World Cup retrospect – Chile ’62

Though there were three bids submitted to host the 1962 tournament, the decision over where it would be staged was finally made by a sense of egalitarianism. The West German bid, though strong when viewed in isolation, was dismissed on the basis that having three consecutive World Cups in Europe would be unfair as well as potentially hindering the global exposure the game needed to build on the success in Sweden four years earlier. This rationale left the bids between Argentina and Chile, with the Chilean bid being nominated. However, an act of God plunged the forthcoming tournament into crisis and doubt as well as leaving real devastation in the lives of many. On May 22 1960, the worst earthquake ever recorded occurred 100 miles off the coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean. The towns of Valdivia and Puerto Montt were ruined and the cost of repairing the damage was estimated at $550 mil. The official human cost of the disaster was 1,655 lives lost. It was believed that the World Cup would now be staged in Argentina, but Carlos Dittiborn, who had overseen the initial Chilean bid, pleaded with FIFA: “Because we don’t have anything, we will do everything in our power to rebuild”. This became an unofficial slogan for a tournament which gave a devastated country a badly-needed shot in the arm.

With the stadia completed in record time, all that remained was for the football to hit or surpass the heights of four years earlier. Sadly, after the opening ceremony had seen in a fine win for the hosts against Switzerland, many games descended into niggly affairs, frequently broken up by infringements and thus were instantly forgettable. Memorable for all the wrong reasons was the match between the hosts and Italy on June 2 1962. It became known as the Battle of Santiago and would go down as one of the worst international matches in history. Before presenting ‘highlights’ of the game to BBC viewers, David Coleman said: “Good evening. The game you are about to see is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game. Chile versus Italy. This is the first time the two countries have met. We hope it will be the last”. From an established broadcaster based in the home of the stiff upper lip, these were strong words indeed. A lunging two-footed tackle with no attempt to win the ball set the tone after all of 12 seconds. Giorgio Ferrini of Torino was sent-off for kicking out at Chile’s Honorio Landa. Having refused to walk, he was escorted off the field by the police. Leonel Sanchez than landed a left hook on Mario David that Sugar Ray Robinson would have been proud of, which was amazingly overlooked by English referee Ken Aston. David’s retribution on Sanchez was a kick to the back of the head, this time inspired by the world of martial arts. Given what had happened a few minutes earlier, it seemed unfair that Italy played the second half two men light. Two Chilean goals and several punch-ups later, Aston ended the game at the earliest opportunity, stating later: “I wasn’t reffing a football match. I was acting as an umpire in military manoeuvres”. Though this comment had a basis in truth, it overlooks the fact that Italian indiscretions were dealt with more harshly than those of the hosts.

The memory of this game spoils the fact that Chile did superbly well in the tournament. Having progressed to the knockout stage at the Italians’ expense, they then beat the USSR 2-1, with Sanchez opening the scoring. Yugoslavia, who had come second in their group, progressed by beating West Germany 1-0. The Czechs were the other surprise package of the tournament. Having drawn with World Champions Brazil in the group stage, they made the last four by beating Hungary. The Magyars had themselves temporarily arrested their post-Puskas decline to top a group that also contained England. This had left England, led by Walter Winterbottom for the final time, into an acid test of a quarter-final against Brazil. They were aided slightly by the fact that Pele had sustained a thigh injury in the drawn game with Czechoslovakia, so if they were to cause an upset, now was their best opportunity. However, not even a stray dog coming onto the field could knock the Brazilians out of their stride. Garrincha headed them into a first-half lead from a corner before Charlton headed onto the post from a Johnny Haynes free-kick and Gerry Hitchens of Inter Milan scored what would be his fifth and final international goal. Ron Springett’s failure to hold a free kick presented Vava with an opportunity he couldn’t miss. Though he saved a penalty from Garrincha, a curling shot from just outside the box sealed it and confirmed that the best team in the world could not possibly be a one-man side. Though Garrincha, along with Landa, was sent-off in another feisty encounter with the hosts, he received clearance to play in the final after citing retaliation to repeated foul play. The Czechs, who had beaten Yugoslavia 3-1 in the other semi-final, stood in the way of a successful defence of the title. As was the case four years previously, they went a goal behind in the final. Josef Masopust ran onto a perfectly weighted through-ball to slot it past Gilmar. However, Amarildo’s near-post drive when a cross was expected deceived everyone and we were all square. A great break 20 minutes from the end was completed by a Zito header and Vava capitalised on a mistake by the Czech goalkeeper Villam Schrojf. His unchallenged fumble of a right-wing cross left a simple task to clinch it. Though the football may have failed to hit the heights of four years earlier, we can at least look back on a tournament that confirmed the status of one of the greatest sides of the 20th century. Even without their talisman, they had ended victorious. Many who revere the great side of 1970 would do well to remember the one from the same nation that had been their equal the previous decade.

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