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World Cup 1962: The Battle of Santiago

Set against the backdrop of a country struggling to cope following the Valdivia earthquake in 1960, the biggest earthquake in history, the World Cup of 1962 got off to an explosive start. Many years ago, about the time YouTube first hit the internet, I read somewhere (I can’t remember where) about the “Battle of Santiago”. It intrigued me and I thought the reports were exaggerated, they weren’t. Chile v Italy was the 2nd game of the 1962 tournament and it will forever go down in history as not only one of, but more likely the dirtiest match ever seen.

YouTube was on hand to show me this battle in much of its glory. I was brought up on a hard and physical diet of 1970’s football with “dirty Leeds” at the forefront and many other hard and dirty teams. I saw the infamous Wimbledon team of the 1980’s and thought I’d seen it all when I watched Duncan Ferguson, the hardest footballer I’ve sever seen, from the sidelines. I hadn’t, so when I saw highlights from the famous Chile v Italy World Cup match from 1962, my jaw dropped. This is its brief story.

David Coleman’s introduction to the highlights of the game pretty much sums it up…

Good evening, the game you are about to see is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football in the history of the game. This is the first time these countries have met; we hope it will be the last. The national motto of Chile reads, By Reason or By Force. Today, the Chileans weren’t prepared to be reasonable, the Italians only used force, and the result was a disaster for the World Cup. If the World Cup is going to survive in its present form something has got to be done about teams that play like this. Indeed, after seeing the film tonight, you at home may well think that teams that play in this manner ought to be expelled immediately from the competition.”


Prior to the match, two Italian journalists wrote articles, regarding the decision to host the competition in the country was “pure madness” they further claimed that Chile’s capital, Santiago, was “a dump, where the phones don’t work, taxi’s are as rare as faithful husbands, a cable to Europe cost’s an arm & a leg and a letter takes 5 days to turn up”. The criticism continued, stating the local people were prone to “malnutrition, illiteracy, alcoholism and poverty”. There were claims that Chile was “a poor country, with entire neighbourhoods being given over to prostitution – People are proudly miserable and backwards”. Needless to say, this did not go down well in the country and, unsurprisingly, those Italian journalists were forced to leave the country for their own safety.

The referee for the game was Englishman, Ken Aston who replaced the original referee who was a Spaniard after Italy made a complaint about possible bias. The linesmen were a Mexican and an American, the latter would become a central character in the later controversy. Prior to the start of the game, in a bid to try and make some kind of amends, Italian players presented Chilean women in the crowd with flowers, which were promptly thrown back in their faces, there appeared no way back.

The match kicks off

The game kicked off and within 12 seconds, the first foul came and the first sending off was after 4 minutes. It was clear from the off that the Chile team would use provocation as one of their main tactics. They spat in Italian faces, poked, kicked and niggled throughout. The Italians retaliated. Giorgio Ferrini reacted to a Honorina Landa foul by kicking him in front of the referee. Ferrini was sent off but refused to leave the field having been fouled continuously from the kickoff. The standoff lasted nearly ten minutes until armed police had to escort Ferrini from the field.

The rest of the half continued in much the same vein. Just before halftime, Leonel Sanchez was fouled and went down following a late tackle from Mario David. Sanchez, the son of a professional boxer, promptly got to his feet and floored David with a left hook and to everyone’s surprise, he wasn’t even booked. Minutes later David replied and floored Sanchez with a kick to the head. David was sent off and Italy were down to 9 men, there was still more than half the game to go.

The violence continued throughout the second half. On occasions, the police had to intervene. Italy hung on as best they could and Leonel Sanchez again floored the Italian Captain Humberto Maschio with a left hook, who suffered a broken nose. Sanchez again escaped punishment. Referee Aston claimed he’d had his back to the incident but the linesman, American, Leo Goldstein apparently did but did not flag. Goldstein was seen as an inexperienced appointment but had an amazing back story and there were suggestions as to why he was appointed as an official in this World Cup. A Holocaust survivor in the second World War was apparently literally walking towards the gas chamber when one of the guards came looking for someone to referee a football match. Despite his lack of experience, volunteering apparently saved his life. He survived the rest of the war and afterwards emigrated to America where he continued refereeing.

Chile eventually took the lead in the 73rd minute with Jaime Ramirez. Jorge Toro scored a late 2nd goal. How Sanchez lasted the full game is anyone’s guess. Chile won 2-0. After the game, Aston claimed he did not want to take the easy way out by abandoning the match. He was concerned about the safety of himself and the Italians, therefore let the match run its course. No injury time was added.


Following the game, Italians were banned from bars, restaurants and supermarkets in Chile. Their training camp was put under armed guard. The verbals started up again with a member of the Chilean FA alleging that the Italians were drugged, suggesting that any laboratory tests were necessary after games. Italy submitted an official complaint about referee Aston and they described the Chileans as “cannibals”. Back in Rome, the army was sent to protect the Chilean Consulate. Criticism towards Aston was swift and came from all directions. FIFA president, Sir Stanley Rous was urged to clean up the game quickly. This appeared to be talk only as Ferrini was banned for just one game and both David and Sanchez escaped reprisals. The British press was equally scathing, announcing it as a disgrace amongst a raft of criticism.

The rest of the 1962 World Cup

Despite the violence of this particular match, the violence of the rest of the tournament is often forgotten. In the first eight games in the competition, there were 4 red cards given, in a period when red cards were very rare occurrences. There were 3 broken legs, a broken ankle and cracked ribs. In a game between Argentina and Bulgaria, there were 69 free kicks given. That’s one free kick every 78 seconds of play. In the Russia v Yugoslavia match, Eduard Dubinski had his leg broken by Yugoslav, Muhamed Mujic. Mijic was not sent off but Yugoslavian’s own association suspended him for a year. The game played at exactly the same time as Chile/Italy was Yugoslavia v Uruguay, where 2 players were sent off.

In the semi-final between Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia (again), the Swiss referee had to call both captains together following a mass brawl. In the other semi-final, Brazil’s legend Garrincha suffered intense intimidation and fouls throughout the game. He eventually snapped and retaliated. He was one of two players sent off in that game. The Brazilian FA were worried he would not play in the final and asked for the evidence to the tribunal be toned down. The linesman who flagged for Garrincha’s offence disappeared when he was supposed to be giving evidence. Apparently, the Brazilian referee, John Etzel was given $10,000 by his FA to pass onto his refereeing colleague to “disappear”. Etzel later claimed that he only gave up $5,000 of the money keeping the rest for himself. He also claimed it was him who won the World Cup for Brazil when Garrincha was cleared to play following a lack of evidence at the hearing.

Post World Cup

The legacy was meant to be a cleaner game but that appeared short lived. Both domestic games and international games between South American and European sides for years after were bad-tempered affairs. Pele was famously kicked out of the 1966 World Cup by opponents and the bad-tempered games continued with the England v Argentina quarter Final when Antonio Rattin was sent off.

If you have never seen the “battle of Santiago” on YouTube, I’d fully recommend you check it out. Its repercussions lasted years and no matter how dirty football ever became, it never quite reached the depths of this game. Enjoy!