What was El Bengalazo?

‘Bengala’ is the Spanish word for ‘flare’ and ‘El Bengalazo’ was the name given to a disgraceful incident that occurred at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 3, 1989, during South American qualifying for the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. In their fourth, and final, Group 3 match, the hosts, Brazil, led Chile 1-0 thanks to goal by striker Antônio de Oliveira Filho, a.k.a. Careca, early in the second half. However, with 23 minutes of normal time remaining, Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas fell to the ground, bleeding from a head wound supposedly caused by a flare thrown from the crowd.

As Rojas was treated by the team doctor, Daniel Rodríguez, his incensed team-mates surrounded the referee and were subsequently led from the field by captain Fernando Astengo. On the instruction of Chilean coach Orlando Aravena, Rojas remained on the ground and was carried off on a stretcher. Despite the best efforts of Argentine referee Juan Carlos Loustau, the Chilean players refused to continue and the match was abandoned.

However, a review of television pictures and still photographs of the incident revealed that a flare was thrown on to the pitch, but missed Rojas by a yard or so and did not cause him injury of any kind. The South American Football Confederation launched an investigation and, under interrogation, Rojas confessed that his injury was self-inflicted, with a razor blade secreted in one of his goalkeeping gloves, in a vain attempt to have the match – which Chile needed to win – replayed at a neutral venue, or to have Brazil disqualified.

FIFA took a dim view of Rojas’ antics, banning him, Aravena and Rodriguez from professional football for life – although Rojas was granted an ‘amnesty’ in 2001 – and awarding the match to Brazil, by walkover, with an official scoreline of 2-0. For causing the abandonment of the match, Chile was banned from qualifying the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

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