“Because we have nothing, we will do everything.”
Those were the words CONMEBOL’s Chilean president Carlos Dittborn used, in Lisbon in 1956, to convince the FIFA Congress to award Chile the right to host the 1962 FIFA World Cup™. The decision sparked immeasurable delight in the South American nation. Yet there was huge devastation there four years later, when the most powerful earthquake in history destroyed several of the host cities and, surely, meant the seventh edition of the tournament had to take place elsewhere.
However, with the aid of FIFA, Dittborn and the Chilean people worked tirelessly to put on the extravaganza and, fifty years ago to this Sunday, the climax to what had been, against all odds, an alluring, admirably staged competition was set to unfold. Despite the early setback of an injury to the great Pele, the welcoming locals, vast, vibrant crowds and exhibitions of stars such as Florian Albert, Amarildo, Bobby Charlton, Igor Chislenko, Didi, Garrincha, Drazan Jerkovic, Josef Masopust, Leonel Sanchez, Villiam Schrojf and Uwe Seeler had made it an event to remember.
Aiding the Chileans’ pride was the fact that their heroes had surpassed all expectations, beating Italy 2-0 en route to the knockout phase and eliminating a formidable USSR side to reach the semi-finals, before putting up a gallant fight in a 4-2 defeat by Brazil. The hero of the latter match was Garrincha, who scored twice to propel the defending champions through to the Final. The winger had been sent off towards the end of that victory, which should have ruled him out of the showdown with Czechoslovakia, but public outcry from Chileans eager to witness his exhilarating cocktail of body swerves and feints one last time earned the Seleção No7 special dispensation to line up against Czechoslovakia.
The Europeans had held the South Americans to a goalless draw in the group stage, and Rudolf Vytlacil’s men took the lead this time around through Masopust on 15 minutes. Czechoslovakia were well aware they had to solve the conundrum of Garrincha, but by keeping two or three markers close to him down the right, space opened up down the opposite flank, which Aymore Moreira’a team exploited to turn a deficit into a lead. First, Amarildo cut in from the left to make it 1-1, before the same player crossed for Zito to head home. Then, with 12 minutes remaining, Vava sealed a 3-1 victory for Brazil following a mistake by goalkeeper Schrojf.
Close to 69,000 inside the Estadio Nacional had witnessed Brazil retain their crown, but multiple winners emerged from Chile 1962. Albert, Garrincha, Jerkovic, Valentin Ivanov, Sanchez and Vava shared the adidas Golden Shoe; Colombia’s Marcos Coll made history by scoring direct from a corner as his side magnificently recovered a three-goal deficit to draw 4-4 with Soviet Union; Yugoslavia posted 5-0 and 3-1 wins over South American opposition and eliminated West Germany en route to the semi-finals; and Czechoslovakia made an unforeseen charge into the Final.
The biggest winner, Brazil aside, was nevertheless the country of Chile, whose national team pulled off the minor miracle of finishing third and whose people produced the major miracle of hosting a memorable FIFA World Cup just two years after the Great Chilean Earthquake.
Sadly, the tournament’s inspiration missed revelling in the fruit of his incalculable endeavour – Dittborn, indeed, died just one month and two days before it kicked off. How proud the Rio de Janeiro-born Chilean native would have been to witness his country of birth lift the Trophy and his compatriots lift themselves from the depths of a natural disaster to the high of staging such a magical show.