later dominance, remained a formidable force. Their third-place finish in the 1938 World Cup demonstrated potential, and the home advantage could have propelled them to greater success.

Argentina, having narrowly lost to Uruguay in the 1942 Copa America final, presented a strong case for World Cup contention. The potential absence of home advantage for Uruguay could tip the scales in Argentina's favor.

Italy, Hungary, and Sweden, with notable performances in previous tournaments, would have been formidable contenders. However, the historical struggle of European teams in World Cups held in South America posed a challenge for them.

Considering recent Copa America results and regional advantage, South American powerhouses—Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay—emerged as frontrunners. Elo Ratings as of December 31, 1941, placed Argentina at the forefront, emphasizing their strength. Uruguay's historical advantage over Brazil further highlighted the competitive landscape.

Factoring in recent Copa America results and home continent advantage, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay held superior odds compared to European nations. Elo Ratings, albeit not definitive, further emphasized the dominance of South American teams, with Argentina leading the pack.

Germany may have fielded the best possible talents plus qualified players from occupied countries like Austria and Czechoslovakia.

According to the Elo Ratings, here are the possible teams that might play in this World Cup:

1. Argentina (world's highest-ranked team)
2. Italy (reigning two-time World Cup winners / 1936 Olympic champions)
3. England (boycott)**
4. Uruguay (1942 South American champions)
5. Scotland (boycott)**
6. Nationalist Spain
7. Austria (as a separate team / 1936 Olympic runner-up)*
8. Germany (host)
9. Brazil
10. Croatia
11. Hungary (1938 FIFA World Cup runner-up)
12. Wales (boycott)**
13. Costa Rica
14. Mexico
15. Switzerland
16. Sweden

In case of boycotts, here are other teams that might fill up a 14-to-16-team tournament:

17. Sweden
18. Paraguay
20. Australia (boycott)**
21. Denmark (as a separate team)*
22. Ireland
23. South Africa (boycott)**
24. United States (boycott)**
25. Peru
26. France (boycott)**
27. Slovakia (as a separate team)*
28. Norway (as a separate team / 1936 Olympic third placer)*
29. Portugal
30. Netherlands (as a separate team)*
31. Egypt
32. Northern Ireland (boycott)**
33. China
34. Canada (boycott)**
35. Yugoslavia (as a separate team)*
36. Poland (as a separate team)*
37. Iran
38. British India (boycott)**
50. Cuba
54. Dutch East Indies (as a separate team)*
60. Turkey
74. Japan

*-Axis-occupied countries
**-part of the Allies/British Empire

Picking a Winner

In the hypothetical scenario of the 1942 World Cup, Argentina emerges as the likely victor. Bolstered by the prowess of "La Máquina," the legendary River Plate team of the 1940s, featuring stars like Juan Carlos Muñoz, José Manuel Moreno, and Alfredo Di Stéfano, Argentina possessed a formidable squad. Their dominance in the Copa America throughout the 1940s underscored their potential to clinch the World Cup title.

While Uruguay remained a worthy adversary, the absence of home advantage might have tilted the balance in Argentina's favor. The hypothetical continuation of World War II in the background could have further influenced the dynamics, potentially favoring Germany on its home turf.

In conclusion, the lost 1942 World Cup, robbed by the ravages of war, leaves us with tantalizing "what-ifs" and speculations. Argentina, with its footballing prowess and the formidable "La Máquina," stands out as the probable champion, but the unpredictable nature of football ensures that the outcome will forever remain a matter of conjecture.

The World Cup in Patagonia

According to Argentine journalist and writer Osvaldo Soriano, "the 1942 World Cup does not appear in any history book, but was played in Argentine Patagonia."

A 2011 mockumentary "Il Mundial Dimenticato" has reconstructed the mysterious story of the 1942 Patagonia World Soccer championship, never acknowledged by the official sports organizations, and which for decades has remained shrouded in legend without the winner ever being known. What makes it even more intriguing is the tournament featured an indigenous team (from present-day Argentina and Chile) - the Mapuche Indians playing for their own nation.

Shell-shocked at the Olympiastadion

While that mysterious World Cup was said to be played in the emptiness of the desert. A real World Cup final was said to have been played in Berlin after all!

Despite FIFA's omission to organize and officially recognize a World Cup in 1942, this high-stakes match in Nazi Germany, witnessed by nearly 100,000 spectators, was billed as the ultimate showdown between Europe's top two football teams – Nazi Germany and Sweden. The match, with its quasi-official status, holds recognition from the Unofficial Football World Championships as an "unofficial World Cup final." Notably, the details of this historic encounter are well-documented, featuring a definitive winner and the indisputable occurrence of the match.

Sweden, maintaining a neutral stance during the Second World War, obtained special permission from the British forces to travel to Berlin for this momentous "World Cup Final" against Germany. The stadium pulsated with the energy of 98,000 German supporters as Sweden took an early lead, going 1-0 up. Despite Germany's spirited comeback, establishing a 2-1 lead with goals from Lehner and Klingler, the Swedes had different plans. Henry Carlsson leveled the scores to 2-2 by halftime. In a moment of unpredictability, Malte Martensson clinched victory for Sweden in the 71st minute. Although no official trophy graced the occasion, and no visual evidence captures Sweden lifting a cup, steadfast Swedes persist in claiming this as their cherished World Cup triumph.

This assertion resonates with Sweden's football prowess in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Eventually, in 1958, Sweden secured a World Cup runner-up title, succumbing to Brazil in the final on home soil. Remarkably, this triumph for Sweden also marked the initiation of the decline of the Nazi German football team. By November 1942, the Nazi party had suspended all national football team games, compelling most players to enlist in the armed forces.

The 1946 FIFA World Cup in Brazil

The aftermath of World War II left the footballing world yearning to revive the grandeur of the FIFA World Cup. The cancellation of the 1942 and 1946 tournaments due to the war's upheavals meant that the global football community had been deprived of its most celebrated event for 12 long years. The dawn of a new era was marked by FIFA's decision to hold the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. However, the journey to this decision was fraught with considerations of tradition, logistical challenges, and the desire to bring nations together once more.

With the war ending in 1945, discussions about reviving the World Cup began. Initially slated for 1946, it was quickly realized that organizing such an event within a year was impractical. Contemplations ensued, and the idea of shifting the tournament to 1949 in Brazil was suggested. However, tradition prevailed, and the decision was rationalized, resetting the event to 1950. Brazil, a nation passionate about football, emerged as the chosen host.

As the sole candidate largely untouched by the war, Brazil stood as the natural host for the 1950 World Cup. The game was flourishing in major cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and Brazil had been frontrunner for the canceled 1942 World Cup. The choice of Brazil was not just a practical one but also symbolic—a nation waiting two decades to host the pinnacle of footballing glory.

However, recovering the physical World Cup trophy, the Jules Rimet trophy, proved to be a unique challenge. Held by defending champion Italy, concerns arose during the war that the trophy might be lost, plundered, or melted down for financing the war effort. Ottorino Barassi, an executive at the Italian FA, played a crucial role in safeguarding the trophy, ensuring its return to FIFA in 1946.

Who Were the Favorites to Win?

The football landscape in 1946 was teeming with potential powerhouses. The unofficial World Cup final between Argentina and Brazil in the South American Championship added an extra layer of anticipation. Argentina, victors in that encounter, was considered by many South Americans as the unofficial 1946 world champions, although FIFA did not officially recognize it.

Argentina might have been the favorite to win it all (c) Futebol Portenho

The hypothetical World Cup in 1946 would have showcased footballing giants like Argentina with the formidable attack led by Angel Labruna and Adolfo Pedernera, possibly joined by a young Alfredo Di Stefano. England, featuring Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews, and Italy with the legendary "Il Grande Torino" side would have been strong contenders. Hungary, Spain, Sweden, Scotland, and Brazil, who would later win the 1949 Copa America, were also part of this footballing tapestry.

Despite the fact that most of the countries (especially in Europe, particularly Germany and Italy) were ravaged by the war, many national teams actually played a lot of competitive fixtures in 1945-46. It would be intriguing to see if Asian and African teams would have managed to participate and travel thousands of miles away to play in Brazil as many of these countries are in the process of decolonization. Germany, Italy, Japan, and their erstwhile Axis allies might be banned from playing in the competition.

According to the Elo Ratings, here are the possible teams that might play in this World Cup:

1. Argentina (world's highest-ranked team / 1946 South American champions)
2. Italy (reigning two-time World Cup winners / 1936 Olympic champions
3. Brazil (1950 FIFA World Cup runner-up)
4. England
5. Scotland
6. Spain
8. Hungary
9. Wales
10. Austria
11. Uruguay (1950 FIFA World Cup winners)
12. Czechoslovakia
13. Sweden (1948 Olympic Champions)
14. Mexico
15. Paraguay
16. Switzerland

In case of boycotts, here are other teams that might fill up a 14-to-16-team tournament:

17. Denmark (1948 Olympic third placer)
18. France
20. Australia
21. Ireland
22. South Africa
23. United States
24. Portugal
26. Peru
27. Chile
28. Netherlands
29. Yugoslavia (1948 Olympic runner up)
30. Northern Ireland
31. Egypt
32. China
34. Canada
36. Poland
38. British India
39. Norway
42. Romania
43. Costa Rica
45. Soviet Union
47. Belgium
50. Colombia
52. El Salvador
55. Dutch East Indies

Picking a Winner

Selecting a potential winner in this alternate reality is a daunting task. Argentina, having defeated Brazil in the unofficial 1946 world championship match, might have carried that momentum. However, the depth and talent of other teams, especially those from Europe, could have posed significant challenges. However, it won't be enough for outsiders to win it all as European teams have historically performed subpar away from home and it was only in 2016 that Germany won the World Cup in South America (even demolishing Brazil along the way).

The 1946 World Cup, had it taken place, would have marked the end of football's isolation and the beginning of the global game, providing fans with a spectacle that transcended geographical and ideological boundaries.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the lost World Cups of 1942 and 1946 remain as unwritten chapters in the history of the FIFA World Cup. The impact of World War II on these tournaments altered the course of football history, giving rise to unofficial competitions and leaving fans to ponder the what-ifs. While we can only speculate on the outcomes, the resilience of the sport prevailed, and the subsequent editions of the World Cup played a crucial role in healing the wounds of war and bringing nations together on the football pitch.

"Which Country Would Have Won The Lost 1942 FIFA World Cup?" by Sebastian Stiernspetz. Last Word on Sports.
"A tournament unlike any other," by Gabriele Marcotti. ESPN.
Germany vs Sweden 1942. The Unofficial World Championships.
FIFA International Friendlies - 1941. Global Sports Archive.
FIFA International Friendlies - 1942. Global Sports Archive.
FIFA International Friendlies - 1943. Global Sports Archive.
FIFA International Friendlies - 1944. Global Sports Archive.
FIFA International Friendlies - 1945. Global Sports Archive.
FIFA International Friendlies - 1946. Global Sports Archive.
Il Mundial Dimenticato. YouTube search results.



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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: The Unwritten Chapters: FIFA's Lost World Cups of 1942 and 1946
The Unwritten Chapters: FIFA's Lost World Cups of 1942 and 1946
Have you ever wondered if there was a World Cup between 1938 and 1950? Who hosted the games? Who won?
Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger
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