World Cup Special: 18 Tournaments, 18 Moments – Italy 1934

Sindelar and the Wunderteam

Before Holland reinvented the game with Total Football there was the Wunderteam.

Austria is not a modern football super power but it was arguably the best team of the 1930’s.

The side, which included Matthias Sindelar – one of the most underrated international footballers of all time and Walter Nausch, swept aside all comers in the lead up to the 1934 World Cup in Italy.

Their neighbours Germany were humbled 5-0 and 6-0, while the Wunderteam also beat the highly rated Hungarians, who were also emerging as a global football giant.

Managed by Hugo Meisl, the team did not lose a game throughout 1931 and most of 1932 and arrived in Italy as tournament favourites.

However, like the other great European footballing sides which followed, such as Hungary in the 1950s and Holland in the 1970s, the team ended up trophyless.

The 1934 World Cup title went to Italy and it was they who dispatched the Wunderteam 1-0 in the semi-final. The Italians also beat the Austrians 1-0 in the 1936 Olympic final.

The Austrians, still grieving of the death of Meisl in 1937, were an ageing side by the time the 1938 World Cup came around but withdraw form the tournament following the country’s Anschluss with Nazi Germany.

Like the team he excelled for, Sindelar also met a sad end.

In January 1939, the footballer and his girlfriend were found dead in their Vienna apartment. The official verdict was carbon monoxide poisoning but rumors persist that he was killed for refusing to play for the Germans in the 1938 World Cup.

The Nazi’s may have had another reason for killing the staunch social democrat. In the Anschluss game, marking the union of the nations, Sindelar scored a second half goal against the Germans and proceeded to celebrate directly in front of number of high-ranking Nazi officials.

According to legend, the game was fixed and was supposed to be a draw – until Sindelar got bored of missing chances.

While little footage of the player in action exists, the words of theatre critic Alfred Polgar underline his brilliance.

“In a way he had brains in his legs and many remarkable and unexpected things occurred to them while they were running.

“Sindelar’s shot hit the back of the net like the perfect punch-line, the ending that made it possible to understand and appreciate the perfect composition of the story, the crowning of which it represented.”