Translation: The phantom team

Translation: The phantom team

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[Carlos Caszely]: It was an embarrassment at the global level… I feel ashamed when I think back on it because it was something that was very, very, very, very sad for us.

[Daniel Alarcón, host]: Welcome to Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Today we’re going back into our archives for a story about soccer.

There are legendary matches that people always remember. And others that slide into oblivion. In the case of Chile, there is one in particular, the most forgotten of all. A re-match between Chile and Soviet Union to qualify for the 1974 World Cup.

Today, the Ghost Team.

This is Dennis Maxwell.


[Dennis Maxwell, producer]: The story of this match starts the day before the military coup lead by Pinochet on September 11th, 1973. The Chilean national team was in the playoffs for the ‘74 World Cup in Germany.  “The Reds,” the Chilean national team, had to leave the country to play a series of friendly matches before traveling to Moscow, where they would have their first match against the Soviets. The winner would go to the World Cup and the loser would be out.

[Carlos Caszely]: My name is Carlos Humberto Caszley Garrido. I was born on July 5th, 1950. I’m 62 years old. Titles? Uff…let’s see: professional soccer player, amateur soccer player, professor of physical education at the University of Chile…

[Dennis Maxwell]: Caszley was the star of these playoffs. In the first friendly, against Mexico, Caszley scored two goals. But after the game, people weren’t talking to him about soccer, instead, they wanted to talk about the political situation in Chile.

[Carlos Caszely]: No, it went beyond the match, it was about the deaths there had been in Chile, the deaths there had been after the coup, that we had no idea about because we didn’t know anything. There was no news. There was nothing.

[Dennis Maxwell]: After Mexico, their next match brought them to Switzerland and there the reaction was similar. People came up to them to ask them for news from Chile. About their families. About the dead. As if, instead of soccer players, they were messengers.

But messengers of what?


[Annoucement]: El Palacio de la Moneda should be evacuated before 11 o’clock. Otherwise it’ll be attacked by the Chilean Air Force. The workers should stay at the work sites, they are strictly prohibited from leaving them. In the event that they do abandon the sites, they will be attacked by aerial and ground forces.

[Dennis Maxwell]: After the friendly matches, they arrived in the Soviet Union, where they nearly weren’t let in. For the Soviets, they were emissaries of a government they did not agree with. Several players, including Caszley, were detained at the Moscow airport for several hours.

[Carlos Caszely]: According to the Russians, we weren’t the people on our passports and that’s why they weren’t letting us enter.

[Dennis Maxwell]: That’s what their time in Moscow would be like: tense, complicated and full of anxiety. Caszley can remember perfectly what the match in Lenin Stadium was like.

[Carlos Caszely]: We arrive at the stadium and it was -4 degrees Celsius. We were incredibly cold and we went onto the pitch, the stadium’s full… Whenever the stadium was full I always thought and imagined they were rooting for us, so the cheers and shouts, or that buzzing sound like a bee that you can feel down on the pitch, I interpreted that as being for me… They didn’t manage to beat us, we tied 0-0 and when the match was over everyone applauded.

[Dennis Maxwell]: Because of the tie, Chile would now have to face the Soviet Union at home, and their qualification for the World Cup depended on that match.

But there was one important detail. The Chilean military had turned the National Stadium in Santiago into a concentration camp.

The Soviets refused to play in a stadium that to them was “blood-stained,” an accusation that Pinochet’s military junta was certain to emphatically deny. In an attempt to mediate between the Chileans and the Soviets, FIFA sent representatives to Santiago, supposedly to inspect the National Stadium. They wanted to make sure that the location was within regulation for the match. That meant “checking” that there was no imprisonment, torture or killing at the stadium.

[Jorge Montealegre]: They wouldn’t let those of us at the stadium up to the bleachers, you know, to see what was happening on the field.

[Dennis Maxwell]: Jorge Montealegre was there. The day the FIFA commission inspected the stadium, he was ordered to remain silent -like so many other- at gunpoint. He was only 19.

[Jorge Montealegre]: The kept us below, in these alcoves or under hatches… like we were hiding… We didn’t come out that time because there were journalists with the commission. It was like there were two different worlds.  

[Dennis Maxwell]: At that time, they say there were more than 7,000 detainees in the National Stadium. Seven THOUSAND. And FIFA representatives didn’t see anything. Of course, the field was pristine, perfect. More than one prisoner told me that the soldiers took better care of the pitch than their own weapons.

So, FIFA gave them the go-ahead to play in the National Stadium. And under the auspices of the organization, the president of the Chilean Football Association gave an ultimatum. This is the press conference where he directs his comments directly to the Soviets.

[Francisco Fluxá]: The situation is in your hands; either you play on the 21st in Santiago or you withdraw from the World Cup. That would mean

that Chile would qualify automatically.

[Dennis Maxwell]: FIFA and the Pinochet government agreed: the deciding match would be played in the National Stadium. That was it.

A few days before the match the prisoners were transferred to northern Chile, to Chacabuco, a salt mine in the middle of the Atacama desert.

[Jorge Montealegre]: The world had its eyes on Chile and the dictatorship… The symbol of the stadium as a concentration camp was a very negative, let’s call it propaganda, for the dictatorship. In other words, the world saw the stadium as a metaphor for the Chilean dictatorship.

[Daniel Alarcón]: We’ll be back after the break.


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[Daniel Alarcón]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. The day of the match between Chile and the Soviet Union arrived. The Soviets had been unequivocal: they would not play in the National Stadium. But the Chilean organizers maintained that the Russians had not communicated with them.  This is Alfredo Asfura, a director from the Chilean Football Federation at the time.

[Alfredo Asfura]: And they had a posture of silence, of indifference and of being irresponsibly unwilling to communicate with us or budge. Up until the last minute we didn’t know if the Soviet Union was going to show up there in the tunnel.

[Dennis Maxwell]: It’s November 21st, 1973. Only two and half months after the military coup.

In a nearly empty stadium the Chilean players go out on the field to the sound of a sad band of policemen.

The referee, who was not a FIFA ref, but a Chilean ref instead, blew the starting whistle and four players advanced toward the southern goal –without much trouble, since they didn’t have an opponent. In front of a goal without a goalie, el “Chamaco” Valdés, a midfielder and team captain, stopped for a second with the ball. The journalists got ready to take the photo. Valdés shot the ball from the right and it hit the net. High up in the stadium, the scoreboard read Chile-1, Soviet Union-0.

This is how Elías Figeroa, one of the best players on the team, remembers it.

[Elías Figeroa]: I think it was absurd because we had to get into formation, because FIFA says so in the rules, and we had to score a goal to win [laughs] to say we won the match. We, the players, were dying of laughter having to make that goal, not playing against anyone, having no one there and moving up the field.

[Dennis Maxwell]: Caszley is even more definitive.

[Carlos Caszely]: That team did the most ridiculous charade in history –it was ridiculousness at a global level.

[Dennis Maxwell]: If it was absurd for the players, for Jorge Montealegre and the thousands of prisoners that survived torturous weeks locked inside the National Stadium, that match represented something bigger.

[Jorge Montealegre]: Well, I think it was metaphor for the country too, don’t you think? That they didn’t play against anyone and won. Isn’t it? …A ghost match, with a missing team. It was like playing the disappeared, isn’t it…something like what’s evoked or created or represented in the drama of the disappeared with the cueca sola.

[Dennis Maxwell]: The cueca is the national dance of Chile. The relatives of disappeared prisoners did a version of the dance in which they danced without their partners, without their loved ones. They dance alone. So Chile qualified for the World Cup in Germany.  

[Carlos Caszely]: The world heard the news! The world heard the news: “Russia didn’t play against Chile, Chile qualifies.” The headlines in the newspapers, if you read the newspapers in those days, let everyone know in large print that Russia had not won and that Chile qualified for the 74 World Cup.

[Dennis Maxwell]: Months later, in June of 1974, Pinochet called the team together to bid them farewell before they set out for Germany.

[Carlos Caszely]: And when we’re all standing there and they open the door, this guy comes out in a cape, in dark glasses, with a hat –and honestly, I mean, it scared me. A chill went down my spine, seeing something so like Hitler, with five guys behind him, I swear, I don’t know if I was being brave or a coward. The thing is, when he comes up to me, I put my hand behind my back and I don’t offer it to him.

[Dennis Maxwell]: Caszley dared to refuse to shake Pinochet’s hand, one of the first gestures of protest against the dictatorship.

In Germany, things didn’t go well for them –two draws and one loss– making Caszley’s act maybe the most memorable moments of the World Cup in Chile.

Years later, in 1985, a match was organized to say goodbye to Caszley as a professional player. It was in the National Stadium. It was a hot spring afternoon. And more than 80 thousand people cheered the player on with flags, signs and shouts. They were also letting loose their anger toward the dictatorship, which had been in power for more than a decade at that point. Jorge Montealegre was there.

[Jorge Montealegre]: When they said goodbye to Caszley, we knew it would be an important event for politics as well as sports. In that sense Caszley was very symbolic.

[Dennis Maxwell]: But it was more than just symbolic. Caszley’s mother was detained and tortured.

[Jorge Montealegre]: We knew what had happened to his family, we knew that he was on the left, we knew that he had refused to shake hands with Pinochet. Acts of bravery, that they thought a lot of people may have wanted to do, but hadn’t dared to do.  

[Dennis Maxwell]: It was the first time Jorge set foot back in the National Stadium since being a prisoner there and coming to know it as a torture camp.

[Jorge Montealegre]: For me personally it was a return to a certain family tradition I had of going to the stadium with my brother. I could feel it, and it was like an exorcism too in the sense of going back to that place but with another symbol.

[Dennis Maxwell]: No TV station dared air Caszley’s goodbye match live. Maybe because they knew that more than a match, it would turn into a protest.

[Jorge Montealegre]:: You have to put Caszley’s goodbye match in the context of growing mobilization against the dictatorship. I think one of the huge demonstrations that had to do with start of the protests was Caszley’s match.

[Dennis Maxwell]: Radio Cooperativa de Santiago was the only station that aired the match.

[Carlos Caszely]: Because Cooperativa said everything that was happening in the Nation Stadium. With the sound of people shouting: “Pinochet will fall. He will fall. He will fall”.

Daniel: Dennis Maxwell is a journalist and documentarian. He lives in Oakland, California. A special thank you to Gayle Maxwell and Rodolfo Campos. This story was edited by Annie Aviles, Camila Segura and me. Mixing and sound design by Marina Castro and Andrés Azpiri.

The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Desiree Bayonet, Jorge Caraballo, Barbara Sawhill, Ryan Sweikert, Luis Trelles, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa, Luis Fernando Vargas and Silvia Viñas. Maytik Avirama is our editorial intern and Andrea Betanzos is the program coordinator. Carolina Guerrero is our CEO

Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO.

Learn more about Radio Ambulante and this story on our website: Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin American I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.



Dennis Maxwell



Annie Aviles, Camila Segura & Daniel Alarcón

Martina Castro & Andrés Azpiri

Rocío Urtecho