by Stuart Moriarty-Patten

11 November 1973 – USSR refuse to play in Chile

On 11 November 1973 the Soviet Union informed FIFA that they would not be playing their second leg world cup qualifying game against Chile due to take place 10 days later in Chile, and so were disqualified by FIFA from the 1974 World Cup.

The Soviet’s had reached the play-offs from their qualifying group where they had beaten the Irish home and away, losing to France in Paris 1-0, but overcoming them 2-0 in Russia with two late strikes.  Chile had come through a group that was to include Peru and Venezuela, however Venezuela withdrew and Peru and Chile had to play a third game in neutral Montevideo, Uruguay, after they had both recorded 2-0 home wins against each other. Chile won that play off 2-1.

There had been a coup d’état in September 1973 in Chile, which had overthrown the freely elected socialist government led by Salvador Allende.  This had cast a shadow over the first leg of the play off, which was played in Moscow resulting in a 0-0 draw.  There had been some doubt whether it would take place as Chile’s new Junta had ordered that no-one be allowed to leave the country.    In the end the team’s physician Dr. Jacob Helo, who was also the personal physician to one of the coup’s leaders General Gustavo Leigh, managed to convince the authorities that allowing the team to play would boost the international standing of the new regime.  The players though were warned that talking to any foreign journalists would have serious consequences for their families back home.  The game itself was played in below freezing temperatures in a game that the Soviets dominated, but was ultimately influenced by a Brazilian referee, who Hugo Gasc, the only Chilean journalist allowed to make the journey, described as “a rabid anti-communist” who he freely admitted helped the Chileans immensely.

The Soviets objected to the fact that the venue for the return match, Santiago’s National Stadium that had hosted the 1962 world Cup Final, was where the new Chilean regime was holding captive all those who had been rounded up as being undesirables, a description which included socialists, trade unions and writers.  Although the Chilean authorities claimed that those held were merely there while their papers were being checked, stories of executions and torture within the stadium walls where leaking out to the wider world, with Chile’s famous singer Victor Jara being amongst those reported killed.

In a communiqué to FIFA, the Soviet Union asked FIFA “to hold the match in a third country seeing as how in the stadium, stained with the blood of the patriots of the people of Chile, Soviet sportsmen cannot at this time perform on moral grounds.”

In response FIFA sent a delegation to Santiago to examine the venue, and, despite the fact that even while they were there thousands of people were still being held within the stadium walls, the FIFA delegation announced that they were satisfied with the Chilean promises that the game could go ahead in normal circumstances.  Back in the USSR journalist Lev Filatov was outraged, and wrote

“The day that the FIFA committee arrived in Santiago, the stadium was still being used as a concentration camp. But the delegation received guarantees from the junta that the stadium would still be free, and that the junta guarantees that the match will be held in ‘normal circumstances.’ But until this day the stadium remains a concentration camp, and bloody terror still reigns in Chile.”

The Chile FA proposed moving the game to Viña del Mar, but the new leaders insisted that the game be played in the national stadium to emphasise their claims of normality having returned to the capital Santiago.

Even though the USSR had announced that they weren’t going to be in Santiago and FIFA had already announced their banning from the tournament, the game bizarrely went ahead as scheduled anyway, in what Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano described as “the most pathetic match in the history of football.”   In a stadium that still bore the blood stains of it’s tortured and executed occupants the Chile players lined up on the pitch for the national anthem in front of 18,000 spectators.  They then kicked off and passed the ball down the field to their captain who kicked into the empty net.  With no team to restart the game the referee abandoned it and Chile were awarded a walkover.  On their website FIFA records the game as a 2-0 victory to Chile and makes no mention of the circumstances surrounding it.  The whole game, with a running time of less than 30 seconds, can be seen here .

To give the supporters something to watch the Chile team then regrouped to play a friendly against Brazilian club side Santos.  This was supposed to be a celebration of their qualification for the 1974 World Cup Finals, but Santos had not read the script and beat the Chileans 5-0.

If the Soviet team had made it to the Finals they would have been fancied to do well.  They had reached the quarter-finals of the last World Cup in Mexico, and were runners-up in the 1972 European Championship.  In the finals itself Chile were draw in a group with hosts West Germany, and first time competitors East Germany and Australia.  An opening defeat to West Germany followed by draws against the other two teams saw them leaving the competition at the first stage.