Saturday, December 20, 2008

Copa Libertadores was perhaps no different than the Intercontinental Cup, but it was far away from Europe, visibility and scrutiny: it was not televised in Europe. Only results came, rarely accompanied by reviews and commentaries. Those were Argentine years – beginning from 1967 and until 1976 the gauchos won Libertadores, save for 1971. In 1970 Estudiantes (La Plata) won Libertadores for third successive year. It was the team of Juan Ramon Veron – ‘La Bruja’ (‘The Witch’, father of the more familiar today Juan Sebastian Veron – ‘La Brujita’, ‘The Little Witch’). Deadly attacker, as the nickname shows… may be. One Carlos Bilardo played in this Estudiantes formation too… years later, after coaching Argentina to their second world title, Billardo said that he employed the tactics of Estudiantes from late 1960s. May be the revelation explains Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ against England in 1986? Estudiantes – and Billardo himself – were regarded as brutal team in the 1960s. Different story in 1986 – ‘We were disciplined, strongly tactical in defense’, Billardo said, ‘Intelligent team. I prepared Argentina to play like Estudiantes used to.’
Hard to say now were Estudiantes worth watching or were they innovative team in the late 1960s, but something else can be said: Argentina dominated South American club football during years of decline. Argentina missed World Cup 1970 and was terrible in 1974. Uruguay declined rapidly in the 1970s. Brazil in 1974 was pale shadow of 1970. The big three were in crisis, and unlike Europe, no other country stepped up in South America – Peru and Chile were largely the second-rate group there and remained second-rate no matter how weak the big countries were.
Estudiantes 1969 – great innovators or arch-villains?
Standing left to right: Pachame, Poletti, Malbernat, Aguirre Suarez, Madero, Togneri.
First row: Rudzky, Carlos Bilardo, Conigliaro, Flores, La Bruja – Juan Ramon Veron.