Ian Walker’s piece on Uruguay’s first scorer in the 1950 World Cup triumph over Brazil, Juan Schiaffino, made me think. Undoubtedly an extraordinary and unique talent, Schiaffino was also part of a special generation of Uruguayan footballers. The core of this group played for Peñarol, whose 1949 side, known as La Máquina (the machine), decimated teams like no other. The extent of this machine was to be revealed against traditional rivals Nacional.
Coached by the Hungarian Emerico Hirschl, La Máquina was perhaps the most impressive team in Peñarol’s history. Goals were scored at will. Indeed, the first seven games of the new season demonstrated their dominance. La Máquina began with a 5-0 victory over Liverpool. Next was Central, 5-2. River Plate, 3-0. Danubio, 3-1. Defensor, 6-1. Wanderers 6-0. Cerro, 5-3. Next up, the Clásico.
October 9, 1949. The rain had poured over Montevideo since the early morning. With only 16,000 tickets allocated to Nacional members, the stands of the Centenario were dominated by an excited and expectant Peñarol support.
Under heavy rain, Peñarol spent the first forty-five minutes in Nacional’s half, with Schiaffino pulling the strings and Juan Hohberg a constant threat. Thirty minutes in, Schiaffino directed the ball to Ghiggia who put La Maquina 1-0 up. Then, with half time approaching, referee Aníbal Bochetti awarded Peñarol a penalty. The Nacional players were fuming.
Oscar Miguez’s spot kick was saved, but Ernesto Vidal latched onto the rebound and converted Peñarol’s second. The Nacional players violently protested what they claimed was an illegal encroachment from Vidal. Again, Bochetti was surrounded. Eusebio Tejera was sent off for dissent. Walter Gómez went further with a punch and a kick to the referee. Bochetti replied with a punch of his own, sending Gomez off just as the police approached.
The first half ended. Peñarol were two goals up, Nacional were two men down.
What occurred in the Nacional rooms during the break is still a mystery. The anger of the tricolores towards the referee was clear. Perhaps even clearer was the fear of what was to come in the second half. Down to nine men, utterly dominated, a rout of six or seven goals was beckoning. Rumours of a Nacional no-show circulated throughout the stadium.
They say the sun came out as the Peñarol players emerged for the second half.
They waited for almost twenty minutes. The Nacional players never returned. After consulting his assistant, Bochetti awarded the match to Peñarol.
The final whistle was blown and the players performed the vuelta olimpica (victory lap) in front of their fans. The following year, the celebration was to be repeated in front of 200,000 Brazilians.
October 9, 1949, remains central in the folklore of the Peñarol-Nacional rivalry and that of South American football. The Clásico de la Fuga (escape) continues to be a source of pride for Peñarol and one of ridicule for their rivals. Indeed, Nacional have been called gallinas (chickens) ever since.