Survivors of the Miracle of the Andes see parallels in Uruguay's World Cup win

Montevideo (AFP) –


Uruguay's victory over Fiji at the Rugby World Cup was a product of the same qualities shown after the 1972 Andean air crash that devastated a Uruguayan team, said two former players who survived the tragedy.

"No one, really no one, believed that Uruguay could win, and yet they won. In the Andes Mountain Range, it was the same," said Roy Harley.

Harley was part of the Old Christians rugby team from Montevideo who were on board the plane that crashed in the Andes on October 13, 1972, on the border between Argentina and Chile.

"Rugby is very predictable" when teams are of vastly different levels, Harley told AFP, which is why "what Uruguay has achieved has been impressive."

"The Uruguayans put passion into it and approached the game in a way that surprised the whole world," said the 67-year-old.

Carlos Paez, another of the 16 survivors of the fateful flight that crashed with 45 people on board, pointed to "how Uruguayans sing the national anthem. They love the jersey with the desire to win."

Uruguay, a team composed of amateur and semi-professional players, beat Fiji 30-27 on Wednesday in Kamaishi.

When they talk about the Uruguayan team's victory, the two survivors do not hesitate to draw parallels with their own experience.

The story of the "Miracle of the Andes", when survivors spent 72 days on a glacier high in the mountains and resorted to cannibalism to survive, has been told thousands of times, in books, documentaries, songs and a feature film.

"We were 20-year-olds who found themselves at an altitude of 4,000 metres. And all that was origanized, put in place, the way the rules were respected, the order, all that was rugby," said Harley.

Rugby, he said, is "an attacking game" in which "you have to move forward."

"In the first days, we were waiting for help from the outside," said Harley.

"Then one day, while listening to the small radio on the plane I had repaired, we heard a bulletin that I will never forget. It said: 'Today, October 23, all searches to find the missing Uruguayan plane in the Andes Mountain Range are suspended.'

"We were considered dead," Harley said. "First we felt anger, then a feeling of rebellion. We were going to show them who we were and we were going to emerge victorious."

Before Wednesday's game, Los Teros were "considered already dead by everyone", but they said to themselves "we're going to show the world who we are", he said.

In a country of 3.4 million inhabitants where football is king and provider of a string of global stars, the Uruguay Rugby Union has 10,000 registered players.

At the end of the 1960s "no one knew what rugby was," Paez recalls.

"After what happened to us, rugby became our history and grew."

The good results in Japan "will help rugby in Uruguay", he believes.