Setting sail for Uruguay

French national soccer team players pose on their way to Uruguay to participate in the first World Cup.
© AFP

When teams headed for Brazil just over a year ago many of them took a couple of weeks to make their way to South America, with friendlies and acclimatisation along the way. European teams took a similar amount of time to make it to the very first tournament, though it was not quite the same rigorous preparation schedule as their counterparts eight decades later.

On this day in 1930 the likes of Romania, France and Belgium, alongside a FIFA delegation that included president Jules Rimet, boarded a steamliner that would take them across the Atlantic to the inaugural FIFA World Cup™ in Uruguay. The trio boarded the SS Conte Verde in Genoa, the south of France and Barcelona respectively with the boat becoming their home for almost a fortnight. Yugoslavia meanwhile took a similar journey on a liner named the MS Florida.

The journey saw them pitch up in Uruguay on 4 July, having picked up the Brazil national side – and a shipment of bananas, oranges and pineapples – in Rio de Janeiro on the way. There would only be nine days before the tournament began though, so how to train for the big kick off en route was a serious issue. With no desire to see the Atlantic littered with footballs, fitness was the focus. France opted for using furniture as hurdles, while the Romanians chose to focus on gymnastics.

It had been a challenge to get even these four sides to make the 11,000km journey from the old continent, with Rimet having to persuade France and Belgium to make the trip and swell the numbers at the invitational tournament to 13. The fact Uruguay had promised to pay the travel expenses of all teams made that job a little easier, though. Only Yugoslavia would reach the knockout stages, being eliminated by the hosts and eventual champions, and only Belgium left Uruguay without a win to their name.

The quartet were key in ensuring the inaugural tournament carried a global feel, with the other nine sides from up and down the Americas, and all 13 can feel pride in being there at the start, with 19 more editions being held since – and two more in the pipeline. But those pre-war trips back and forth across the Atlantic are almost certainly still the most arduous undertaken to take part at the world football's showpiece event.

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