Italy World Cup Rewind: Infamy at the Battle of Santiago, 1962

Sam LoprestiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2014

The Jules Rimet Trophy was on the line in Chile in 1962.
The Jules Rimet Trophy was on the line in Chile in 1962.Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Welcome back to Bleacher Report's series of Italy World Cup rewinds, a revisit of the highs and lows of Italy's history in soccer's most prestigious competition.  Today, we will look back to the lows for the first time.  It's one of the most infamous games of soccer in the history of the sport: 1962's Battle of Santiago between the Azzurri and Chile.

The Tournament

By 1962 the World Cup had recovered from the 12-year hiatus imposed upon it by World War II and had become a fixture.

The 1954 and '58 tournaments had both been held in Europe.  The nations of North and South America threatened to boycott the tournament—as they had done in 1938—if that trend continued.  Most assumed that Argentina would be the choice, but the Chilean federation mounted an underdog candidacy and ended up running away with the vote.

Preparations were proceeding well until the Valdivia earthquake hit on May 22, 1960.  The quake was the most powerful recorded in human history and left four of Chile's eight intended venues unusable.  Two cities were able to repair their venues in time, and American copper company Braden allowed the federation to use their own undamaged stadium in Rancagua.

Defending champions Brazil brought nine holdovers from their title-winning 1958 squad to Chile and were heavy favorites going into the tournament.

The Run-up

The game between Italy and Chile was going to be ill-tempered from the start.  A pair of Italian journalists—Antonio Ghiredelli and Corrado Pizzinelli—had been sending reports back from the Chilean capital of Santiago in the run-up to the tournament.

Their characterization of the city was, to put it lightly, unfavorable.  The two insisted that their reports had been distorted, but what appeared in Italian media made Santiago out to be a poverty-stricken dump full of crime and loose women.

Needless to say, Chileans did not respond to this well.  The two Italians ended up fleeing the country before play began.  An Argentinian journalist who was mistaken for one of them at a bar was beaten by angry Chileans.

In the first game of Group 2 play, the hosts trounced Switzerland 3-0 while the Italians were held to a goalless draw by West Germany.  The Chileans and Italians were set to meet on June 2 in a game that would have massive implications in who would move on.

The Game

Italy marched into Estadio Nacional in Santiago in their traditional blue shirts and white shorts.  Chile was in red.  The referee was Englishman Ken Aston, who had been in charge of Chile's game against Switzerland.  The tension in the stadium was palpable.  Spit was exchanged between the teams before the first whistle.

Aston whistled for the first foul of the game 12 seconds after kickoff.  Within five minutes Aston had to break up a potential fight between the two teams.

In the 12th minute, Giorgio Ferrini retaliated against what he thought was persistent fouling by Honorino Landa by aiming a kick at him in full view of the referee.  Aston sent him from the field, and Ferrini went mad.  It took eight minutes and a squad of police to finally remove the kicking and screaming Italian from the field.

If things hadn't already gotten out of hand, they certainly did shortly before halftime when Chile's Leonel Sanchez was fouled on the left wing by Mario David.  The son of a professional boxer, Sanchez's reaction was to instantly turn and deliver a left hook to David's face.

Somehow he escaped Ferrini's fate despite committing his blatant act of violence mere yards from the assistant referee.  He may have escaped official sanction, but David took matters into his own hands minutes later and hit Sanchez with a flying boot to the head.  Aston sent David off, leaving the Azzurri with nine men to Chile's 11.

Giorgio Ferrini is escorted from the field after being sent off.
Giorgio Ferrini is escorted from the field after being sent off.Wikipedia Italia

Sanchez got away with another blatant punch later on in the game, this time with Humberto Maschio the victim.  At times the game resembled rugby more than soccer.  Police intervened several more times as the game threatened to devolve into total anarchy.

The violence was so pronounced that the soccer was an afterthought.  Credit must be given to an Italian team playing two men down for holding the game scoreless as long as they did.  In the 73rd minute, Italian keeper Carlo Mattrel punched a free kick into the path of Jaime Ramirez, who headed the rebound into the net past a pair of leaping defenders on the goal line.

Chile ended things once and for all three minutes from time on a magnificent long-range strike from Jorge Toro.

The Italians left the field beaten 2-0.  Many in the media placed the blame for the game's violence on the Italians, despite the fact that Sanchez should have been sent off on two separate occasions and that the Chileans were just as violent as their opponents.

The Aftermath

The Italians wiped the floor with group whipping boys Switzerland five days later, but played the game knowing they had already been eliminated via West Germany's 2-0 victory over Chile the day before.  It would be eight more years before the Azzurri were able to advance past the group stage again.

It's unlikely that Chile let West Germany win the last group game to the detriment of Italy—had they won they would have been top seeds in the group and likely would have avoided Brazil until the final.  

They beat the Soviet Union 2-1 in the quarterfinals, with Sanchez scoring the first goal of the game.  In the semifinal against Brazil both he and Toro scored, but braces by Garrincha and Vava sent them to the third place game, where they beat Yugoslavia 1-0 on a 90th-minute score by Eladio Rojas.  

The third-place finish remains the best World Cup finish in Chile's history.

After beating Chile the Brazilians surprisingly fell behind in the final against Czechoslovakia.  They equalized two minutes later and went on to win 3-1, becoming the second team after Vittorio Pozzo's Italy to defend the World Cup title.

Ken Aston was later quoted (here in a retrospective in The Guardian) as saying "I wasn't reffing a football match, I was acting as an umpire in military maneuvers."  

He strained his Achilles tendon during the match and didn't officiate another contest in the tournament.  He was appointed to the FIFA Referees' Committee after the tournament, serving for eight years and was responsible for several refereeing innovations, including the fourth official and, most famously, yellow and red cards.

It took several days for the game to be showed in Europe because film had to be flown back to broadcasters.  BBC broadcaster David Coleman famously introduced the game to English viewers with a prologue that sealed the match's legacy: "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."