With his squat, robust frame, it is not hard to tell that Jose Charly Batista was a full-back in his playing days. Though Uruguayan through and through, Batista liked to play his football the Brazilian way, making up for any technical shortcomings by getting forward at every opportunity, shuttling tirelessly from box-to-box, and testing keepers with his fierce shooting whenever the chance arose. That readiness to let fly brought him 60 goals across his 24-year career.
Batista was never considered a violent player, so much so that a coach in Argentina once asked him if he was the only Uruguayan who did not kick people. Ironically though, he is remembered around the world for a single tackle, one that earned him the fastest-ever red card in the history of the FIFA World Cup™.
“I work at a football academy and I coach an amateur team, and I always hear: ‘You know who this guy is? He’s the one that got sent off.’ So I get my phone out and show them the tackle,” Batista, now 54, told FIFA.com in a bar in Buenos Aires.
The passage of play in question came in Uruguay’s final game in Group E at Mexico 1986, against Scotland on 13 June at the Estadio Neza. Both sides went into the match with hopes of reaching the Round of 16, and no sooner had French referee Joel Quiniou blown his whistle to start the game than the Scots won a throw-in. The taker, Arthur Albiston, threw the ball into space for a team-mate in the centre of the Uruguayan half.
Taking up the story, Batista said: “There was a long ball three quarters of the way up the pitch and I’m at left-back, so I come across, much faster than him, to cut the ball off. I don’t remember the Scottish guy’s name.”
Informed by FIFA.com that the opposing player was Gordon Strachan, Batista continued: “That’s it! So Strachan wasn’t going to get there. I got there before him. He pulled his foot back, but I brought him down with my left foot and hip. I thought he was going to bring me down, that he was about to go in hard. But I didn’t go in and chop him down with both legs. I went in and we just came together.”
There were only 38 seconds on the clock and the man who is now Scotland’s head coach was left writhing on the floor. “I made sure that when I got hit I didn’t have my foot planted on the ground, so it wasn’t as bad as it might have been,” Strachan later told The Telegraph. “As soon as the game started Batista walked up to me and I thought: ‘Aw naw, here we go!’ But I didn’t expect it quite so early.”
Quiniou came across to check on the red-haired midfielder and quickly processed everything he had seen and heard in the lead-up to his first world finals as a referee. “A lot of games had already been played, and I’d had time to analyse the earlier matches and listen to the advice and observations made by the referee’s committee,” the French official told FIFA.com. “The committee felt that officials were letting go too many fouls that could potentially cause harm to the opposing player, and that they weren’t being punished severely enough. I listened to what they had to say and I prepared hard for what was an amazing event for me. It was a dream come true.”
Quiniou was in no doubt he had to take firm action against Batista: “I did what I had to do. I couldn’t just let it go.” With the Uruguayan still seated on the floor, the French official brandished the red card at him, only 52 seconds into the game.
I wasn’t used to getting sent off and I felt terrible.
“I wanted to die,” said Quiniou. “It wasn’t my intention at all to end up in the Guinness Book of Records.
“Just because it’s the start of the game, it doesn’t mean that you can't give a penalty or send someone off if you have to. I saw a foul in which Batista failed to exercise enough control.”
As for Strachan, it all happened so quickly that he later joked: “To this day, I wouldn't have a clue what that guy looked like. I never saw his face at all.”
Uruguay’s kitman knew very well who Batista was and could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw him walk back into the dressing room, as the player recalled: “He said to me: ‘What are you doing here?’. I told him: ‘I got sent off”. To which he said: ‘How can you get sent off when they’re still playing the national anthem?’.”
Recalling his sense of desolation, Batista added: “I had to stop by the bench and look back to the pitch to believe it was actually happening. I felt the emotions of it all rolling down my face. I wasn’t used to getting sent off and I felt terrible. For something like that to happen when you’re representing Uruguay, you just feel so bereft.”
His mood lifted at half-time, however: “The guys came in and they were saying: ‘Come on, Charly. We’ll get through this. Don’t you worry’. They were right behind me and determined to make sure we got through in the second half.” And that is what they did, holding the Scots to a goalless draw, much to Batista’s relief: “We qualified and that really calmed me down.”
Though he felt relief at the time, Batista admitted to feeling tormented by the experience in the years that followed. “To begin with it bothered me because I didn’t have a lot of experience,” he said. “When rival players mentioned it here in Argentina, at Deportivo Espanol, I knew they were just trying to get one over on me and I just ignored them. But when it happened in Uruguay, then it hurt.
“I'd be in a bar or at an awards ceremony and I could hear them whispering: ‘That’s the guy who got sent off inside a minute at the '86 World Cup’. And I'd say to myself: ‘These people are putting the knife in.' So I'd look at them as if to say: ‘That’s enough’.
“I scored goals everywhere I went," said Batista. "I won the South American and Pan American titles with Uruguay. I scored a great goal against Chile in the 1986 qualifiers. But you just gradually get over it as time goes by, and it doesn’t bother me now.”
Even so, the incident still rankles slightly with Batista, who still feels he was “unfairly” sent off. “I started playing when I was 16 and I finished at the age of 40. I started matches on the bench only twice. I always played and I must have been sent off only three or four times in my career.”
Speaking years later about the behaviour of the Uruguay players in that Mexico meeting, Scotland full-back Albiston said: “They kicked us when we were on the ball and they kicked us when we didn’t have it. They were the most cynical people I’ve ever played against.”
That is not a view shared by Batista: “Uruguayan players have always been in your face, but today you see players treading on each other, and elbows and headbutts. We were aggressive and strong but we didn’t go out there with bad intentions.
“At the most, I should have got a yellow,” he continued. “You watch it 20 times and while it was a strong tackle, it’s only a yellow card. I’d have expected a yellow for far worse and then I’d have been in danger of getting a red for the rest of the game. But I didn’t expect to get sent off just like that. I watch it again today and it’s still not clear to me. I’d like to be able to get a better view of it, to be in a position to change my opinion and say: ‘Yes, the referee was right’.”