Published on February 20th, 20130
The Battle of Santiago – Italy’s Low Point in World Cup History
By Tor G. Jakobsen
Most of our readers probably remember Marco Materazzi’s unsportsmanlike behavior in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final. His actions provoked Zinedine Zidane to the point that it boiled over for the Frenchman and he delivered his famous head-butt to Materazzi’s chest.
What is less known is that Materazzi’s behavior fades when compared to that of his forerunners in the 1962 FIFA World Cup. This tournament, the 7th of its kind, was held in Chile. Brazil eventually became champions ahead of Czechoslovakia, while the host country finished third.
However, the tournament is also known for the infamous first round match between Chile and Italy. Tensions were already heightened before the match for mainly three reasons:
a) In 1960 Chile experienced the Valvidia earthquake. It is the most powerful ever recorded; rating 9.5 on the Richter’s scale, and an estimated 6000 people lost their lives. Even though Chile recovered from the devastations of the earthquake in time for the World Cup, Italian football officials used the opportunity to demand that the tournament should be removed from Chile.
b) Two Italian journalists, Antonio Ghirelli and Corrado Pizzinelli, wrote several unflattering stories about the Chilean capital Santiago before the match. These stories were reprinted in Chilean media and the two Italian journalists had to leave the country the day before the match.
c) The presence of four Argentinian oriundi in the Italian team. An oriundo is a Latin-American of Italian or Spanish ancestry, and several of these have chosen to play for their European ancestral countries. This was both seen as a drain of talent from the South-American side as well as a hinder for emerging talent in Italy. Naturally, the oriundi faced heavy criticism before the match in Santiago.
The match took place on June 2, 1962 in Estadio Nacional in Santiago. The referee was Kenneth Aston (England), known as the inventor of red and yellow cards, and the assistant referees were Leo Goldstein (Israel) and Fernando Elcuaz (Mexico).
The events that followed in Santiago that afternoon came to be known as one of the worst incidents of player-on-player violence in the history of the tournament.
David Coleman of the BBC came with the following statement before the highlights were aired in Britain the day after the game:
“Chile versus Italy, this is the first time the two countries have met, we hope it will be the last. The national motto of Chile reads: By reason or by force. Today, the Chileans were prepared to be reasonable. The Italians only used force. The result was a disaster for the World Cup.”
The first foul came 30 seconds into the game. But things really heathened up after five minutes of play when the Italian Mario David kicked Chile’s Eladio Rojas and Italy’s Himberto Maschio punched out the Chilean forward Leonel Sànchez.
A few minutes later, Italy’s Giorgio Ferrini kicked Honorino Landa, resulting in a red card being given by the English referee. Ferrini refused to leave the field, and had to be escorted out by several police officers. The match was held up for eight minutes because of the Italian’s behavior.
The match deteriorated into a farce. The players seemed to always be in a hurry to pass the ball, fearing what could happen to them if they kept possession too long. This fear resulted in the Chileans almost exclusively shooting at long distance at the Italian goal, rather than attempting to move further forward.
In the latter part of the first half Mario David (Italy) kicked a lying Leonel Sánchez (Chile). Leonel, who was the son of a professional boxer, rose to his feet and flattened Mario with a left hook.
However, revenge was soon to a few minutes on, as Mario David perfomed a Spartanian kick to Leonel’s head. It was described by the English commentator as “Oh, that was one of the worst tackles I think I’ve ever seen. Sánchez bought it right in the face. That was David, and he is off the field.”
Then, in the 73rd minute Jaime Ramírez scored on a header following a free kick, giving Chile a 1–0 lead. The stadium erupted with every fan in the crowd on his feet.
The nasty tackles and the outright fighting continued throughout the match. At one point the referee had to get on the ground in order to separate the two teams’ players.
In the 87th minute Jorge Toro sealed the match for the Chileans with a superb strike from well outside the box. The humiliation of the Italians was now complete, as a loss would lead to an early exit from the tournament.
When the final whistle was blown the Italian Humberto Maschio immediately took a boxing stance scaring off Chile’s Luis Eyzaguirre. When Honorindo Landa shook Maschio’s hand afterwards, the Italian responded with a left hook.
The rest of the tournament
Chile won the match 2-0, and the match saw two red cards, both to Italy (Ferrini and David). Neither side was formally punished by FIFA. Despite beating Switzerland in their last match, Italy finished third and was thus knocked out of the World Cup.
Chile, on the other hand, finished second behind West Germany, and faced the Soviet Union in the quarter final. After an unusually sloppy performance by the World’s greatest goal keeper Lev Yashin, Chile actually beat the Soviets 2-1. But the Brazilians proved to be too strong a side in the semi-final, defeating Chile 4-2.
In the match for the third place, Chile beat Yugoslavia 1-0 following a goal by Eladio Rojas. This bronze medal is Chile’s best performance in a World Cup.
One of the perhaps less known trivia of this success is their use of pre-game stereotypical eating. They ate Swizz cheese before their opening win against Switzerland, and spaghetti before the Battle of Santiago. Before the quarter-finals against the mighty Soviet Union they drank Smirnoff. Yet, this tactic did not work in the semi-final, as the pre-match coffee could not prevent Brazil advancing to the final, and eventually lifting the Jules Rimet trophy.