There was a sense of hope rather than expectation among Chileans when it came to the national team’s chances in the 1962 World Cup. La Roja had been managed by Fernando Riera since 1958 and the 42 year old was relatively new to management. He had been appointed manager of Portuguese club Belenenses shortly after retiring as a player in 1954.
Riera gallantly overcame the doubters by finishing second in his debut season behind Benfica on goal difference. However, despite being unable to break the Benfica and FC Porto duopoly, Belenenses finished third in the next two seasons. It was enough to persuade the Football Federation Of Chile (FFCh) to appoint Riera as their manager. He may have lacked managerial experience but possessed intimidate knowledge of Chilean football. 12 of his 17 seasons as a player was spent at Universidad Católica and had played for Chile in the 1950 World Cup.
The 1959 Copa America in Argentina was ideal for Riera to gauge Chile’s progress. The competition format at the time was a single round robin group. Each country played each other once and whoever finished top of the table would be declared champions. Chile had a lacklustre time at the Copa America by finishing second from bottom and Riera saw La Roja had to improve should they compete in the World Cup in 1962. He got to work by making sure his players were match fit. La Roja would play 21 friendlies over the next three years that included a tour of Europe in spring 1960.
By May 1962, Chile had a squad brimming with talent, experience and confidence. Their goalkeeper Misael Escuti may have been 35 years old but had proved reliable since making his international debut back in 1948. The defence was in capable hands under captain Sergio Navarro and fellow centre back Raúl Sanchez. 22 year old full back Luis Eyzaguirre was blessed with devastating speed, while the midfield partnership of Jorge Toro and Eladio Rojas was solid. La Roja’s strength lay in their attacking quartet of Honorino Landa, Alberto Fouilloux, Jaime Ramírez and Leonel Sánchez. Each player brought their own unique abilities to the team.
Landa earned his place in the squad during the 1961 domestic season. The 19 year old became joint top scorer in the Chilean top flight for Unión Española by scoring an impressive 24 goals in 26 games. 21 year old Alberto Fouilloux already had 17 caps for his country and debuted for Universidad Católica at just 16. Fouilloux’s main attribute was his pace and was key in winning the league for La Catolica in 1961.
Landa and Fouilloux represented Chile’s young talents but Jaime Ramírez and Leonel Sánchez were La Roja’s experienced stars. Ramírez was quick, possessed sublime technique and could play on the wing or upfront. 26 year old Leonel Sánchez had notched up 45 caps for his country and the forward was a hero for his country and club Universidad de Chile. Sánchez was in prolific form for La Roja in 1961 and had scored six goals in eight friendlies.
15 out of the 22 man World Cup squad played for Chile’s “Big Three” – Universidad de Chile, Colo Colo and Universidad Católica. Fierce rivals at their domestic clubs, the players in the national team got on relatively well, vital for there was added pressure on the host nation to do well. Four years of meticulous and intense preparation under Riera meant Chile was expected not to be embarrassed at the World Cup. However, Chile being drawn in a group with Italy, Switzerland and West Germany didn’t help alleviate the pressure.
Despite this, when you really put things into perspective, it was a miracle Chile were able to host the World Cup after the natural disasters of 1960. Many sought to enjoy the occasion. 65,000 spectators flocked to the newly built national stadium in Santiago to see the hosts play Switzerland on the 30th May 1962.
Yet Chile got off to the worst possible start.
Switzerland took the lead after just six minutes when Escuti was unable to keep out Rolf Wüthrich’s fierce shot. The crowd fell quiet but Chile’s persistence paid off just before half time. Leonel Sánchez was able to find himself in space and his deflected shot squirmed into the back of the net. Scoring before half time helped steady Chilean nerves and the game turned ten minutes after the restart. Jaime Ramírez drove forward on the left and struck a shot towards goal. Switzerland’s goalkeeper Karl Elsener spilled the ball and Ramírez reacted quickest to poke home the rebound.
The game was over as a contest less than five minutes later. Incise passing and combination play set Chile free down the left and up stepped Leonel Sánchez to convert the cross past Elsener to get his second goal of the game. The Swiss never recovered and Chile began their World Cup with a 3-1 win.
La Roja’s next opponents were Italy – commonly known as the Battle Of Santiago. What is less known is how tensions in Santiago were exacerbated before the game. It all started when two Italian journalists, Corrado Pizzinelli and Antonio Ghirelli, aired their displeasure at what Chile had to offer. Ghirelli wrote:
“The phones don’t work. Taxis are as rare as faithful husbands. A cable to Europe costs an arm and a leg. A letter takes five days to turn up,”
Pizzinelli was less kind.
“Malnutrition, illiteracy, alcoholism, poverty….these people are backward,”
Chile’s newspapers responded by describing Italians using stereotypical language: mentioning fascism and the Mafia. Newspapers back in Italy wrote negative articles on how Chile weren’t fit to host a World Cup – a raw nerve after the 1960 earthquakes. Pizzinelli and Ghirelli soon had to leave the country for their own safety. However, if the authorities thought it would quieten tensions, they were very much mistaken when Chile played Italy on the 2nd June.
It took twelve seconds for the first foul to be committed and La Roja were keen to launch full blooded tackles at their opponents. Unsurprisingly, it took just four minutes for the game’s first flashpoint. Italian midfielder Giorgio Ferrini tackled Leonel Sánchez and both players ended up on the ground. Jorge Toro then clattered into Ferrini, the latter responding by kicking Toro’s ankles and led to him angrily confronting Ferrini. Referee Ken Aston was quick to separate the pair.
Ferrini soon got his revenge eight minutes later when he lashed out at Honorino Landa after being fouled. Aston was quick to usher Ferrini away from the fracas and just as quick to send him off. Ferrini refused to leave the field to the boos and whistles of the crowd. The midfielder only complied when he was escorted by several policemen.
Chile were then very lucky to have eleven players on the field before half time. Leonel Sánchez was being closely marked by Mario David near the corner flag. Sánchez went to ground when pressured by David, which led to Sánchez trying to control the ball while on the ground with his feet. David proceeded to kick the prone Chilean several times. Sánchez, the son of a boxer, got up and floored David with a left hook. Sánchez amazingly wasn’t sent off. David would get his revenge a few minutes later when he nearly decapitated Sánchez with a kick to his head. The surprising thing wasn’t that Italy were now down to nine men but David trying to protest his innocence.
It took until the 73rd minute for La Roja to capitalise on their two man advantage. Navarro whipped a free kick into the box, which forced Italy’s keeper Carlo Mattrel to punch the ball away under pressure. The ball soon dropped from the sky and Jaime Ramírez was quickest to react. His header from eight yards looped over two Italian players stationed on the line and into the net.
The goal would not stop the rough stuff – in fact it made things worse. Leonel Sánchez again displayed his boxing skills by breaking Humberto Maschio’s nose. He still wasn’t sent off. Italy’s captain Bruno Mora was rugby tackled by Jorge Toro and Aston had to intervene when both players tussled on the ground. Chile won the game on 87 minutes when Jorge Toro’s long range effort deceived Mattrel.
Italy’s frustrations boiled over yet again when Sandro Salvadore decided to take out Landa rather than go for the ball. Aston decided to blow the final whistle instead of punishing Salvadore. The Italians sarcastically clapped at Aston and fittingly the game ended with another scuffle. The Azzurri were furious that Leonel Sánchez would not face any retrospective action.
Victory over the Italians meant Chile progressed to the quarter finals. Their final group match against West Germany would decide the winners of Group 2. West Germany had a plethora of attacking options in Uwe Seeler, captain Hans Schäfer and Helmut Haller. In Horst Szymaniak they had one of the best dynamic midfielders in Europe. The 28 year old may have been robust in his tackling but few players could match his exquisite passing capabilities.
The only slight chink in West Germany’s armour was they were light on experience in defence. 31 year old Herbert Erhadt was by far their most experienced player with 45 caps. But Karl-Heinz Schnellinger was the only other defender in the squad to have more than 10 caps. Yet it would be Chile’s defence that would be their Achilles’ heel in Santiago. West Germany were awarded a penalty on 22 minutes when Uwe Seeler tumbled in the penalty area. Szymaniak easily converted the spot kick.
Chile searched for a equalizer under the incessant encouragement of the home crowd. Yet West Germany sliced through their defence again on 82 minutes. The ball was crossed into the box from the left, as Seeler slipped between Raúl Sánchez and Sergio Navarro. The cross was beyond Sánchez’s grasp, but not Uwe Seeler, whose brilliant diving header gave Escuti no chance. West Germany’s 2-0 win decided the make up of the quarter finals and where the games would be played.
West Germany topping the group meant they faced Yugoslavia in the quarter finals in Santiago. Chile’s defeat meant their quarter final against the Soviet Union would be played in the port city of Arica – 1,385 miles north of the capital. The problem for Chile was they were to play just four days after the Chile/West Germany game. The Soviets had the advantage of being based in Arica since the World Cup began and had played all their group games in the city.
The locals were thrilled to have their heroes play in their city and such was the anticipation that over 17,000 fans packed into the Estadio Carlos Dittborn for the quarter final. The attendance in each of the six group games that Arica hosted was less than 10,000. All eyes looked towards the hosts as knockout football commenced.
By: Yousef Teclab
Photo: Gabriel Fraga