Flight of the Big Bird: Story of the 1962 World Cup

Kinshuk Biswas turns back the clock to witness the flight of the Big Bird

The 1962 World Cup logo

The 1962 World Cup started the modern trend of countries contesting for the right to host the tournament. The last time such a contest had ensued was in 1938. Chile became the surprise choice over nations like Argentina and West Germany to host the ’62 World Cup. A relatively small country with a population of eight million, which had been devastated by an earthquake in 1960, raised many eyebrows after being selected as the host. The Chilean Football Association (FA) president Carlos Dittborn had pleaded with the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) using the famous words, “We have to get the World Cup because we have nothing.”  Chile only had one stadium but eventually built three new stadia to accommodate the matches. Carlos Dittborn died a month before the start of the tournament and the new stadium at Arica was named after him.

Carlos Dittborn

The Brazilians were back and were the favourites with a 21-year old Pele and Garrincha at the height of his powers; Mario Zagallo, Didi and Vava were also back. The only concern was that, they had an ageing side with an average age of the players over 30. The Soviet Union had won the European Nations Cup in 1960 and had a very good team. They were considered to be the main challengers to Brazil. Yugoslavia had finally managed to win the Olympic gold in football after three consecutive losses in the final. They had a very good trio of forwards in Dragoslav Sekularac, Drazen Jerkovic and Milan Galic. They were coached by Ciric Milovan, one of the greatest man managers of those times. Uruguay was back and so were Argentina with a defensive-minded coach in Juan Carlos Lorenzo who believed in the physical aspect of the game.

Italy had loaded their team with South American imports like Omar Sivori and Humberto Maschio of Argentina and Jose Altafini of Brazil. Spain had similarly picked Jose Santamaria of Uruguay and the great Ferenc Puskas of Hungary. England was a team with some good players like Jimmy Greaves, Ray Wilson, Bobby Charlton and 21-year old Bobby Moore. The problem was that the only creative mid-fielder in their team was Johnny Haynes, the captain. Sweden, the runners-up of the last edition had not qualified and France had a good team but were defeated in qualifying by Bulgaria (shades of 1994), making their debut in the tournament with Columbia.

Eventually 16 teams were included with the hosts Chile and defending champions Brazil qualifying automatically. Again, there were no teams from Asia and Africa who had been eliminated in play-off matches against much superior European sides.

FIFA thankfully did not tinker too much with the format. The teams were divided into four groups with the top two teams qualifying for the quarterfinals. In case of teams being tied, average goals scored would determine the winner. The days of the play-offs were over. Knockout matches would have extra time followed by a draw of lots to decide the winner. The final was an exception with the provision of a replay in case the match was drawn after extra-time. In any case, the draw of lots was not required for any match in the tournament.  After the groups were drawn, four teams were seeded. The final groups were:


Group 1

The first match featured the debutants Columbia against the mighty Uruguayans. The debutants surprised their much fancied opponents by taking the lead through a Francisco Zuluaga penalty. The Uruguayans then grew frustrated and started making some dangerous tackles. Zuluaga was left with three broken ribs ending his international career. Eventually the equaliser came via a Luis Cubilla cross-cum-shot in the 57th minute. Normal service was restored when Uruguay scored the winning goal through Jose Sasia. The other match was a repeat of the 1960 European Nation Cup final between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The result was identical with the Soviets winning 2-0 with goals from Valentin Ivanov and Viktor Ponedelnik. Lev Yashin had made two brilliant saves in the first half to deny Sekularac and Galic.

The second round of matches featured Uruguay against Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union against Columbia. The Uruguayans started well and took the lead through Ruben Cabrera. After that Sekularac took control of the midfield, Jerkovic was fouled in the penalty area which was converted by Josip Skoblar. Galic scored before halftime and Jerkovic scored just after the start of the second half. The final score was 3-1 in favour of the Yugoslavians. The Soviet Union and Columbia match was a classic. The Soviets cruised to a 3-0 lead with two goals from Ivanov and one from Igor Chislenko by the 13th minute. German Aceros pulled one back but Ponedelnik scored a fourth Soviet goal in the 57th minute to restore the three-goal margin. The Columbians were revived by a freak goal directly from a corner by Marcos Coli which was strangely allowed to cross the line by the Soviet defender Givi Chokheli at the near post much to the indignation of Yashin. Antonio Rada and Marino Klinger both scored due to errors from the great Yashin. The match finally finished 4-4.

Going into the last round of matches all the four teams had a chance of progression. The Soviet Union match against Uruguay showed that the last match against Columbia was just a bad day at the office for the European champions. The Soviets dominated the match and led through a goal from Aleksei Mamikin. The Uruguayans equalised against the run of play resulting from a loose free kick taken on the edge of the box by Yashin. The Soviets laid siege to the Uruguay goal after the equaliser. Chislenko was awarded a goal by the referee in the 75th minute. The Soviet captain Igor Netto in great gesture of sportsmanship informed the referee that the ball had actually entered the goal through a hole in the side netting and got the goal disallowed. However, in the 89th minute Ivanov scored using his pace to give the Soviet Union a deserved 2-1 victory and the top position in the group. In the other match Yugoslavia hammered Columbia 5-0 to claim the second position in the group.

Group 2

Giorgio Ferrini being removed by police after being sent off in the ‘Battle of Santiago’

The first match featured the hosts against Switzerland. The Chileans were expected to win in front of a partisan home crowd. It were the Swiss who went into the lead with a goal from Rolf Wuthrich. After taking the lead, the Swiss sat back allowing the Chilean midfielders Jorge Toro and Eladio Rojas to control the game. Some display of hard tackling!  Chile was lucky to get the equaliser off a deflected Leonel Sanchez shot wrong-footing the keeper. The crowd invaded the pitch and police had to be brought in to clear the playing area. Jaime Ramirez gave Chile the lead and Sanchez scored a second to give the hosts a 3-1. The home support was stupendous, almost like an extra player on the field for the Chileans. The other match between Italy and West Germany was a 0-0 draw with Uwe Seeler and young 18-year old Gianni Rivera showing glimpses of their skill.

The next round featured a match, which would be remembered as one of the bloodiest and brutal encounters in a World Cup game – Chile versus Italy, better known as ‘The Battle of Santiago’. Two Italian journalists, Antonio Ghirelli and Corrado Pizzinelli had enraged the locals by a series of articles highlighting the poverty of Santiago and questioning the morals of the Chilean women. The journalists had gone back to Italy but the national team had to face the repercussions for their words.

Even while walking out it was claimed that the Chilean players were spitting at their opponents’ faces. The referee Ken Aston of England tried to bring in some control in the match but it was far too explosive to contain. Italian Giorgio Ferrini and Leonel Sanchez were kicking each other instead of the ball. After that, Ferrini was sent off for retaliation to a kick from Honorino Landa. Ferrini refused to leave and play was stopped for eight minutes until police had to intervene and escort him off the field.

Mario David of Italy was flattened by a punch from Sanchez who was unhappy with the former’s constant kicking without the ball. The referee did nothing, so David took matters in his own hand, rather foot by kicking Sanchez in the neck. He was promptly sent-off by Aston. Later David and Sanchez played together at Milan and became great friends. Toro demonstrated a perfect rugby tackle on the Italian defender Bruno Mora and held him down on the ground. The referee had to separate them like a wrestling official, but no sending off.

The match was won 2-0 by Chile with goals from Ramirez and Toro, who should not have been on the field in the 74th and 88th minutes respectively. Aston did not officiate in another match in this tournament. The only positive from this ugly match was the fact that Ken Aston came up with the idea of red and yellow cards. Aston’s refereeing on that day would make Graham Poll look like the best referee in the world. In the other match West Germany beat Switzerland 2-1 with goals from Seeler and Albert Brulls.

The last round of matches featured a 3-0 victory by Italy over Switzerland. The win was in vain as West Germany had defeated Chile 2-0 a day earlier to effectively decide the fate of the group. Italian goalkeeper Renzo Buffon who had not played against Chile yet is till date the only goalkeeper not to concede a goal in the World Cup playing more than one match. He was the cousin of the grandfather of Gigi Buffon, the current Italy and Juventus goalkeeping legend. West Germany topped the group followed by Chile.

Group 3

Brazil played Mexico in a repeat of their first group match in 1954. The result was the same as the last edition; however, the Mexicans finally had some sort of defensive strategy in place. They held the champions to a 0-0 till half-time. Pele then created a goal for Zagallo, winning a ball and providing a cross for a diving header. The second goal was Pele’s own where he nutmegged a player on the right touchline, went past three more and shot left-footed in the bottom corner after getting into the penalty area. The 2-0 score was a triumph of sorts for the Mexicans as they had conceded five goals last time. The Brazilian coach Aymore Moreira was brother of Zeze Moreira, the coach of the team in 1954. They are the only siblings to have been coaches in the finals of the World Cup. The second match was between Spain and Czechoslovakia. Santamaria and Puskas were both much older and slower and were negated by the physical presence of the Czech half backs. Eventually Jozef Stribranyi scored for the East Europeans to give them a 1-0 victory.

In the second round of matches, Brazil played Czechoslovakia and Spain played Mexico. The first match was a 0-0 draw. Pele had a groin injury before the start of the tournament. He had hidden the true extent of his injury from his manager and team doctor.

Pele after his injury against Czechoslovakia in the group stage match

This injury got aggravated while attempting a shot. He spent the rest of the match helplessly standing and hobbling on the wing. Later, Pele would recall the actions of the Czech defenders Jan Popluhar and Jan Lala who refused to tackle him disobeying their coach.

Jan Popluhar(L), the unstoppable Garrincha(C) and Jan Lala(R)

He recalled the sporting spirit of the two individuals with the following words – “One of those things I shall always remember with emotion and one of the finest things that happened in my entire football career.” Pele’s tournament was over. In the second match Antonio Carbajal, the Mexican goalkeeper gave one of his finest performances but failed to hold on to a Francisco Gento shot, which allowed Joaquin Piero to score for Spain. The goal came in the 89th minute and Carbajal was on his knees disconsolately weeping at the final whistle.

The last round of matches featured Brazil against Spain and Czechoslovakia being pitted against Mexico. The first match decided the fate of the group with Brazil winning 2-1 with two goals from Amarildo. Puskas had a great match creating the opening goal for Adelardo Rodriguez but it had to be the last appearance in the World Cup of an absolute legend. The last match was inconsequential as both Brazil and Czechoslovakia had qualified. The Czechs played a second string side. The match was won 3-1 by Mexico, their first win in the tournament at the 14th attempt. This match also featured the fastest goal ever in the tournament scored after 15 seconds by VaclavMasek of Czechoslovakia which was not recognized by FIFA for over 40 years.  Brazil topped the group with Czechoslovakia in second place.

Group 4

The opening match of the group was Argentina against debutants Bulgaria. The only goal in the match was scored by Hector Facundo of Argentina in the fourth minute. Silvio Marzolini showed why he was considered one of the greatest left backs of all time. After the bright start the Argentines showed a very cynical side to their game by continuously fouling the best players of the opposition. Ivan Kolev was the most frequent target. Christo Iliev and Todor Diev were out injured for the rest of the tournament. Their coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo was notorious for instilling the ‘win at any cost even dirty’ mentality in his teams. He was later the manager of a Lazio team whose players brawled in the street with their opponents Arsenal. Also at Atletico Madrid who had three players sent-off in a European match against Celtic (Jose Mourinho must have studied his methods). The team had a lot of skill but the scars of the 6-1 loss to Czechoslovakia in 1958 probably made them play in the cynical style. In the second match England were given a lesson in tactics by Hungary. The Hungarians used creative ball-playing half backs like Erno Solymosi against a pedestrian opposition. The final score of 2-1 in favour of the Hungarians was flattering to England as they could have easily conceded four or five goals. The Hungarians looked a very good side with Florian Albert and Lajos Tichy in attack. England had to improve a lot and they had players who could do so.

The second round featured the very first England-Argentina match in the World Cup, a match-up which has become a bitter rivalry comparable with any derby or clasico. England won the match 3-1 with Bobby Charlton having a brilliant outing at the outside-left position. Walter Winterbottom had instructed his team to physically slug it out with the Argentines who after the opening 10 minutes stopped their cynical style against a physically superior side. In the other match the Hungarians established themselves as one of the favourites with a 6-1 thumping of Bulgaria with an Albert hat-trick, a brace from Tichy and a goal from Solymosi.

The last round of matches featured Argentina against Hungary. Hungary, who had virtually qualified played a reserve forward line and packed their defence and played out a 0-0 draw. The Argentines had to rely on Bulgaria beating England to progress. The England-Bulgaria match was described by Bobby Moore as the worst international match he had ever played. The final score was 0-0 giving the Bulgarians their first points of the World Cup. Hungary topped the group followed by England who progressed at Argentina’s expense. Argentina became the first team to be eliminated by a goal average.

The quarterfinal matches had been decided thus: The Soviet Union playing Chile, West Germany playing the same opponents of this stage for the third time in succession – Yugoslavia, Brazil facing England and an east European clash between Hungary and Czechoslovakia.


The Soviets were favourites against Chile but were undone by the performance by their legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin, which he later described as the worst of his career. Sanchez beat Yashin with a free kick towards his right. The Soviets had not formed a wall but it was an easy shot, which should have been saved. Chislenko equalised only to see Yashin surprised by a low shot from Rojas. The Chileans set up a 10-man defensive wall and backed by a vociferous crowd won 2-1. A genuine upset, which meant the team that had been billed as the main opponents of Brazil were eliminated. Yugoslavia was third time lucky against the West Germans winning 1-0 through a Petar Radakovic goal in the 85th minute. It was the end of the road for the West German manager Sepp Herberger who was managing the team since 1938. The West German football federation as an aftermath to this loss started the Bundesliga.

Ron Springett drops the ball for Vava to score as Bobby Moore looks on

The Brazil-England match was the cue for Garrincha to come alive. Early in the match he dribbled past three opponents to be tackled by Haynes. Then he showed a previously unseen skill by scoring with a powerful header off a Zagallo corner getting in front of his marker. England equalised through Gerry Hitchens. In the second half, the England goalkeeper Ron Springett scooped up a Garrincha free kick to Vava who promptly headed it into the goal. England and its World Cup goalkeepers!

Then Garrincha put the exclamation mark on his performance by receiving a pass from Amarildo outside the box and curling a right foot shot from outside the D to the top corner past a helpless Springett. A woolly black dog had invaded the pitch, it managed to side-step past Garrincha – something the English players could not manage throughout the match. The dog was eventually cornered and caught by Jimmy Greaves; if only he had managed the same success against Garrincha. It seemed the only way England could do well in this tournament was to make major tactical changes and of course host the tournament. In the last quarter-final, Hungary were favourites but a patchy pitch thwarted their slick passing game. Czechoslovakia had no such problems and slick passing between Josef Masopust and Albert Scherer led to a goal in the 13th minute from the latter. After that it was a string of brilliant saves from Viliam Schrojf, the Czech goalkeeper. Tichy hit the bar for Hungarians who were yet again eliminated by a utilitarian side 1-0.


The first semi-final between Chile and Brazil attracted the biggest crowd of the tournament – 76,594 as per the official records. The Brazilians were too experienced to be affected by a partisan crowd. Rojas hit the post early on but Brazil was in control. Zagallo hit a long cross in the ninth minute, Vava missed his overhead kick and the loose ball was thumped into the top corner by Garrincha’s left foot from 20 yards. Then Garrincha pushed in a powerful header out of a Zagallo corner. Zagallo was constantly joining up in attack making the Brazilian 4-4-2 formation into a virtual 4-3-3. Toro raised the hopes of the hosts by scoring off a 25-yard free kick. Vava headed in a corner in the start of the second half. Zózimo gave away a penalty by handling the ball in the Brazilian box. Sanchez converted to give the Chileans a glimmer. It was extinguished by Vava headed in a Garrincha cross to make the final score 4-2 in favour of the defending champions. Landa was sent off for a kick on Zito, then Garrincha kicked Rojas and was sent off. On his way back to the dressing room, Garrincha was hit on the head by a missile from the crowd. The Brazilian management and federation immediately started negotiations to allow their best player to appear in the final.

The other semifinal between Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia was in contrast seen by only 5,890 people. The Czechs were the better side in balance of play but their goalkeeper Schrojf had to make a good save against Galic. The Czechs scored early in the second half after Josef Kadraba headed in off a rebound. The Yugoslavs hit the post twice in succession in the 56th minute. The equaliser came in the 68th minute through a Jerkovic back header, which was achieved by beating the goalkeeper to a cross. The Yugoslavian defence let them down when Scherer scored being completely unmarked in the 80th minute. The Czechs made the match safe converting a penalty after a foolish handball in the Yugoslavia box. The final score was 3-1.

In the third place match Chile beat Yugoslavia 1-0 after a low shot by Rojas was deflected past the keeper.


The final was a repeat of a group stage match, which finished goalless. Although the Brazilians were down to virtually 10 men for most of that match owing to Pele’s injury, Garrincha was allowed to play by FIFA. He was immediately in action crossing for Vava who hit the near post. After that Garrincha was surprisingly contained by the Czech captain Ladislav Novak who marshalled him brilliantly. The Czechs took the lead in the 14th minute when Masopust scored off a low first time shot from a clever pass from Tomas Pospichal (0-1). The Brazilians were level after two minutes. Amarildo received a throw-in, shrugged off a defender then beat Svatopluk Pluskal, the centre back near the left hand goal line and hit the target at the near post (1-1). Schrojf had left a gaping hole expecting a cross. The Czechs had a valid penalty claim turned down when Djalma Santos handled the ball in his own box. The news archive videos show the handball clearly but Nikolai Latyshev, the Soviet referee decided otherwise. The Czech wingers had been playing well, as was Masopust but they lacked a true finisher. Rudolf Kucera, their best striker was back home in Prague injured before the tournament. The score remained 1-1 at half-time.

Mauro(L) , Referee-Nikolai Latyshev(C) and Ladislav Novak(R)

The match continued in a similar pattern for much of the second half with Brazil, with a lot of possession attacking and the Czech wingers using their pace to launch counter-attacks only to see the Brazilian defenders deal with their crosses easily. Then in the 69th minute, Amarildo stamped his authority on the game. He was sent a pass on the left by Zito, which flummoxed the opposition defenders. Amarildo dummied to cross, then cut the ball back to his right foot and dinked a delightful ball over the goalkeeper to an unmarked Zito who had continued his run. Zito headed in his first goal for the national team in five years (2-1).

Schrojf made a few good saves as Brazil continued to attack. In the 78th minute, Brazil won a throw-in near the opposition penalty area. Djalma Santos came up, held off an opponent by turning his back. Then he spun and hit a hopeful cross into the opposition penalty box. Schrojf came out to gather and completely overran the ball as it was coming out of the sun, he caught it behind him but the ball slipped out. It fell to Vava who slotted it in grinning like a Cheshire cat, becoming the first player to score in two different finals of the World Cup

(3-1). It was the end of the road for the Czechs who were a good team but too pedestrian for the ageing Brazilian team with a lot of class. The final whistle went and Brazil emulated Italy by winning the tournament twice in succession, a feat yet to be equalled till date.

Vava celebrating after scoring his goal

The Brazilian captain Ramos de Oliveira better known as Mauro, was presented the trophy by Jules Rimet.

The average goal per match was 2.78; first time in the history of the tournament it fell below three. It has never crossed three since. It was the dawn of modern-day defensive strategies which made scoring difficult. The tournament was successful with a celebration for the hosts. Brazil were at the top of the world and it was difficult to see who could beat them in four years.

Mauro lifting the Jules Rimet Cup
The Winning XI