Clásico de la Fuga: the day they never returned

On October 9, 1949, Peñarol and Nacional played the 193rd edition of the Uruguayan Clásico. Despite torrential rain lashing Montevideo since the early morning, the Estadio Centenario was filled to capacity, with an excited and expectant Peñarol support forming the majority in the stands.

And they had reason to be excited. The arrival of Emerico Hirschl earlier that year ushered in somewhat of a revolution at the old Railway club. Tasked with breaking the recent dominance of rivals Nacional, the Hungarian coach introduced a number of curious innovations, from training methods to tactics, showing the Uruguayans aspects of the game they had never experienced.

Hirschl’s mission was assisted by the talented squad he inherited, led by the inimitable Obdulio Varela at centre-half. But it would be Peñarol’s front five, dubbed the ‘Escuadrilla de la muerte’, where Hirschl’s side would earn the nickname La Máquina – the Machine. Featuring Italian and Argentine-born Ernesto Vidal and Juan Hohberg, the home-grown centre-forward magician Oscar Míguez, and the elegant and masterful playmaker Juan Schiaffino, Peñarol’s attack already struck fear into opposing sides.

And in his first training session, Hirschl found the final piece to this formidable attacking force when he laid eyes on a 22 year old winger named Alcides Ghiggia. Struck by the youngster’s blistering pace down the right, the Hungarian found a focal point through which he could play a direct and attacking game, and immediately elevated Ghiggia to the first team.

Peñarol swept all aside in 1949, defeating Nacional in every Clásico and finishing undefeated champions in Uruguay’s Copa Competencia, Copa de Honor, and the Copa Uruguaya.

But the most significant moment of the Máquina’s campaign came in the final Clásico on October 9. Peñarol’s seven preceding games demonstrated the form they were in: a 5-0 over Liverpool followed by a 5-2 over Central. Then River Plate, 3-0. Danubio, 3-1. Defensor, 6-1. Wanderers 6-0. Cerro, 5-3.

La Máquina continued their form on that rainy day, spending the first forty-five minutes in Nacional’s half, with Schiaffino pulling the strings and Hohberg a constant threat. After 38 minutes of dominance, Peñarol finally went ahead after Ghiggia finished off a move started by Schiaffino.

Three minutes later, Oscar Míguez was brought down in the box and calls for a penalty were made. When the striker began to pick himself up, Hirschl ran to the touchline, ordering Míguez to stay down ‘injured’. After referee Aníbal Bochetti awarded Peñarol a spot kick, Míguez miraculously recovered to his feet. The next day, a Uruguayan newspaper described the move as a perfect case of ‘viveza criolla, practiced by a Hungarian’.

Nacional players were fuming. Tejera set upon the referee, grabbing him by the shirt before he was duly sent off.

Míguez’s resulting penalty was saved, but Ernesto Vidal latched onto the rebound to convert Peñarol’s second. Once again Nacional’s players surrounded the referee, claiming (correctly) that Vidal had entered the penalty area before Míguez struck the ball. Walter Gómez went further, laying 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 with Peñarol two goals up, and Nacional two men down.

But when the Peñarol players emerged for the second half, Nacional’s were nowhere to be seen.

Rumours of a Nacional no-show began to circulate throughout the stadium. Down to nine men, utterly dominated, a rout of six or seven goals was beckoning. Nacional’s officials, livid at the performance of the referee, instructed their players not to return to the pitch.

After twenty minutes it was clear – Nacional’s players would not return. After consulting his assistants, Bochetti awarded the match to Peñarol, and Juan Hohberg led his teammates in a vuelta olimpica (victory lap) in front of their delirious fans.

And that following year, Hirschl’s Máquina side would form the core of Uruguay’s World Cup team, to repeat those celebrations in front of 200,000 Brazilians at the Maracanã.


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