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Monday, 16 January 2017

Unlucky Bolivia or false history?

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On July 17th, 1930, the Bolivian national team took to the field of Parque Central in Montevideo to face Yugoslavia in their Group Two match. The Bolivians were considered to be the weakest team in the group that also included Brazil. The Brazilians, just three days before, were surprisingly beaten by the Yugoslavs by two goals to one and were hoping for a Bolivian win in order to have any chance of advancing further in the tournament. As it transpired the Yugoslavs ran out 4-0 winners after a goalless first half and both Brazil and Bolivia were knocked out before they had the chance to play one another. 

One reason that the Bolivians were unlucky is that one of their players, Gumercindo Gomez, broke his leg in a challenge with Yugoslav defender Milutin Ivkovic around the eighth minute of the match. Substitutes were not permitted during this time and the South Americans had to play some eighty minutes with ten men. But the misfortune of Gomez is not the subject of this article because according to Cris Freddi in his The Complete Book of the World Cup (2002 edition), Bolivia had four goals disallowed. Freddi doesn't state the reasons why the Uruguayan referee Francisco Mateucci annulled the Bolivian strikes nor does he note the source of his claim. Indeed this claim would be repeated in an online article by The Guardian in 2010, most likely drawing on Freddi's account.

It would be understandable that the Bolivians would be much aggrieved not to come away with a four all draw or even a victory if such goals had dampened the resolve of their Yugoslav opponents. And such a controversy may have caused protest from the Brazilians believing some conspiracy may be afoot by the Uruguayan referee to knock out one of the seeded teams from the tournament that may challenge Uruguay for the title. 

How can one team be so unlucky to have four goals disallowed? Perhaps one or two but not four surely? If it all sounds incredulous it's because it never happened. Bora Jovanovic, the Yugoslav journalist who travelled to Montevideo to report for Belgrade newspaper Politika, wrote two dispatches on the match that were published in the July 18th and August 2nd editions of Politika and nowhere does he mention that Bolivia had four goals disallowed. Indeed he reports that it was the Yugoslavs that were unlucky with Marjanovic, Bek and Vujadinovic all striking their opponents crossbar early in the match. 

In the interest of playing Devil's Advocate maybe there was bias reporting on the part of Jovanovic who may have whitewashed it out of his account so not to question the legitimacy of his nation's 4-0 victory. So what did the Bolivian and Brazilian press report, those papers who have much to gain on such a scandalous sensation! 

Bolivia's La Razon, albeit publishing the cablegram from United Press (UP), is silent on the subject of their country's quadruple misfortune, indeed it describes how unlucky Alborta was when his shot hit the Yugoslav crossbar in the first half.

The same is true of the Brazilian newspapers. The reports that were written in Critica (18 July 1930), Diario de Noticias (18 July 1930), Folha da Manha (18 July 1930) and A Batalha make no mention of any such controversy. Many of these reports are extensively written with every foul, throw-in and shot at goal (wide or on target) described in an era before there was any television coverage and live radio reporting was new on the scene. These journalists were true chroniclers of the game and every chance to report on any such bad refereeing would be keenly accounted for. Even Spain's El Sol , with no axe to grind, make no such descriptions.

That's not to say that these contemporary football journalists are always right, we may look no further than the issue of Bert Patenaude's hat-trick against Paraguay. But this concerns the identity of goalscorers in a period when players bore no shirt numbers and not such incidences as four disallowed goals.

Cris Freddi's book is an impressive tome on the subject of the World Cup and is a worthy read but he is wrong on this issue. How did he make such a mistake? His bibliography contains no reference to any newspapers from the period and if I was to make an educated guess I believe he based his information on a mistranslation of a German magazine IFFHS Weltmeistershaft 1930, published in 1994, which describes the Bolivian crossbar being struck four times. However, I cannot be certain.

Yugoslavia vs Bolivia (youtube video)