Chile and Italy met in the 1962 FIFA World Cup, which resulted in ‘the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football possibly in the history of the game’.
Nicknamed the Battle of Santiago, the match between the Chilean host nation and the Italians was preceded by provocative articles in the Italian press. Chile had suffered devastating damage in the 1960 Valvida earthquake, which was the largest ever recorded and caused at least $3.24 billion of damage when adjusted for inflation. In the wake of the disaster, Italian journalists criticised the decision to allow Chile to continue to host the competition as ‘pure madness’. Shortly before the competition was due to begin, Italian newspapers published further inflammatory comments about the country’s infrastructure, people and capital city.
These tensions came to a head at the Group 2 match between Chile and Italy at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago. In front of over 66,000 people, the players unleashed such violence that the Mirror, a newspaper in Britain, described the pitch as ‘a battlefield’. The match was refereed by experienced Englishman Ken Aston who sent off an Italian player within the first few minutes, but later failed to reprimand Chilean Leonel Sánchez for throwing punches at two separate Italian players, breaking the nose of one of them.
Despite armed police needing to be called three times during the match, the game finished with Chile winning 2-0 against a 9-man Italian team. Aston was heavily criticised by both sides, but defended himself by saying that he was more like ‘an umpire in military manoeuvres’. He was later appointed to the FIFA Referees’ Committee, where he introduced red and yellow cards as a visual sign of a caution or sending off.