Pinochet’s Coup d’état and How the Soviet Union Missed the 1974 World Cup

Despite winning the first edition of the European Championships in 1960, the Soviet Union’s national football team never did well on the biggest stage during the 1960s. The side took part in the World Cup for the first time in 1958, where they reached the quarterfinal, and between the debut and the tournament in Mexico in 1970 the Soviet qualified all four times, but the best result was a fourth place in 1966. In the semifinal, the Soviet side lost 2-1 to West Germany, a score that was repeated in the third-place match, where the Soviet Union lost to Eusebio’s Portugal. The fourth place finish in England marked the end of the Lev Yashin era, despite him also being in the squad for the following World Cup, without receiving playing time though.

After the disappointing decade, the 1970s gave reason for optimism among Soviet football fans. In June 1972, the Soviet national team reached the European Championship final, and despite losing to Gerd Müller’s West Germany the result signaled that the Sbornaya was back among the elite. On top of this Dinamo Kyiv goalkeeper Yevhen Rudakov, who was later that year nominated for the Balon d’Or for the second time, as well as Dinamo Tblisi defenders Murtaz Khurtsilava and Revaz Dzodzuashvili, made the Team of the Tournament.

ussr 1972

Later that summer, the Summer Olympics were held in West Germany, and once again, the Soviet team delivered a promising performance. The Soviet Union came to West Germany with a relatively young and inexperienced squad, but the new players quickly proved their worth. Most noticeable was a 21-year-old Dinamo Kyiv striker, who had only represented the Sbornaya twice before the tournament. The striker went to become one of the Soviet Union’s greatest players and the all-time top scorer of the team. His name was Oleg Blokhin, and in the six Olympic matches, he scored six times.

Oleg Blokhin was also in the starting line-up when the USSR team took on France in the first match in qualification for the 1974 World Cup. After losing the opener in Paris 1-0, the Soviet side cleaned the table with victories in their next three matches. First, they won 2-1 in Dublin against the Republic of Ireland, and in May 1973, they once again defeated Ireland, this time with 1-0 in Moscow. In the final match, France was defeated 2-0 after late goals by Blokhin and Volodimir Onyshchenko.

With first place in Group 9, the Soviet Union was ready to take on Chile in two play-off matches for a spot at the World Cup the following summer.

The first match was set to be played in Moscow on September 26, 1973.? It was however overshadowed by the Chilean coup d’état that had started two weeks earlier. With support from Richard Nixon’s United States, the Chilean president Salvador Allende was overthrown by the military and police force. The socialist Allende, who was democratically elected in 1970, sought the Chilean way to socialism, which meant he nationalized several industries, including Chile’s cobber industry, as well as the health care system. The nationalization of the cobber industry, which had often been owned by Americans, resulted in the United States cutting their financial support to Chile, to instead support the opposition in the country.

When Allende took over Chile, 2.7% of the population owned 70% of the land, but with his nationalization, this was quickly changed. Furthermore, Allende made sure to raise the salaries of the lower and middle classes, as well as increase the subsidies for families and pensions.

Unfortunately for Allende, an American blockade of goods caused the selection of goods to remain limited, which meant that Chileans didn’t have many opportunities to spend their money. With financial support from the American intelligence service CIA, many workers went on strike, and the unhappiness with Allende’s work, as well as a failed military coup in June 1973, caused Allende to issue an election on September 10 to find out if the people still preferred his socialist policies.

Realizing that this would remove the legitimacy of the coup d’état that was planned for September 11, Augusto Pinochet, who was appointed Commander-in-chief in August after the failed coup, personally called Allende, convincing him to postpone the election a week for ‘security reasons’.

At 4.30 in the morning on September 11, the Chilean navy started the coup, when they occupied strategic spots along the coast while they also arrested leftists and killed those who were seen as dangerous. For the rest of the day, the military continued their conquest, taking over radio stations, unions and different government bodies and ministries. At 11AM, the bombardment of Allende’s presidential palace began, and five hours later, his body was carried out after he committed suicide.

chile ussr1973

After the coup, anyone with even the slightest leftist tendencies was systematically hunted down and within the first few days after the coup, tens of thousands had been arrested with many of them being imprisoned at the national stadium, the Estadio National, in the capital Santiago. At the same time, all political parties were outlawed, and Pinochet quickly emerged as the leader of the new junta.

Poster for the first leg in Moscow.

Poster for the first leg in Moscow.

With the first match in Moscow ending 0-0, everything was open before the return leg. Despite the efforts from the junta to keep the stadium’s role as prison a secret, the Soviet Union issued a formal request to FIFA to move the match to a neutral ground outside of Chile, claiming Soviet sportsmen couldn’t morally defend playing on a field stained with the blood of patriots.

Sbornaya dominated the match, and only miracles by the Chilean defenders and goalkeeper kept them from scoring the goals they needed to secure a spot at the World Cup. Former Spartak Moscow defender Evgeny Lovchev has later revealed that there was a huge political pressure on the players to beat the new political enemy, and that this pressure was the primary reason the players couldn’t score and win the game.

In response to the complaint, FIFA launched an official investigation and a delegation visited the stadium in Santiago. Despite there still being prisoners at the stadium while the delegation visited it, FIFA found no evidence to back up the Soviet claims, and they made it clear that the match would not be moved.

Because of FIFA’s decision, the Soviet national team chose to stay home in Moscow, and thus forfeited the match. However, despite this, the match wasn’t cancelled, and 18,000 spectators showed up to watch Chile qualify for the World Cup.

After singing the Chilean national anthem, the players kicked off the game before they slowly passed the ball down the field before it was eventually shot into the empty goal on the Soviet half. After this, the match ended and the players left the field.

While it was admirable that the Soviet Union lost a spot at the World Cup due to moral reasons, it is highly questionable if that was the only reason. Football was often used as a propaganda tool by the Soviet authorities, but while it could be used to put society in a positive light, the opposite could also be the case if the results failed. In 1952 for example, the reigning champions from CDSA?Moscow, the later CSKA, were disbanded after a Soviet team primarily consisting of CDSA?players had failed at the Summer Olympics in Helsinki, where they lost to Yugoslavia, the archrivals from the communist bloc.

It is highly likely that the authorities wanted to avoid a defeat to Chile, a country that went from being Marxist to a close ally of the United States.? Had the result from the first match been more positive and a victory been assured, it is likely that the Soviet players would have travelled to Santiago to play, concentration camp or not.

Following the forfeited play-off match, it wasn’t until the World Cup in 1982 that Oleg Blokhin, at the age of 29, got the chance to represent the national team in an international tournament, when the Soviet side qualified for the World Cup in Spain. Before that, it had missed the qualifications to the 1976 and 1980 Euro as well as the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.


Follow Toke?on Twitter: @TokeTheilade

Toke M?ller Theilade

Author: Toke M?ller Theilade

Br?ndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at Nhà Cái Trực Tuyến Hàng Đầu Châu Á́́ As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.


  1. where do we find any record of the match played by URSS vs Chile in Moscu (nov 1973)?


  1. […] Pinochet’s Coup d’état and How the Soviet Union Missed the 1974 World Cup Toke M?ller Theilade 10 novembre 2015, Russian Football News […]

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