Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 88 -The Great Cheating Condor of Chile (1989)

When Chile return to the World Cup in South Africa in a few months there will be many hoping that some Marcelo Salas of a new generation will come forth and give us a little heart flutter like when they made it in 1998 but somehow this time they won’t want to be reminded why they weren’t there in 1990 or 1994. On September 3 1989 Chile and Brazil played the second game of a home-and-away series to decide a berth in the 1990 World Cup in Italy. On game day, the three Chilean candidates for president sent emissaries to Brazil bearing wishes of “bravery and confidence” to their team.

Before the game in Rio Chilean hopes soared. The team had tied with Brazil, 1-1, in South America Group 3 in Santiago, setting the stage for the one-game showdown. The Chilean selection featured a savvy fullback, Astengo, and the high-flying goalie, “Condor” Rojas. Now, if ever, the nation believed it could beat the Brazilians. Rojas recognized the expectations, and shared them. Never would he be so close to the cup. (Chile last qualified for the World Cup finals in 1982 in Spain, but was eliminated in the first round without a point.) He had to find a way to win, for himself and for his country.

The condor is Chile’s national bird, a red-eyed symbol of strength and honour. Nearing extinction, the Chilean condor flies hundreds of feet above the earth and can glide for 10 miles with one flap of its eight-foot wingspan. Rojas became the Condor in tribute to his diving saves. “I’m very proud of my nickname,” Rojas always said. “That’s our national symbol.” After winning titles with General Pinochet’s baby Colo Colo, Rojas was someone who toured to many schools and prisons preaching Christianity (Rojas was a Protestant in a predominately Catholic country) and was generally revered as a star for the side. At the Maracana on this September day Chile had kept Brazil scoreless until halftime but four minutes in to the second half Chile had gone behind. It was during the celebrations and general mocking of the visitors that a flare was thrown by a young fan on to the pitch (along with other numerous objects like batteries) right near Rojas.

With the commotion on and off the pitch Rojas decided to go ahead with a preordained plan that only Rojas and captain Astengo were in on. Rojas took a small scalpel out of his glove and proceeded to cut a gash in to his forehead, think of it as Rojas being latin football’s answer to an Emo. Rojas then fell to the ground clutching his face and his teammates along with medical staff carried him off the pitch with enough blood being shown to get noticed. Chilean coach Orlando Aravena ordered Astengo to get the players off the pitch and render the game too dangerous. Astengo did this and the match was eventually called off. The plan, it seemed, had worked.

The Brazilian press had babies, commenting “The war began here”. The Chilean FA claimed that it was Brazil’s fault that their keeper was hit by an object and the match should have been played at a neutral venue. During this time Rojas kept up the act and the people of his country supported him by such acts like throwing rocks at the Brazilian embassy in Santiago and the like. FIFA decided to investigate the incident and a week later came back with the decision to let Brazil go to the World Cup due to the fact the Chile had stormed off the ground without the ref’s permission. After more investigations and study of the Brazilian TV footage they further decreed that Chile be banned from the 1994 World Cup qualifiers and that Rojas be banned for life.

Rojas did not appeal the decision nor confess to his fake injuries. The reason for Rojas never coming out and fighting the ban was because of the fact that he had lied to his countrymen who had rioted in his honour as well as get Chile kicked out of the competition until 1998. Following the incident Rojas disappeared from public view with his family and only surfaced again two years later when he began commentating on non-World Cup (obviously) Chile internationals where Astengo, who served a small ban for his part, was still representing Chile.

Rojas had his ban quashed in 2001 but by then his career had long finished and he had become a goalkeeping coach for kids at Colo Colo for a time. A now Pinochet-less Chile eventually did make the 1998 World Cup but the public have always sensed embarrassment on a national scale for the incident in 1989 which is one of the great moments of the World Cup even if it was an attempt at a complete con.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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