The story of when Argentina bribed a referee

Peru Argentina Bolivia 1969 bribery

One of the most infamous incidents in World Cup history occurred in Rosario, Argentina 1978 when Argentina took on Peru needing to win by four clear goals to make the Final.

Amongst accusations of bribes, both monetary and grain-related, Peru, who’d been one of the most attractive sides in the tournament, crumbled to a 0-6 defeat.

Not much has been proven, which perhaps is to be expected given the harsh military junta ruling Argentina at the time.

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Rewind to 1969 and the two countries were involved in a bribery scandal which was proven and admitted.

No sanctions were levied in either event.

1970 World Cup Qualifying

Qualifying for World Cup Mexico 1970 saw the South American section (CONMEBOL) of 10 teams split into three groups. Argentina and Peru were drawn into a group with Bolivia.

Teams played each other home and away over a four-week period in July and August 1969.

Argentina had qualified for every World Cup thus far and were runners-up in the most recent South American Championship (now Copa America). But they started badly when they travelled to La Paz and were handed a 1-3 defeat.

This wasn’t a huge shock as the high altitude has always given Bolivia an advantage and Argentina had only ever won there once.

A week later things got worse. They were in Lima and lost to a Pedro León goal. Peru had just appointed legendary Brazilian midfielder, Didi as manager. He put together a team which would become the best they’d ever seen.

Many of this team would become familiar names for international football fans over the next decade. Hector Chumpitaz, Teófilo Cubillas, Orlando de la Torre and León.

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But at this stage, Argentina hadn’t been expecting much of a fight. Two games in and two losses suggested this was going to be tougher than they’d bargained for.

Peru were next to visit La Paz. Few thought anything untoward in the appointment of Yugoslavian-born, Sergio Chechelev, as referee. A Venezuelan national, he was to play a huge role in affairs that day.

Bolivia v Peru, August 1969

10 August 1969 and the two teams lined up in front of 20,000 at the Hernando Silas Stadium. Peru’s last visit there had seen them beaten 2-3, so they knew it would be tough. They just didn’t know how tough and how the odds were so stacked against them.

Chechelev disallowed a seemingly good goal for Peru and allowed a clear foul as the Peruvian keeper was bundled into the net for a Bolivian goal.

The first half was goalless. But at half-time there was the strange occurrence of the president of Bolivia, Luis Adolfo Siles Salinas, going into the visitors’ dressing room. He was accompanied by the Peruvian ambassador, Eduardo Valdez Pérez.

Six minutes into the second half Peru took the lead. A corner from Cubillas was converted by Roberto Challe from close range.

In the 69th minute, Bolivia had a corner. The ball hit the post and the Peruvian keeper Luis Rubiños collected it. Almost immediately, Raul Álvarez bundled the keeper over the line and incredibly the ref allowed it!

Then with 11 minutes to go, a ball into the Peru area looked to be comfortable for Chumpitaz who was well-positioned. He attempted to head it back to his keeper but got too much on it and the ball lopped over Rubiños into the net.

Bolivia were now in front. Disaster for Peru, but not for Argentina.

Peru had become increasingly concerned about the performance of Chechelev and with six minutes to go things really took off.

Some good work from Fuentes found León who then played Gallardo in. The striker’s shot beat Maldonado in the home goal to level things. Or so everyone thought.

Chechelev immediately ruled out the goal. Heads turned to see what the linesman thought of it and his flag remained by his side throughout.

Replays show there were two Bolivians ahead of Gallardo when he took his shot. Further fuelling of the fire.

There was a brawl, Challe appeared to hit Chechelev. There are reports he headbutted the referee, who closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes he saw Mifflin so he sent him off. Fuentes also received a red card.

Down to nine men, a perfectly good goal ruled out, needless to say, the Peruvians weren’t happy. The Bolivian players were under threat, along with the referee. The police entered the pitch in an attempt to calm a situation which was completely out of control.

The game was held up for 10 minutes. Eventually, play resumed but there was not enough time for Peru to get back on terms and Bolivia had won.

The situation in the group was;

Pos Team Pld W D L F A GD Pts
1 Bolivia 2 2 0 0 5 2 3 4
2 Peru 2 1 0 1 2 2 0 2
3 Argentina 2 0 0 2 1 4 -3 0


In the end, cheats never prosper as Peru beat Bolivia then earned a 2-2 draw in Buenos Aires to deny the Argentinians a place in the World Cup Finals for the first, and only time, in their history. Peru performed with distinction in Mexico reaching the Quarter-Finals before losing to Brazil.

There was no investigation into the referee’s behaviour, no questions asked about it. Chechelev continued to take charge of matches for a few years after, up to March 1974. He officiated in many Copa Libertadores matches.

The fallout for Peru was such that Mifflin and Fuentes were banned for a year. They were in danger of missing the World Cup which Peru had qualified for, for the first time. They competed in the very first tournament in 1930 but that was by invitation.

It took negotiations between the Peru FA and FIFA to allow the pair to take part in Mexico.

After earning 44 caps for Peru, Mifflin then embarked on a career in the NASL alongside Pelé with New York Cosmos.

Years later a group of Peruvian journalists found Chechelev in Colombia. They asked him how much Bolivia had paid him. He replied with little embarrassment;

“It wasn’t the Bolivians who paid, it was the Argentine leaders who paid the bills. The figure is a secret”

Chechelev gets his comeuppance

There was a further incident involving Chechelev which some point to as his comeuppance. In May 1973 he took charge of a Venezuelan Cup match between Aragua FC and Portuguesa FC.

Portuguesa, the away team were 2-1 up and Chechelev, for some unknown reason, decided to end the game five minutes early.

The Aragua team surrounded the ref and pursued him, and his linesmen, to their dressing room. It is alleged Aragua’s trainer punched the official, something he said was done in ‘self-defence’. The Araguan keeper, Darío Castillo then kicked the ref in the family jewels.

But that wasn’t the end of things. Castillo found a rabipelado, a possum native to those parts and threw it in Chechelev’s face. This caused the frightened ref to lose his balance and he ended up crying on the ground. He was crying out for them to get rid of the ‘giant rat’ which was then investigating him with his snout.

Obviously, this caused much laughter amongst the watching Aragua team and provided the ref with the ultimate humiliation.

A year later Chechelev disappeared from public view with little known of him or the money he made from the Argentinians.

A fitting end

There is some sense of pleasure in knowing Peru made it to Mexico at Argentina’s expense. They not only had to contend with the bribery but two days before they kicked off in their first match, an earthquake just off the coast of Peru killed 70,000 people. Against this background is easy to understand how they were soon two goals down to Bulgaria.

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Yet within 60 seconds of Bulgaria scoring their second, Gallardo got one back. Chumpitaz then equalised five minutes later. Cubillas completed the comeback for a win which meant so much to the team and those back home.