Wednesday, February 6, 2013

First Division – 8 clubs from Santiago, the rest – provincial. Chile, compared to other South American countries, evidently achieved all-inclusive championship. Still, the big clubs were from the capital and it was difficult to diminish their traditional positions. Times changed, however. Standard championship, except relegation: the last in the final table went directly down. The 16th and the 17th played relegation play-off against each other. The loser was relegated, the winner, along with the 15th placed went to new play-off tournament with the 3rd and 4th of the Second Division. A bit tricky, but apparently the difference of quality between top flight and second division was recognized factor. Antofagasta finished last – an absolute outsider, they lost 22 of their 34 championship games and finished 10 points behind the 17th team. Which was Santiago club – Santiago Morning. They ended second to last on goal difference, finishing with 27 points. Ovalle was just above them, but Santiago Morning won the relegation play-off 1-0 and Ovalle went directly to Second. Santiago Wanderers (Valparaiso) finished 15th , on goal-difference as well – three clubs finished with 28 points, but Nublense (Chillan) and Universidad Catolica (Santiago) had better record. Bad year for some of the well known names: Santiago Wanderers, Santiago Morning, Universidad Catolica.The promotion-relegation mini-league brought no luck to Santiago Wanderers – they finished third there ,and thus were relegated. Santiago Morning on the other hand won the tournament and remained in First Division. So much drama at the bottom of the league.

Nublense – the luckiest team at the bottom of the table: safe 15th place was achieved only by better goal-difference. A single point – the difference between life and death. Note the striped shirt of the goalie – by the late 1970s, such shirts were seen only in South America. In Europe they were gone many years ago, so the kit looked exotic.

In the upper parts of the table some decline was visible – Universidad de Chile, 5th and Colo-Colo, 4th, were entirely out of the championship race. Colo-Colo finished 5 points behind the 3rd placed and Universidad de Chile was lagging 3 points behind Colo-Colo. Practically the mightiest Chilean clubs were evidently not in good shape. Colo-Colo failed to win the title again – already 5 years in a row!
Hard to tell why Colo-Colo was so miserable – may be politics played a role, may be not, but the most popular Chilean club was without a title since 1972. For clubs used to constant winning such a dry spell means more than disaster.

Universidad de Chile – not exactly happy at 5th place, but at least the club was used to lower expectations. One thing is sure – this squad is rather pedestrian. Peralta, may be Pellegrini, may be Salah... and that is all. Second division Cobreloa had almost the same number of known players, but bigger names. Clearly, Universidad did not have good enough team to be a real factor.

Third finished Palestino. An old club, founded in 1920 by Palestinian immigrants and having won a single title so far – in 1955. They had the reputation for attracting star players, obviously having money to do that. Hence, Elias Figueroa arrived. He came with the hallo of superstar: three consecutive years voted best player of South America, voted the best player of the world, champion in Uruguay and Brazil, a living legend. And he was not all that old either at 31. His arrival boosted Palestino: they lost only 5 games and scores were the second-best in the league – 70-33.
Standing from left: Mario Varas, Edgardo Fuentes, Rodolfo Dubó, Elías Figueroa, Manuel Herrera, Enrique Vidallé.

First row: Alberto Hidalgo, Jorge Zelada, Oscar Fabbiani, Sergio Messen, Pedro Pinto.

Sudden transformation . One player can make a miracle? May be. The question is for how long – just one time wonder, or permanent improvement. By the end of 1977 the question stand open – the hard fact was bronze medals.

Yet, Palestino was not able to go all the way to the top – Everton won two more games than them and that made the difference between third and second. Everton (Vina del Mar) is practically the provincial answer to Santiago, preventing monopoly. One of the consistently strong clubs and usually finishing in the top 5.
Another strong year, silver medals, close pursuers of the leaders, but... second. 2 points behind the champions – it was a matter of one match: the champions won 21 games and lost 4; Everton lost 5 and won 20.

The champions were best in everything, as champions normally are: 21 wins, 9 ties, and 4 lost matches. They scored 72 goals, allowing only 28. Strong attack, strong defense – obviously the most balance team. As for the name – Union Espanola. Familiar name in the 1970s.
5th title for Union Espanola – the 1970s were their best decade. By the end of the 1977 Union Espanola already climbed among the most titled clubs in Chilean football. How it measures in Santiago is difficult to tell – there are old rivalries and very likely the success of Union Espanola annoyed various supporters: Colo-Colo's and Universidad de Chile's, for smaller club topped them; Universidad Catolica's – Union not only bested them, but their own club performed poorly; Magallanes', Palestino's, Audax Italiano's , Santiago Morning's – for their glories were in the distant past, but Union Espanola won in the present. As for Union's supporters – they were rightfully happy. They were the best! Again. And in the future – more. Which did not happened... it was the last Union Espanola victory for a long, long time.