ⓘ 1974 FIFA World Cup qualification, UEFA–CONMEBOL play-off. The 1973 play-off for a place in the 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany, between the national footba ..


ⓘ 1974 FIFA World Cup qualification (UEFA–CONMEBOL play-off)

The 1973 play-off for a place in the 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany, between the national football teams of the Soviet Union and Chile, is notable for the political circumstances that marked the second leg of the play-off on 21 November 1973. It was scheduled to take place in the Estadio Nacional de Chile in Santiago, the Chilean capital. There had been a coup detat in Chile two months before, immediately after which people deemed undesirable to the new regime of Augusto Pinochet had been held captive and executed in the stadium. The Soviet Union asked FIFA to find a different venue in Chile; when agreement could not be reached, the Soviet team did not take the field and was disqualified from the tournament, giving the Chilean team a victory by walkover. However, the match was still organised by FIFA as normal, but without any away team present. Chile scored 1–0 in an empty goal, and then the referee blew the game off. Chile advanced to the 1974 World Cup, where they were eliminated in the first round.


1. Political circumstances

Salvador Allende had been elected to power in Chile in 1970, but was overthrown by Augusto Pinochet in a coup detat in September 1973, during which thousands of people deemed undesirable by the new regime were taken to the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, tortured and killed; this continued until 7 November. The football match between the Soviet Union and Chile in the same stadium was scheduled for 21 November.


2. Prior qualification

Soviet Union

The Soviets qualification started on 13 October 1972 with a 1–0 loss to France, away in Paris. Five days later they faced the Republic of Ireland in Dublin and won 2–1. Their home matches were played in May 1973. On 13 May they won against the Irish by 1–0, and thirteen days later beat the French 2–0 with both goals coming in the last ten minutes. Their placement in the play-off was by being in Group 9 of the nine European groups rather than having the worst record of the qualifiers.


Chile was placed in Group 3 of the CONMEBOL qualification alongside Peru and Venezuela although the Venezuelans withdrew. On 29 April 1973 Chile was defeated 2–0 by the Peruvians in Lima. In the home game on 13 May 1973 Chile won 2–0, making both teams equal on points and goal difference. A play-off was held on neutral ground in Montevideo, Uruguay, where Chile triumphed 2–1 to face the Soviets.


3.1. Matches First leg

After the coup, the new regime had banned all Chileans from leaving the country: in addition due to its anti-communism it did not have a favourable view of the national team playing in the homeland of its staunch enemy. However, at the same time it was desirable to portray an image of normality, so the Pinochet regime let the national team travel on the condition that no one made political statements, since their relatives were under military surveillance. Some of the team members, like Veliz or Caszely, were politically close to the Allende government. In addition, the Soviet Union, an ally of the overthrown government, had condemned the military coup and did not recognise the new government, with which it broke diplomatic relations.

At Moscow airport no Chilean authority received the team. In addition, Elias Figueroa and Carlos Caszely were detained by the immigration authorities for alleged irregularities in their passports. Leonardo Veliz told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera that "In Moscow, I was approached by a Chilean student from Lumumba University, the son of a communist militant. I told him to forget to return to Chile, because any red dye was going to be a danger to his integrity".

The first leg was played in Moscow on 26 September, two weeks after the coup, which brought a political dimension to the match. The Soviet authorities banned the entry of journalists and cameras into the stadium. It was a very tense game that was almost cancelled due to rumours of arrests of Chilean players in exchange for the release of political prisoners. The final result was a goalless draw.

The Soviet government and media were humiliated by the result, hoping for an easy victory on home soil.


3.2. Matches Second leg

In the face of criticism of the regime regarding abuses against detainees, the Football Federation of Chile suggested other scenarios, but the military junta, in an effort to improve the climate of opinion, insisted on demonstrating normality and at the same time defeating communism playing on home ground. The Russians demanded to play the game in a neutral country, which both Chile and FIFA rejected.

FIFA established a commission that inspected the National Stadium, which had been prepared for the occasion but which still had about 7.000 detainees. According to testimony of Gregorio Mena Barrales, a politician imprisoned in that stadium, that commission "visited the field, walked around the court, looked with distant eyes at the prisoners and gave the opinion: In the stadium you could play." While the FIFA commission examined the stadium, the detainees were hidden inside. Before the match, the detainees were transferred to a detention site in the Atacama Desert.

But the Soviets never travelled, claiming political and security issues, arguing that the National Stadium was an illegal detention centre where more than 7000 political prisoners were crowded and where many dissidents were tortured after the coup detat against Salvador Allende. The USSRs decision was supported by several of its allied countries, especially by East Germany which was already classified and threatened not to appear at the World Cup event. The Soviets sent a letter to FIFA explaining that "For moral considerations, Soviets can not at this time play in the stadium of Santiago, splashed with the blood of the Chilean patriots".

Chile demanded a compensation of $300.000 if the Soviets did not appear, claiming that they could not place the tickets for sale and the cost of preparing the game. FIFA declared the match a 2–0 walkover victory for Chile. However, FIFA arranged for the match to be held anyway. The match was attended by only 15.000 people. The game lasted 30 seconds, which took the Chilean team to score a goal from the kickoff. When they arrived in the area, as they had agreed, it was the captain, Francisco "Chamaco" Valdes, who scored the empty goal.

In later years, some members of the Soviet team stated that they thought that their government did not want to lose to a country with a different political ideology and that instead they won a moral victory in the eyes of the world.


4. Aftermath


The Chileans were drawn alongside the hosts West Germany and two first-time entrants: East Germany and Australia. In the first game, Chile lost 1–0 to West Germany, the goal being scored by Paul Breitner in the first half. Sergio Ahumada equalised for Chile in the second game to draw against the East Germans, but a 0–0 draw to Australia eliminated Chile from the World Cup. The two German teams advanced.

Soviet Union

A period of decline started for the Soviets as they also missed out on the 1978 FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championships of 1976 and 1980.

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