Italy, under their disciplinarian coach Vittorio Pozzo, beat Czechoslovakia to lift the title, but the Czechs came close to spoiling Mussolini's dreams.
They led with only minutes of the final remaining before Italy equalised and went on to win 2-1 in extra-time.
For the first time countries had to qualify and 32 entered, with the British sides absent again.
Of those 32, all but 10 were from Europe, and 12 of the 16 to make the finals came from the home continent, plus the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Egypt.
All eight quarter-finalists were European, meaning that the South Americans travelled 8,000 miles for the dubious pleasure of playing and losing one game.
They had sent weakened teams in any case, in retaliation for the widespread European absenteeism in Uruguay four years earlier.
In fact, Uruguay took it a stage further, declining the chance to defend their title.
Of the last eight, Spain and Italy required a replay to separate them after drawing 2-2 at the end of extra-time.
They played again the next day, with Italy's Guiseppe Meazza scoring the only goal of the game.
Two days later, the hosts met Austria's Wunderteam in what for many was the tournament's "natural" final.
But a tense affair was settled by a single goal, scored by Italy's Argentine-born winger Guaita in the 19th minute.
Italy were through to a final against Czechoslovakia, who beat Germany 3-1 in the other semi.
Hugo Meisl's mighty Austrian team were unable to rouse themselves for the first ever third-place play-off, which the Germans won 3-2.
Three days later, on Sunday 10 June, Mussolini called the nation to a standstill in anticipation of a glorious triumph for Italy.
But, with 20 minutes left, it was the Czechs who took the lead, to the consternation of the disappointing crowd of 45,000 in the del Partiti stadium.
The scorer, Puc, had only just returned to the field after treatment for cramp when his long shot beat Italian keeper Combi after a corner.
However, Raimondo Orsi equalised eight minutes from full-time and Angelo Schiavio hit an extra-time winner to give a relieved Mussolini and Italy the title.