According to the criteria of
the war in Ukraine revived a ghost And it is not the ghost of communism. The refusal of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic to face Russia in the European playoffs for a place in the Qatar 2022 World Cup triggered memories and brought to mind long nights of shadows.
Let’s go by parts.
August 1973, qualifiers for the 1974 World Cup in Germany: Chile eliminates Peru in a playoff game that will be forgotten, played in Montevideo. Neither Sotil or Cubillas were enough. And dressing room messes were already appearing in the Peruvian intern. ‘La Roja’ beat the red and white team 2-1 and condemned us to follow the World Cup on television, which would elevate the “clockwork orange” of Holland. The Chilean victory meant, however, half a World Cup ticket. The winner of the Peru/Chile bracket had to play against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, 1917-1991) to determine which of the two would qualify for the tournament.
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September 11, 1973, Santiago. A bloody fascist-style military coup ends Chilean democracy and deposes the socialist president Salvador Allende, a political ally of Cuba and the USSR. General Augusto Pinochet assumes power, who will govern with an iron fist from 1973 to 1990.
September 26, 1973, Moscow. The USSR team receives its pair from Chile at the Lenin Stadium. The 90 minutes end goalless. The classification will be decided in the second leg in Santiago, two months later.
November 21, 1973. On the grass of the National Stadium in Santiago there is only one team. And it is not the Soviet, but the 11 players of the Chilean team dressed in their sports clothing occupying their positions in the middle of the field. The players crouch down for photos. The referee whistles and starts the game. The ball moves, the players advance overcoming imaginary rivals, pass each other and score. Goal against an empty bow. In the half-empty stands – the Nacional de Santiago had capacity for 45,000 fans at the time – some 15,000 people are witnesses of one of the most unusual and shameful scenes in football. Once the goal is scored, the judge ends the match. The entire pantomime lasted less than a minute.
The final result: Chile won 2-0 because the USSR did not show up. For FIFA, which contributed to the plot and endorsed it, Chile classified Germany 74 because the Soviets lost by ‘walk over’. This ignominy went down in history as the “ghost party”.
I vividly remember seeing the images of that “ghost game” on television, immersed in the adolescent anger that the team that took us out of the World Cup race won its ticket to Germany in an extra-sports way, driven by a military coup and a bathroom of blood.
Between September 26 and November 21, it became known through reports spread by the press that the Nacional de Santiago had become a detention, torture and death center for opponents of Pinochet. The singer-songwriter Víctor Jara, among them. As a result, the USSR asked FIFA to schedule the rematch on neutral ground in a country neighboring Chile: “Soviet athletes cannot at this time play in the state of Santiago, splattered with the blood of Chilean compatriots.” FIFA rejected the request, alleging that a delegate of theirs found that the version of the press and Moscow was false. The USSR gave up playing and the rest is history.
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The invasion of Ukraine has put FIFA in a bind, which will have to decide whether to leave Russia without the World Cup in Qatar or whether to classify it directly by ‘walk over’. The refusal of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic to play against the Russian team in the European playoffs as a protest against Putin’s war puts the authority of world football on the ledge. And time is short. On March 24 Poland was due to visit the Russians in Moscow in the semi-finals of their play-off and on March 29 the winner of the Sweden/Czech Republic bracket had to face the eventual winner of the bracket between Poles and Swedes.
“The Czech national team will in no case play a possible match against Russia in the play-off for the World Cup”tweeted the Czech Federation. “Enough talking, it’s time to act. Due to the escalation of aggression of (…) Russia in Ukraine, the Polish team does not plan to play the qualification match against the Russian team.”, said the president of the Polish Football Federation, Cezary Kulesza. The president of the Swedish Federation, Karl-Erik Nilsson put his quota: “Whatever FIFA decides, we will not play Russia in March.”
The federations of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic had jointly requested last Thursday that the venue of the play-off matches be changed, as the USSR demanded in 1973. On Sunday, FIFA imposed on the Russian team to play their home games away of its territory and banned the Russian anthem and flag in all its competitions. But the three countries radicalized their position and said they would not play against any Russian team camouflaged in any way. This Monday, under pressure and before the eyes of a globalized world, FIFA has broken a paradigm – preventing politics from contaminating football – and sanctioned Russia by excluding it from the tie by World Cup Qatar 2022 and condemning the Russians to watch a World Cup on television again, as in 1974. Pinochet and Putin thus end up wrapped in the same newspaper.