For the 1974 World Cup Finals in West Germany, UEFA split their countries into nine qualifying groups. The winners of Groups 1 to 8 went through automatically, with the Group 9 winners going into a play-off with a country from CONMEBOL (South America).
USSR (Soviet Union), Republic of Ireland and France were drawn into Group 9. The first three matches saw a win for each country, but then Onyshchenko scored the only goal for USSR when they beat the Irish in Moscow, and when France and Ireland drew in Paris, the Soviet’s knew a draw against the French in their final match would be enough to see them through. Goals in the last 10 minutes from two Ukrainians, Oleg Blokhin and Onyshchenko, gave the home side the win and USSR had won the group.
Uruguay and Argentina won two of the groups and in Group 3, the winners knew they would be in the intercontinental play-off. Chile, Peru and Venezuela were drawn into the group but before things got started the Venezuelans had withdrawn. Chile and Peru then found themselves only needing to play two matches to qualify. In the first meeting, in Lima in March 1973, Sotil scored both goals to give Peru a 2-0 win. A month later, Chile also won 2-0 when Ahumada and Crisoto scored. Therefore a play-off on a neutral ground was arranged. August 1973 in Montevideo, Farias and Valdez scored to give Chile a 2-1 win and they were through to another play-off, against USSR.
USSR was drawn at home first and the game in Moscow ended 0-0. 21st November was the date set for the crucial 2nd leg in Santiago.
Politically, though, things were in turmoil in Chile. In 1970 they had elected the first Marxist President in Latin America, Salvador Allende. His government had adopted socialist policies which were very soon unpopular with the military, who, as with most South American countries of the time, were used to wielding the power. Given the philosophy of the government, this sat well with the rulers in the Soviet Union, and definitely not with the White House. President Richard Nixon believed Chile was on a dangerous journey and set about encouraging the military to overthrow Allende. Nixon is alleged to have said
“If in the wake of Vietnam I can no longer send in the Marines, then I will send in the CIA”
September 11th 1973 was the date the military moved in, in what was to be known as the Chilean coup d’etat. The Navy was the first to change sides and soon the Army, led by General Augusto Pinochet, followed. Allende fled to the presidential palace, La Moneda, and, realising his days were numbered, gave a farewell speech to thenation. Pinochet sent his troops in to attack La Moneda but were forced back and it was attack from the air which eventually forced the surrender from the palace. With all this going on, Allende committed suicide and Pinochet was now in charge. So began one of the most controversial and turbulent periods in Chilean history.
Pinochet, like many dictators, set about rounding up his opponents and they used the national football stadium in Santiago as a detention centre. Torture and interrogations were rife with many people never being seen again.
Amongst this all, the Chile team left for Moscow for the first leg and it is remarkable they were able to concentrate enough to play out the draw. .
Some of the Chilean players were known to be sympathetic to communist views and must have clearly feared for their families whilst they were away, and although USSR dominated much of the game the Chileans managed to hang on. It has also been suggested the referee had been persuaded to be sympathetic to the Chileans plight and may have made decisions which helped them considerably.
But by the time of the second leg, the consequences of Pinochet’s actions were starting to be felt. Once an ally of Chile, the Soviet Union was now completely cut out of things as the new rulers reversed all of Allende’s policies, receiving considerable support from Washington. Remember that the Cold War was in full flow around this time so anything USA did angered the Soviets and vice versa.
The Soviets had got wind of the treatment being handed out in the Santiago Stadium and requested FIFA choose an alternative venue. FIFA refused. The Chilean FA also wanted the venue changed by Pinochet was adamant keeping it at Santiago would show the world all was well in the capital. FIFA sent a delegation to Santiago on 24th October to see for themselves. Unsurprisingly, they found no evidence of torture or detainees at the stadium, and so they reported back giving the place a clean bill of health. Unbeknown to the delegates, many prisoners were hidden inside the stadium threatened with their lives if they ever revealed their whereabouts.
The Soviets were adamant they couldn’t allow their players to play in that stadium on moral grounds, believing FIFA and its President, Sir Stanley Rous, guilty of conspiracy against them. Either way, they refused to travel and Chile had all but qualified for the finals. Unbelievably, the second leg did actually take place. Chile lined up, waving to the crowd, kicked off and attacked the Soviet goal. But there was no opponent to play against, as the Soviets had stayed at home, so the pathetic futility of the Chileans passing the ball between them as they move towards the opposing goal where one of them rolls the ball into the net. Equally, the authorities managed to persuade/force 18,000 fans to witness the farce. Chile was awarded the victory, 1-0 and had booked their place in the finals.
In the finals they were beaten by the hosts, West Germany, with Carlos Caszely becoming the first player to be sent off with a red card in a World Cup match. Paul Breitner scored the only goal of the game and that was followed by draws against Australia and then East Germany, before the Chileans made an early exit.
The whole affair must have been the worst possible nightmare for FIFA and football, as had Peru won the play-off against Chile, it is unlikely the whole scenario would have taken place.