FIFA honour survivor of first World Cup

LA PLATA, Argentina - At 100, Francisco Varallo remembers everything: the thud of the heavy leather ball, playing while injured because substitutions were not allowed and, more than anything, the game that got away.

Varallo, the last survivor of the first World Cup final, marked his 100th birthday last week in his hometown near Buenos Aires by recalling the 1930 clash between his country and neighbouring Uruguay.

"Never in all my years have I been honoured this way," Varallo said, smiling, as tears rolled from his eyes, after entering the theatre in La Plata where hundreds of people had gathered to pay tribute to him on Friday.

As a burly forward with a powerful right shot that won him the nickname "the little cannon", Varallo was the youngest player to compete in the first World Cup when he played for Argentina in the tournament in Uruguay at the age of 20.

As the theatre lights dimmed, black-and-white images of the first World Cup were projected on to a screen.

European players in top hats and blazers were shown arriving at the Montevideo docks after a 15-day journey aboard a steam boat.

Pictures showed tango great Carlos Gardel meeting the Argentine team in the dressing-rooms, and the Centenario Stadium where Varallo's Argentina lost the final against Uruguay 4-2.

Varallo made his first-team debut at 14, helped his home team Gimnasia de la Plata to win the only title in their history in 1929 during the amateur era, and transferred a year later to Boca Juniors, where he remained for the rest of his career.


At Boca, Varallo held the goal-scoring record of 181 from 1939, when he retired, until 2008 when he was overtaken by striker Martin Palermo.

During the World Cup match against Chile he injured his knee and could not take part in the semi-final but he came back during the final.

"I played my heart out in the second half and I could feel it in my knee. We were down to 10 men and as the match went on, another was injured, and another," Varallo told the FIFA website in a recent interview remembering how close Argentina came to winning the first World Cup.

"I aggravated my injury when hitting the bar with a shot that could have won it for us. I couldn't even walk. From that point on they (Uruguay) started to get stronger and, with all due respect to my team mates, we weren't gutsy enough. How I cried that day. Even now when I look back it still makes me angry," he said.

Varallo has been awarded the FIFA order of merit, the highest honour handed out by football's ruling body and one that has previously gone to Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Bobby Moore.

"It was only fair for football fans to know that you honour this sport and this passion," Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona told Varallo on Friday as he gave him a striped blue-and-white Argentina team shirt with "Varallo" and the number 100 printed on the back.