Home 1998 – Reebok
Creeping down the western spine of South America like some kind of weird vestigial tail that Argentina never quite got around to having surgically removed, Chile is the longest country in the world (north to south) but is also ridiculously narrow with all its habitable territory wedged tightly between the Andes and the Pacific, meaning citizens face unique challenges when it comes to things like urban planning, agriculture, performing a three point turn or simply stretching their limbs without sending a passer by tumbling into the sea. On top of this general lack of elbow room, Chileans also have to contend with the fact that their land has a somewhat pronounced murderous streak. Most of the country sits directly atop the Pacific Ring of Fire, a ferociously lively fault line which in 1960 produced the strongest earthquake ever recorded (a 9.5 on the Richter scale that devastated the city of Valdivia) and is also home to over 500 active volcanoes, offering locals weary of seeing their homes reduced to rubble the opportunity to have it reduced to ashes instead.
Luckily Chileans are a tough breed, a trait best exemplified during the famous 2010 rescue of 33 miners, all whom emerged unscathed, both physically and mentally, after 69 days trapped three miles underground in a copper mine having endured extreme claustrophobia, the threat of starvation and perhaps the most tedious games of ‘I spy’ ever concocted. “What’s that Pablo? Something beginning with C again?” Particularly brave amongst this merry bunch was a certain Mr Yonni Barrios, whose wife and mistress only learned of each other’s existence thanks to his entrapment and were both apparently there to greet the randy sod when he popped back up, which I imagine went something like this.
Today, Chile is seen as a beacon of political stability and economic competence in the otherwise chaotic, disorderly world of Latin America. This reputation had to be earned the hard way however as things haven’t always been a bed of roses, particularly between 1973 and 1990 when the country fell under the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, a close friend of Margaret Thatcher and just as much of a colossal wank stain as such an association would suggest. During this period at least 3,000 Chilean dissenters were outright murdered by the regime, with a further 200,000 forced into exile and countless others “disappeared”, which we can safely assume didn’t involve a puff of smoke, some well-placed mirrors and the able assistance of the lovely Debbie McGee. Sadly, despite being declared medically fit to stand trial for his crimes in 2006, the decrepit old twat managed to escape punishment on a technicality, specifically the fact that he’d rather rudely seen fit to drop dead.
Like most South Americans, Chileans are a passionate bunch when it comes to football and the current national team are arguably the best that the country has ever produced. In 2015, after nearly a century of waiting, Chile finally got their hands on the Copa America after beating fierce rivals Argentina on penalties (a triumph made all the sweeter due to it occurring on home soil, and also because crying Argentinians will never not be funny) before going on to retain the trophy at a special centenary edition the following summer in the US, yet again vanquishing the hapless Argentines in the final and yet again via a shootout. This pair of victories served to pack La Roja (the Red Ones) off to Russia a year early for the 2017 Confederations Cup where, if their eye-catching displays en route to the final are anything to go buy, the team have the potential to go deep into next year’s World Cup, assuming of course that star man Alexis Sanchez has seen fit to gather up his toys and drop the whole ‘stroppy child denied an ice cream on a beach trip’ routine by then.
Speaking of the World Cup, Chileans must be thoroughly sick of the sight of Brazil. Four times (accurate as of September 2017) the team have progressed to the knockout stages at the finals and four times they’ve had their hopes dashed by the Samba Stars, including three defeats at the last 16 stage in 1998 (where the Salas and Zamorano generation were dispatched 4-1), 2010 (a straightforward 3-0) and most recently in 2014 where, despite largely outplaying their hosts during a 1-1 draw, Chile mislaid their shooting boots during the penalty shootout and were eliminated in heartbreaking fashion. For the two teams’ first and most significant encounter on the world stage however, you have to go back to 1962 when Chile surprisingly hosted the tournament themselves. Having beaten Italy in the notorious “Battle of Santiago” (more about that in a moment) the Chileans then defeated a fancied Soviet team in the quarters to set up a semi-final showdown against the Brazilians who, even without the injured Pele, ultimately proved a class apart in winning 4-2, although the hosts did at least beat Yugoslavia in the third place match to pick up the bronze medals.
Finally, as I previously alluded to, Chile have been involved in more than their fair share of unsavoury incidences when it comes to the World Cup, ranging from the uber-violent to the downright farcical. While the following three stories are in no way linked, they’re too amusing/horrendous (delete as applicable depending on whether you find this sort of thing funny), to let slide so I’m just going to lump them together for the sake of not having to re-edit. I assume that’s ok? No? Well tough titties, my blog, my rules.
The Battle of Santiago
The build up to the 1962 group stage match between Italy and hosts Chile was dominated by bad blood after Italian journalists covering the tournament made some rather unflattering comments about the Chilean capital Santiago and its apparent lax approach to cleanliness, prevalence of sex workers on every street corner and the general backwards nature of its citizens. Once on the pitch, tempers suitably frayed, the two teams proceeded to kick seven bells of shite out of each other, culminating in Chile’s Leonel Sanchez knocking Italian defender Mario David clean out with a thunderous left hook for which he somehow escaped punishment despite the linesman hovering mere feet away. David’s retribution was to be swift as moments later he clattered his assailant with a neck-high (yes, neck-high) challenge, earning an instant dismissal. Remarkably, the game featured just two sending offs, both on the Italian side, with the other being Giorgio Ferrini for aiming a petulant kick at an opponent, after which he had to be escorted from the field by Chilean military police. Taking full advantage of the numbers game, the hosts proceeded to chalk up a 2-0 win, although by the then the result had become something of an afterthought. Even the normally unflappable David Coleman famously got a little but miffed by the whole affair when introducing the highlights. See below.
The phantom Soviets
Ok, imagine the scene; it’s September 1973, Chile and the USSR have just played out a goalless draw in Moscow in the first leg of their inter-confederation play-off for a place at the following year’s World Cup finals in West Germany. By the time the return match in Santiago rolls around two months later, General Pinochet’s regime is just getting into full swing, resulting in thousands of left-wing dissenters being rounded up, detained at the national stadium and even executed there. Unsurprisingly the Soviets refused to travel essentially forfeiting the tie, but rather than simply award Chile a default victory as is the norm, FIFA instead insisted they kick-off against non-existent opponents and walk the ball into the empty net in front of thousands of bemused spectators. The Chileans even saw fit to pass the ball around mockingly before scoring. Good thing none of them strayed offside, that would have been embarrassing.
In September 1989 Chile’s hopes of qualifying for Italia 90 were looking decidedly shaky. Requiring an unlikely victory over Brazil in the Maracana in order to leapfrog their opponents and claim a spot at the finals, La Roja soon found themselves a goal down and staring elimination in the face, cue Chilean goalkeeper Robero Rojas and his questionable acting talents. Seconds after a flare from the crowd landed in his penalty area, the devious shot stopper collapsed to the ground, discreetly cutting himself with a razor he’d stashed in his gloves and feigned having been struck by the smoking object in an effort to get the game abandoned and secure a likely default win. Well, he got it half right, the game was indeed cancelled but, after video replays clearly showed the flare landing a good 3ft away from him, Brazil were awarded the match instead, Rojas received a lifetime ban from football and Chile were banned from entering USA 94. Whoops.
Whatever happened to Reebok? When I was a teenager they were the mutt’s nuts and everyone wanted Classics on their feet, none of those bland Nike/Adidas/Puma trainers everyone seems to be sporting these days. In some ways this is a perfect metaphor for Chilean national shirts seeing as they’ve given in to the forces of blandness in recent years via a series of uninspiring templates that, if you covered up the badge, could be just about any other red shirted team in the world.
Luckily I managed to snap up this little beauty on American eBay a few years back. The design was utilised during the successful France 98 qualification rounds and at the tournament itself, albeit with a slightly different crest. Bizarrely, Chile wore yet another variation on this design during warm up games for the finals (including a 2-0 win over England at Wembley) which featured the entire Reebok logo emblazoned prominently across the shirt as opposed to the incomplete version seen here. My only theory is that perhaps FIFA don’t allow such obvious use of corporate logos on team attire during World Cup matches, either qualification or finals, and so had a quiet word in Chilean ears.
Left: Chile’s unsubtle tribute to the Reebok brand. Right: Chile’s even more unsubtle tribute to the Reebok brand.