It was 3 September 1989 and Brazil were winning 1-0 versus Chile in the Maracana stadium in a qualifying encounter for the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™ when, in the 67th minute, a flare thrown from the stands landed near Roberto Rojas, the visitors' keeper. Rojas tumbled to the ground as if caught by the flare and, with blood appearing on his face, the incident caused Argentinian referee Juan Carlos Loustau to suspend the match.
The following day, photos and television footage proved that the custodian had not been hit by the flare and, following Rojas’ subsequent confession that the cut had been self-inflicted using a razor hidden in his glove, the No1 was handed a lifetime suspension and La Roja were forbidden from taking part in USA 1994 qualifying.
This Wednesday 18 June 2014, Chile were back in the Maracana for the first time since that ignominious incident, and this time they made positive history, La Roja sinking Spain 2-0 to qualify for the Round of 16 after just two games and send the reigning world champions crashing out.
Among their key performers was keeper and captain Claudio Bravo, who left the field to a rousing ovation from the Chilean and local supporters. “Yes, it’s true, the Maracana has a lot of significance in Chilean football because of that, but it was time to let it go,” said the Real Sociedad player, who was just six at the time, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com.
“It was a dark episode, but it resonates a lot with me because it happened to a goalkeeper,” said Bravo. “I suppose this game must have felt quite special to Roberto, so I dedicate it to him in part. Football often gives you the chance to turn things around, and this is further proof of that.”
A far-reaching result
What's more, Chile had lost eight and drawn two of their previous ten encounters with the European heavyweights. In another intriguing twist of fate, the two nations’ first ever clash occurred in the Maracana at Brazil 1950, with the Iberians running out 2-0 victors.
Yet, for obvious reasons, that was not the game that stirred memories for 31-year-old Bravo, who instead recalled a friendly international from 2011, one in which Chile went 2-0 up only to end up losing 3-2. “Yes, of course that went through my head during the game, and in the days leading up to it too,” admitted the shotstopper.
“But I’m not surprised that we beat them today, because the last few times we played them we got the feeling our style of play ruffled them. That said, it was clear that to beat them we’d have to put in a perfect display, like we did today.”
So, what is next for this Chile squad? “We’ve always said that we have to take things one step at a time, focusing on doing things right and getting stronger as the competition progresses,” said Bravo, before taking his leave. “There’s a huge weight off us now because we proved that, just as we’d thought, we’re a strong team that goes out to tackle every match in the same way – whoever our opponents are.”