In just a few hours, Chile and Brazil square off in the opening game of the Round of 16. Everyone knows Brazil’s World Cup history–they’re five World Cup championships and countless superstars of the sport, like Garrincha, Pelé, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldininhosinho (OK that’s made up)–so I won’t get into it too much. Instead, let’s talk about Chile’s World Cup history, and a very crazy game in 1962.
After a somewhat controversial bidding process (I know, shocking), Chile was awarded the honor of hosting the World Cup in 1962. Why was it controversial, you ask? For starters, all of South America threatened to boycott the tournament if it was hosted in Europe for the third straight time (Sweeden had hosted in 1958, and Switzerland in 1954). Then, Argentina was the only country that really even wanted to bid, but FIFA convinced Chile to throw their hats in the ring so that Argentina wouldn’t be the only bidders (they had asked Germany to cancel their bid because of the threatened boycott). Chile ended up convincing the world to let them host (take that, Argentina), but then the largest earthquake ever recorded hit Chile in May of 1960, killed 50,000 people and wrecked a bunch of their venues. Eventually, after much scrambling and re-organizing, the tournament began.
As the hosts, Chile qualified automatically, and were placed into Group 2, along with Italy, West Germany and Switzerland. Their opening matchup was against Switzerland, and they won it 3-1 in Estadio Nacional in Santiago. Leonel Sánchez, who retired as Chile’s all-time leader in both caps with 84 and goals with 23 (he has since been surpassed by three different players, scored two goals in the game. Jaime Ramírez netted the third. Chile’s second group stage clash, against Italy and also in Estadio Nacional, would become one of the most infamous matches in World Cup history. It was dubbed the Battle of Santiago, and the things that went on during that game would change international fútbol rules forever.
Tensions were riding high well before this game even started, as Chilean newspapers claimed that Italian journalists had penned articles that cast doubt upon the beauty and morals of Chilean women, as well as the condition of Santiago itself. When your country has just suffered from a 50,000-casualty natural disaster, you might be a little sensitive. Chileans read about this and they told two friends, who told two friends, who told two friends. By the time the game rolled around, let’s just say a lot of friends were at the stadium, and they were really pissed. Italian players handed out flowers to fans as they took the field in order to try to ease tensions, but it didn’t quite work.
The first foul took place twelve seconds into the game. Barely five minutes in, there was a tussle where two Chileans (including Leonel Sánchez), were knocked to the ground. Unfortunately, the night was just beginning for British referee Ken Aston and his crew. In the 12th minute, Italian Giorgio Ferrini was sent off by Aston for kicking Eladio Rojas, refused to leave the pitch and had to be escorted off by police. Later in the game, Italian defender Mario David and Sánchez had to be separated by Aston after the two brawled on the ground after a foul. Hoping cooler heads would prevail, Aston allowed the two to stay in the game. Big mistake. At one point, Sánchez had the ball near the left corner and attempted to go around David and towards the goal. David fouled Sánchez to the ground and then kicked him twice while trying to steal the ball. Sánchez, the son of a former boxer, stood up and promptly knocked David cold with a left hook in full view of the linesman. A free kick was awarded to Chile, much to the chagrin of the Italians. Just a few minutes after that, David was thrown out of the game for basically ninja kicking Sánchez in the head on a high challenge. Sánchez later broke Humberto Maschio‘s nose with another punch. He was never thrown out of the game though, because I guess Italy deserved it for being jerks.
The heated and testy nature of the game continued, and the first half took 57 minutes to play out, but with Italy down to nine men, Chile quickly took over in the second half. The hosts won the game 2-0 on goals by Ramírez and Jorge Toro, and despite a loss to West Germany in the last group stage match, they moved on to the knockout stage. The Chileans beat the Soviet Union 2-1 in the quarter-finals (goals by Sánchez and Rojas), but lost to the eventual champions, Brazil, 4-2 in the semis (Toro and Sánchez scored in that tilt as well). Chile would settle for a third place finish after beating Yugoslavia 1-0 (Toro) in the consolation game. The World Cup was over for the hosts, but the impact of their tilt with Italy would be felt for ever.
Because of this game, referee Ken Aston ended up inventing the yellow and red card system that is still in use today. The World War II veteran would remark years later: “I wasn’t reffing a football match, I was acting as an umpire in military maneuvers.”
Let’s hope nothing like this happens tomorrow at noon, except for the 2-0 win by Chile!
Video of the Battle of Santiago:
Featured image courtesy of: Getty Images
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