Playing in a World Cup before and after a World War

Only two men have played in the World Cup finals either side of a World War: Erik Nilsson of Sweden and Alfred (Fredy) Bickel of Switzerland.

Both men took part in the 1938 World Cup and returned as captains in 1950, when they had contrasting results against host country Brazil.

They played in different positions – Nilsson at left-back, Bickel as a strong and skilful inside-forward – but they both appeared in some of their countries’ most famous World Cup matches.

Nilsson made his debut for Sweden in the 1938 tournament, coming in for the match for third place – against Brazil. After winning Olympic gold in 1948, he played in the 1950 World Cup, captaining Sweden to victory over Italy, who had held the trophy since 1934.

However, Nilsson then had to endure a 7-1 thrashing by Brazil. South American superstar Ademir, who finished the tournament as top scorer, put four past the Swedes wearing the boots you see below - boots that he had customised personally by using nails to etch his own name into the heel. He is possibly the first football player to have his own name on his boots, but certainly not the last.

Nilsson and Sweden recovered to take third place by beating Spain. Nilsson was also named in the FIFA All Star team at the 1950 tournament. The games against Italy and Spain were played in São Paulo.

São Paulo was also the setting for the Brazil-Switzerland match, in which Bickel led the Swiss to a shock 2-2 draw. Bickel had also starred in 1938, when Switzerland had come from 2-0 down to beat Germany 4-2 in a replay, with Bickel lobbing a cool equaliser.

Despite their long careers, the two players met only once at international level. Soon after their last World Cup, in November 1950, Switzerland beat Sweden 4-2 in Geneva. Again the captains were Bickel and Nilsson, two World Cup pillars.

Of course, coaches often last longer than players. In that 1938 Switzerland-Germany match, Germany were led by the famous Sepp Herberger, Switzerland by an innovative Austrian, Karl Rappan. The next time the countries met in a World Cup, 24 years later in 1962, Herberger and Rappan were in charge again, but this time Herberger’s West Germany beat Rappan’s Switzerland.

Among the FIFA World Football Museum's collection is a commemorative coin that bears the image of Fredy Bickel, seen here. The image of Bickel was taken during a 9-0 victory for Grasshopper Club Zurich over Nordstern Basel, in Zurich's Hardturm Stadium in 1949.

It is said to be the only time that FIFA has bestowed such an honour on a player. The coin was issued in 1954 to mark FIFA's 50th anniversary.