Saturday, January 26, 2013

Campeonato Nacional started after Metropolitano finished, so, like in Brazil, the year was not enough to finish the championship and the champion of 1977 was decided in 1978. Four groups of 8 teams each playing standard two-legged tournament, winners advancing to the next stage. Newell's Old Boys confidently won Group A, leaving their pursuers, San Lorenzo and Independiente Rivadavia (Mendoza) 4 points behind. Newell's Old Boys scored 33 goals in 14 games – strong numbers, yet, the opposition was not that great. In Group B Estudiantes (La Plata) built even bigger lead – 5 points ahead of Boca Juniors – but lost 2 matches. Newell's Old Boys lost only one. Group C, seemingly strong tough group, judging by the participants, produced a sensation – River Plate finished third. Velez Sarsfield was 4th and Racing Club – 2nd. On top finished Talleres (Cordoba) – they never played in the first two divisions of Metropolitano. On truly national level Talleres appeared for the first time in 1969 – thanks to Campeonato Nacional, but even there Talleres were not regulars. They left Racing Club 3 points behind, though. Big surprise. And the single one as well, for Independiente won Group D. The least convincing winners they were – finishing with 2 points more than second-placed Belgrano (Cordoba) in a group having only one more strong club, Huracan (Buenos Aires). In any case the championship made for provincials did not really work – the winners were usual suspects. Except Talleres... so, may be the idea worked after all? So far, Talleres were just fine: they went ahead of their local rivals Belgrano.

In mid-January 1978 the ½ finals were played: Estudiantes and Independiente ended in 1-1 tie in La Plata. In Cordoba it looked like Talleres was done for – they finished also 1-1, but with second match at the home turf of Newell's Old Boys the tie was a big disadvantage. Independiente easily won at home – 3-1 – and went to the final. The other finalist was already known... it was not, for Talleres fought bravely and clinched 1-0 victory. New surprise.

Then a third: right in Avellaneda Talleres bravely tied Independiente – 1-1. Four days later, January 25, a legendary match was played in Cordoba. Legendary for both clubs: Talleres never played for the title before, which automatically elevated the match to legendary status. For Independiente the reasons were different: they were the most successful Argentinian clubs since the early 1960s, winning astonishing number of Libertadores cups and arguably one of the greatest all-time clubs internationally. Yet, fans consider the second-leg final at Cordoba the most memorable match. That is because 15 minutes before the end Talleres scored controversial goal. The Independiente's players protested – rightfully, to the eyes of their fans; stupidly to anybody else – and three players were red-carded. 2-1 for Talleres, 15 minutes left, and 11 vs 8 players on the pitch – there was no way Independiente to win. But the remains of the team rallied bravely and tied the game with incredible goal by Bochini after a great pass by Bertoni. 2-2, there was no winner on the pitch, but otherwise – yes. The away-goal rule was in effect and Independiente won. Justice prevailed? It all depends on standpoint, but Independiente won the title and nothing else matters.

Unbeaten losers: standing from left: Oviedo, Quiroga, Bordón, Arrieta, Galván , Ocaño.

Kneeling: Reinaldi, Ludueña, Bravo, Valencia, Cherini.

Talleres were quite an old club – founded back in 1913 by workers, supported by their employer, Cordoba Central Railway company – but they never had any success. The local derbies with arch-enemy Belgrano were the high point of their history until this year. Now they almost won national championship. Well done indeed, especially the fact that they did not lose a single game in the play-offs. Bringing the question was Argentinian provincial football all that weak? Or may be the big clubs were weak? It is a country of vast talent after all. South American football in general had relaxed transfer rules, so it was quite possible for a small club to hire, at least on occasion, some players of quality. Then again, Talleres was not a club managing to join Metropolitano division, whether first or second – Belgrano and Instituto were the likelier candidates from Cordoba. But... the always present 'but' – unlike, say, the newly promoted to Primera Division Estudiantes (Buenos Aires), Talleres had a star in the team. Jose Omar 'Pepona' Reinaldi. The blond striker is a minor deity in the historic Argentinian pantheon, but still a deity – the 1970s was his time: in 1975-76 he played for River Plate. He scored a plenty. He was feared. In Cordoba his status is much bigger of course – from Cordoba he went to River Plate, making his name with Belgrano before that.

La Pepona wearing the blue shirt of Belgrano a few years back. He is still unsolvable dilemma for Belgrano's fans – was he a hero or a traitor? The question is still asked – without clear answer. Of course, he was a hero. But donning the white-blue stripes of Talleres? A traitor indeed. Never mind – for Talleres fans there is no such problem: with him Talleres almost won the title.

Reinaldi was not alone – for 'non-league' club Talleres was quire impressive: Miguel Angel Bordon was in defense, soon to move to Boca Juniors and to win the Intercontinental Cup with them. Luis Galvan and Jose Daniel Valencia did even better – just look at the Argentine 1978 World Champion squad. Almost won Campeonato Nacional, almost...

Heroic, if not convincing champions: standing from left: Galván, Rigante, Osvaldo Pérez, Pagnanini, Villaverde, Trossero.

Bottom row: Brítez, Larrosa, Outes, Bochini, Magallanes.

Nothing strange – Independiente winning one more title. But... This is entirely different squad from the one ruling South America and occasionally the world in the first half of the 1970s. By 1975 the old heroes aged and eventually retired or moved elsewhere. Indpendiente showed signs of inevitable decline, as normally happens when great team gets old and retires. Yet, Independiente escaped the typical: they managed to rebuild practically without going down. A little shaky, yes, but staying among the top Argentine clubs. In 1977 they were close to winning Metropolitano and, unconvincing or not, won Nacional. The old stars were successfully replaced by Ruben Galvan, soon to become world champions, Enzo Trossero, and lesser stars – Villaverde, Larrosa, Pagnanini. But the team was ruled by the due Bochini-Bertoni. Daniel Bertoni (not on the picture above), soon to be world champion, was 22 years old. Ricardo Enrique Bochini was 23 and already the hero of barely 17-years old Diego Maradona. And hero and worshiper already were playing against each other... Bochini never established himself in the national team, but Independiente, the only team he ever played for, was another matter. Bochini rarely scored goals – his specialty was devilishly penetrating passes, leaving a striker – usually Bertoni – alone in front of net. Eventually, such passes were called 'pase bochinesco' – there are no many players in the world after whom elements of the game are named. Bochini effectively won the 1977 title – in may be an ironic occasion, but it was Bertoni giving the pass and Bochini scoring the decisive equalizer against Talleres. Bochini was, in a matter of speaking, still new to the game – he debuted in 1972, but his most glorious years were in the future. Glorious in many respects, for he retired in 1991! The only thing escaping him was a regular place in the national team – may be the reason was the guy worshiping him? Anyway, with Bochini, Bertoni, Galvan, Trossero, Independiente had brand new strong team. May be not as great as the previous vintage, but successful surely.