Joined by the surviving members of the team that represented the host nation at the 1962 FIFA World Cup Chile™, the Chilean Football Association (ANFP) this weekend celebrated the 50th anniversary of the tournament, one graced by the likes of Pele, Garrincha and Lev Yashin. There were smiles, hugs and emotional reunions aplenty at an unforgettable gala evening in the Chilean capital, with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter also in attendance.
The event stirred memories of Eladio Rojas’ goal in the 1-0 defeat of Yugoslavia in the match for third place, not to mention the long embrace Leonel Sanchez shared with his team-mates after beating the legendary Yashin to open the scoring in the quarter-final against the Soviet Union in Arica.
“Today is a wonderful day, though if Pele had been here all the cameras would be on him,” said Roja central defender Humberto ‘Chita’ Cruz to much amusement after he had stepped up the red carpet.
Chile’s third place at those world finals was achieved in adversity. Two years previously the country had been hit by the biggest earthquake ever recorded on the planet, one that devastated 65% of the country. Undeterred, the Chilean people and the national side rose to the challenge.
“We ran as hard as we could for everyone who had been left without a home and were living in camps,” said Leonel Sanchez, the scorer of four goals in the finals, after embracing former Roja striker Ivan Zamorano. “That’s what motivated us.”
“I wasn’t born then, but these old guys imbued me with character,” said ex-Real Madrid man Zamorano, a player who lacked none of the heart of his predecessors. “I would have loved to have played with ‘Chita’ Cruz.”
Elias Figueroa, a Chilean footballing legend, was also present, sharing jokes and stories of yesteryear: “I knew a lot of them on and off the pitch. Leonel and El Tito (Alberto Fouillioux) were the hardest to mark. I kicked Leonel once and he said to me: “Ok lad. You’re going to be a great player, but just show some respect to your superiors'.”
The handshakes and hugs continued as the official dinner neared. Chilean FA President Sergio Jadue posed with the surviving players from coach Fernando Riera’s squad. He then exchanged a handshake with Manuel Pellegrini, a disciple of the late Riera, and joined CONMEBOL President Nicolas Leoz and Blatter, who spoke of his memories of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Chile 1987, having taken receipt of the Bernardo O’Higgins Order of Merit from Chilean Vice-President Rodrigo Hinzpeter hours earlier.
“It was a great honour for me to receive that award,” said the FIFA President. “I accept it on behalf of FIFA as a whole, which plays an important role in football and in one of its key social aspects, namely educating young people.”
Blatter also spoke of his memories of Chile 1962: “I was a sports reporter during the World Cup and followed the whole tournament on the radio. This is a celebration for the players and coaching staff who were there, and for the Chilean people too, who overcame difficult circumstances to stage the world finals.”
A full-back in that fondly remembered side, Luis Eyzaguirre ran until very recently a newspaper stand in the centre of Santiago, a popular meeting point for his former Roja team-mates. It was left to him to bring the trip down memory lane to a close: “What do I remember about that World Cup? The hugs and the people waiting for us outside the team hotel on Calle Colon every day. Garrincha? He was the last person you wanted to see but I had a photo of him, which Fernando Riera used to show me to motivate me.”
And with that the heroes of 62 took their leave, striding down the red carpet as if they were making their way to the pitch once more. Applauded and cheered as they went, they will never be forgotten, nor the glory they achieved.