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The Man who Fell to Earth

Whilst barely remembered now, few men can have created more headlines around the world for one incident than Chile goalkeeper Roberto Rojas, often known as the Condor for the way he swoped and dived around his goalmouth..

At the time, the image of Rojas prone on the floor bleeding caused shock waves around the world, until photographer’s stills of the incident were published.

What he did playing for his country in a World Cup qualifier against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro inn 1989 would not only earn him a lifetime ban from the sport, but also meant that his country were excluded from the tournament for one cycle completely.

The match on 3rd September 1989 in the Maracanã Stadium was vital to the hopes of both teams as they sought to qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

At that time, World Cup qualifying in South America was determined on a mini-group basis, with the winner of each group going through to the finals. Brazil and Chile were drawn with Venezuela, who proved to be the whipping boys of the group.

The first leg between the two sides finished one all in Santiago, and was full of controversy. Armed guards from the regime of Chile’s dictator General Pinochet, lined the pitch to try and intimidate the Brazilian players, and offensive messages about them appeared on the stadium scoreboard. Meanwhile Brazil were reduced to ten men after one of their players retaliated after he was bitten.

By the time the reverse fixture came around, Chile had the advantage of goal difference, and needed just  appoint to qualify.

Brazil though went 1 -0 up when, in the 70th minute, Rojas fell to the floor, seemingly felled by a  flare thrown from the crowd. With his head covered in blood, he was carried off the pitch, and his teammates walked off as well, claiming that it was unsafe for them to continue.

It was not the first object to be thrown on to the pitch. Almost from the first minute, bottles and fruit had rained down and some Brazil fans were worried that the game, which was then abandoned,  could either be replayed, or worse still, that the home nation could be disqualified altogether.   

They proved that the flare in question, thrown by a 23-year old secretary, Rosemary Mello di Nascimento, had landed several yards from Rojas.

And then on further investigation, it was found that the goalkeeper had secreted a razor blade into one of his gloves before taking to the pitch. He then deliberately cut himself with the intention of getting the game called off if it looked like things were going against Chile

With the truth now out in the open, FIFA awarded Brazil a 2 – 0 win, securing their qualification for the World Cup the following year. Rojas was banned for life, along with the team coach Orlando Aravena and Daniel Rodriguez the team doctor.

Meanwhile, captain Fernando Astengo was given a five year ban for ordering the team to leave the field.

Chile were also banned from the 1994 World Cup.

Rojas had his suspension lifted in 2001, but he never played in another competitive match.


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