Sixty years ago, football was anticipating a very different tournament.
Chile hosted it in adversity, only two years after a terrible earthquake. “Chilean emotion about these Championships has been very great,” Chilean Football Federation President Juan Goñi Swiderski declared.
Their bid had its genesis at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Chile sent a team of 55, which included their football squad, accompanied by Ernesto Alvear Retamal, a prominent official.
Although Chile lost to Egypt in the preliminary round, Alvear attended the FIFA Congress. He returned home inspired by how Finland staged such a large-scale international event as the Olympics.
Alvear, director of Club Deportivo Magallanes, held discussions with two other influential figures, Juan Pinto Durán, sports director of the Universidad de Chile, and Carlos Dittborn, President of Universidad Catolica and soon to become President of South America’s Football Confederation (CONMEBOL).
In 1954, a Chilean bid for the 1962 World Cup was announced.
Although Chile was one of 13 nations at the inaugural World Cup in 1930, and the country also competed in 1950, it was an outsider in the race to host the tournament. Winners of the 1954 World Cup, West Germany, and Argentina were also bidding.
The decision was made in 1956 at the FIFA Congress in Lisbon’s “Palacio das Belas Artes”. Germany withdrew before the vote but the Argentinians gave a presentation lasting over an hour.
“We have everything. We could organise a World Cup tomorrow,” Argentinian representative Raúl Colombo claimed.
Dittborn, presented the case for Chile.
“I invoked the letter and the spirit of article 2 of the FIFA Statutes, according to which the governing body’s function was to use the Jules Rimet Cup to promote football in less-developed countries,” Dittborn told the newspaper El Mercurio.
Chile received 32 votes, Argentina only 10, with 14 abstentions.
Later in the year, the Chilean Government earmarked funds for stadium renovation and construction. Preparations were set down for a tournament spread across nine venues.
Fifty-six nations entered but before qualification began, Romania, Sudan, Egypt and Canada withdrew. Host nation Chile and 1958 winners Brazil qualified automatically, but there was no guaranteed representation for Africa or Asia in the remaining 14 places.
Morocco topped the African group but then lost narrowly to Spain in a playoff. Real Madrid great Alfredo di Stefano scored one of the Spanish goals. Meanwhile, Yugoslavia beat South Korea, the top Asian nation, meaning there was no African or Asian team at the competitoon.
Then, in May 1960, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.5, the largest recorded in the 20th century, erupted off the Chilean coast. At least 1,600 died and two million were left homeless.
The Tsunami that followed reached Hawaii, the Philippines and Japan, where a further 138 lost their lives.
President Jorge Alessandri wrote to FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous, saying: “To assure FIFA of the desire of all sports organisations in Chile to stage the 1962 World Cup. In this way, their legitimate aspirations will be accomplished.”
In January 1962, Rous, his vice-president Ernst Thommen and secretary Helmut Kaser flew out to Chile for the draw. This was held at Santiago’s Hotel Hilton Carrera but was a very low key affair compared to more recent years.
Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and host nation Chile were seeded. “Brazil’s team is a splendid combination of youth and experience. They must be favourites,” admitted Hungary’s coach Lajos Baroti, just returned from a South American tour.
“Compared with European standards the pitches were not good. The grass was worn and the ground uneven,” he warned.
Chile were drawn alongside Italy, West Germany and Switzerland in Santiago.
Then, only a month before the competition, came another tragedy. Dittborn suffered a fatal heart attack.
At the funeral, Goñi pledged: “We shall endeavour to make of these Championships what you wanted of them: the best held so far. Should it not be so, it will only be due to your absence.”
Four matches kicked off at the same time to open the tournament a month later. The technology for live satellite was not quite ready, so film of each match was air-freighted to Europe and other parts of the world – it was the last time this would happen.
The tournament did have its own official song. “El Rock del Mundial”, written by Jorge Rojas Astorga, and performed by Los Ramblers, featured an Elvis style melody and a chorus with the words “Gol de Chile!”
It also had an official ball, manufactured in Chile with the brand name “Crack!”
At the National Stadium in Santiago, Dittborn’s sons Carlos and Juan Pablo, cadets at the military school, raised the Chilean and Swiss flags. A minute’s silence for their father was observed before the match began.
“Everything depended on whether the Chileans could unlock the Swiss ‘bolt’ defence,” the Chilean football magazine Gol y Gol predicted.
Rolf Wüthrich scored for Switzerland after only six minutes. The equaliser came a minute before half-time from Leonel Sanchez. He scored again in the second half and Chile went onto win 3-1.
Chilean journalists admitted “the victory was easier than expected.”
The Chilean President had opened the tournament by speaking of the “special importance of these tournaments.” He added: “They arouse the fervour of the masses and constitute a valuable instrument of solidarity and rapprochement among the nations.”
The following day, Italy’s 0-0 draw with West Germany had been accompanied by abuse after it emerged that Italian journalists had written disparaging articles about Chile.
These guaranteed a hostile atmosphere when Italy played Chile.
“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,” said BBC commentator David Coleman. “If the World Cup is going to survive in its present form, something has got to be done about teams that play like this.”
Chile won 2-0 after the English referee Ken Aston sent off Italy’s Georgio Ferrini and Mario David. Aston was later criticised for not dismissing Chile’s Sanchez for punching an opponent. One Chilean newspaper described it as “World War”.
A catalogue of other incidents prompted FIFA’s leadership to speak out, and President Rous warned: “We have got to finish this competition in a much better fashion than we started. Some of the matches have been in the nature of brawls.”
German coach Sepp Herberger promised his team would henceforth play with “kid gloves.” They beat Chile to head the group.
The stadium in Arica, the city of eternal spring, was named in tribute to Dittborn, but tournament organisers were obliged to take out extra insurance after safety problems in the stand were discovered.
It was there that Colombia achieved a remarkable 4-4 draw against the Soviet Union. French sports newspaper L’Equipe called it “one of the greatest surprises in modern football.
Although the Soviets qualified for the last eight, they faced the host nation. The Chilean magazine Estadio described it as a “David against Goliath clash.” Chile won 2-1, the winner from Eladio Rojas.
“I am sure it was over 35 metres out. It was a matter of luck,” Rojas admitted later.
Defending champions Brazil were based on the coast at Vina del Mar. Pele beat five Mexican defenders to score in a 2-0 victory but then against Czechoslovakia, he pulled a thigh muscle to put him out of the rest of the tournament.
Even so, Brazil advanced unbeaten. In the quarter-final, Garrincha scored twice in a 3-1 victory over England.
Czechoslovakia beat Hungary 1-0 in their quarter-final and won another all European encounter against Yugoslavia 3-1 to reach the final.
In the other semi, Brazil played Chile in Santiago.
“To reach the final, Brazil will have to beat 77,000 and an entire people,” L’Equipe concluded. Brazil won 4-2 to end Chile’s dream, but in the last 10 minutes, Peruvian referee Arturo Yamasaki sent off Chile’s Honorino Landa and Garrincha, which left Brazilian lobbying for the latter’s reinstatement and included a telegram from Prime Minister Tancredo Neves.
“Brazilian Government expects FIFA to overlook any misunderstanding and allow the full team to play in the final, especially the extraordinary athlete Garrincha, whose discipline is renowned throughout the world,” it read.
After other machinations behind the scenes, Garrincha was only “warned.”
In front of 66,000 baying supporters, Chile faced Yugoslavia in the third-place playoff. In the last minute, a shot from Eladio Rojas was deflected into the net to hand the hosts a historic victory. Four pictures of the goal featured on the front page of El Mercurio.
In La Nacion team portraits were printed on the front page in the national colours of blue, white and red.
In the final, Josef Masopust gave Czechoslovakia the lead, but Amarildo, Zito and Vava replied for Brazil, who became the first South Americans to retain the trophy.
Chile meanwhile celebrated their high watermark in football.
“The world’s centre of gravity was fixed in this long, narrow, cordial stretch of land,” Goñi said at the closing banquet.
It was a World Cup that took place among great tragedy, controversy and confusion. And now, 60 years on, Qatar 2022 now looms.