Saturday, August 31, 2013

The First Division season was marked by the decline of the usual favourites. Universidad Catolica finished 9th. Universidad de Chile was 7th.

U de Chile laying low... perhaps their looks were much better than their play.

Colo Colo was 6th – practically not a factor since the beginning of Junta rule. The best Colo Colo was able to do in 1978 was reaching the ½ Cup finals. They lost both matches.

Everton was 5th , three points ahead of Colo Colo. For the boys from Vina del Mar the season was not bad – unlike Colo Colo and Universidad de Chile, they were not constant favourites. Everton usually occupied solid place in the upper half of the table – so, they maintained their usual strength. Just 2 points divided them from the bronze medalists O'Higgins (Rancagua), but... they were no contenders: 7 points chasm divided silver from bronze.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chilean football was slowly on the rise. Not to become a major world power, but still getting better. Perhaps the most important part was organizational – steady, traditional championship of two professional leagues. Sound championship, not like mostly chaotic South American championships. And a national cup – something rather unusual in South America. 1978 became remarkable year for Chilean football – a new strong team came with a bang to the scene. Nowadays it is taken for granted, but in 1978 it was exciting news. But for this club later.

Perhaps the luckiest team in 1978 was Iberia (Los Angeles). They finished hopelessly last in the Second Division. Five points behind the closest opponent, Curico Unido (Curico). Relegation... but no. The Second Division was extended from 19 to 20 clubs for the next season and Iberia was not relegated - since only one club was promoted, Iberia was saved to make the numbers. And who knows, next year they may be better. That was life on the bottom – at the top 5 clubs fought close battle for 4 coveted places: the best two were directly promoted to First Division, 3rd and 4th placed had to play promotional play-off with the 15th and 16th from the upper league. Antofagasta was the unlucky 5th at the end, a point behind Magallanes and Ovalle. In turn, those two finished a point behind Naval. Santiago Wanderers (Valparaiso) were champions, 2 points ahead of Naval (Talcahuano) – both were directly promoted. Old clubs, remembering better days in the past and hoping to revive them in the future. Ovalle (Ovalle) also had First Division past, although not very great. Magallanes (Santiago) was fading for quite some time – the strong and feared once upon a time club was hoping just to climb back to top level. Sad reality.

Last in First Division were Rangers (Talca) and Huachipato (Talcahuano), 17th and 18th, obvious outsiders this year, finishing far behind everybody else – the 16th team was 7 points ahead of Huachipato. Rangers was 3 points behind the team just above them. Another sad story, for Rangers also had much stronger years in the past. As for Huachipato, nothing was left from the champions of few years back... few or many? Five years is long time in football... And worse: their local rivals, Naval, were going up when Huachipato was plummeting.

Coquimbo Unido (Coquimbo) finished 16th, good only for that... way ahead from the last places, yet, 6 points away from 15th place. Which was no better... Nublense (Chillan) put some fight for survival, but ended 2 points short from the two teams in the safe 13th and 14th position. Those were taken by clubs with greater past – Santiago Morning (Santiago) and Green Cross (Temuco)

Lucky boys, Green Cross. Nice name and good past. Good for nostalgia... the club was clearly going down. Once upon a time it was based in Santiago. Had to fuse with a club from Temuco and move there, still keeping the name. It was old story by 1978, alas, it was not the end of it – there is no Green Cross today. Anyway, back in 1978 they were one of the still few Chilean clubs using shirt advertisement.

So far,so good for Green Cross – they survived and took a rest. Nublense and Coquimbo Unido still had to play – the relegation play-off group of four played a single match round-robin tournament. Ovalle and Magallanes were unable to win even a game, thus Nublense and Coquimbo Unido preserved their places in First Division.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Clearly, the bulk was more or less equal, but far bellow the real contenders. Even the bronze medalists were closer to the bulk, than to the top two: Fenix ended 3 points above Defensor, yet, 12 points behind the 2nd placed club.

Good year for Fenix surely. Founded in 1916, they had little to boast about, so third place was real success. Good to rub the noses of their traditional rivals too – Racing, the 'arch-enemy', was hopelessly behind. Very, very far behind - 5th in Second Division. The phoenix was flying high. Kind of...

Which left the usual duopoly to compete for the title: Nacional and Penarol. Nacional left the crowd far behind and also had the best defense, allowing only 20 goals in the 22 championship matches , but they were not real contenders this year. The previous year Pedro Rodolfo Dellacha navigated them to first place, but the great Argentinian coach went to make Millonarios champions of Colombia. Perhaps that weakened Nacional, for they had slightly more famous squad than Penarol. May be so, yet facts were clear: Nacional was unable to win a direct match against the arch-enemy and most likely that was the big difference. 16 wins, 4 ties, 2 losses, 50-20 goal-difference, 36 points.

Standing from left: Rodolfo Rodriguez, Hugo De Leon, Gimenez, Raul Moller, Adan Machado, Julio Montero-Castillo.

Bottom: Miguel Caillava, Alfredo De Los Santos, Juan Ramon Carrasco, Nelson Agresta, Alberto Bica.

Well, the little blond mascot must be mentioned too: Marcelo Tejera. He became well known player when grew up – here is only 5 years old, many years before playing Cagliari, Boca Juniors, Southampton, to mention a few of his clubs, including a season with Nacional (2006-07). All in the distant future – others were important in 1978. Some were veterans from the already distant days: Montero-Castillo and the 33-years old Argentine Juan Carlos 'Palito' Mamelli.

Mamelli was apparently fading by 1978, but the veterans were joined by up and coming stars – Rodolfo Rodriguez, Hugo De Leon, and others. Perhaps the team was still 'in between' – the veternas getting too old for real impact, and the youngsters not reaching thier full capacity yet. Still, the team looked more solid than Penarol's...

Which finished first 3 points ahead of the arch-enemy. And three titles ahead as well – it was their 35th title, to 'only' 32 won by Nacional. By numbers, Penarol were supreme: 17 wins and 5 ties. Not a single lost match! 70 goals scored – in 22 championship games! Only 22 received.

Penarol did not look stronger than Nacional, but had current stars – the up and coming Ruben Paz, the new reacruit from Defensor Sporting Fernando Alvez between the goalposts, the missing on the picture young talent Victor Diogo, and perhaps the best Uruguayan players in the 1970s – Walter Olivera and Fernando Morena. Quite enough for domestic superiority and also sad – Olivera and Morena played in the low years of Uruguayan football and never became the world-famous stars they deserved to be. Caught in the crisis, between stronger generations. They and Penarol had to be satified with domestic success – but in clearly weak league.

Bleak year... yet, still remarkable and memorable in one sense: a great record was set in 1978. 2.894 goals peg game was the average for the season – high scoring, it seems, but really only Nacional and Penarol, with 120 goals combined, contributed. Yes, it was easy to score against weak opponents, but records are records.

Fernando Morena scored 7 goals against Huracan Buceo. An unbeatable record. He also ended with total of 36 goals – the all-time record of the country. Something inevitably memorable.

Memorable, but not good enough... the crisis was still dominant. Luckily, a new crop of talent was emerging: the juniors. Some of them already appeared in the first teams.

Brighter future – the Uruguayan Under-19 national team won the South American championship in 1979. There was hope, no matter how slowly positive changes happened. After all, none of the young champions became a big star – but they were fresh breath of air for ailing football.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Up the scale the season appeared competitive at first glace: 4 points divided the 4th from the 11th. Eight out of the total 12 league teams were in this group, but... all had more losses than wins and only one – Wanderers, 5th – had positive goal-difference.

Huracan Buceo, 10th this year. Standing from left: Luis Morales , Carlos Boccone , Ricardo -mono- Soria , Nelson Peña , Luis Cáceres, Roberto Santos.

Crouching: Rubén Bustos , Luis Noble , Carlos Franco , Jorge Armúa, Julio Correa.

Huracan Buceo rarely played First Division football, so they may had been happy to just remain in the league.

Rentistas, finishing a place above Huracan Buceo, were of the same ilk – happy to play top league.

Danubio ended right in the midle of the the final table – 6th. Perhaps they had an excuse – in 1978 they played for the first time in the grueling Copa Libertadores tournament. Standing from left:Apolinario , Roberto Pérez, Sergio Santin ,Eliseo Rivero, Jorge Correa.

Abajo :Daniel Aparicio Godoy , José Moreira, Roberto Roo , Julio Noble, Carlos Luthar.

Yet, Danubio deserves a note – they were steadily progressing. So far, not very great, solid performances, and keeping their ground. National team players emerged from the club, most importantly young talent: 4 of their players were in the Uruguayan Under-19 national team winning the South Amwerican juvenil championship – Daniel Martinez, Nelson Alaguich, Ricardo Viera, and Roberto Roo. Danubio was on its way to becoming major factor in Uruguayan football – on its way, but still at the beginning of the road.

Wanderers, a club remembering better days, were good only for 5th place. They were the sole team from the 'solid bulk' with positive goal-difference – 29-25. Perhaps that counted for achievment.

Defensor Sporting clinched the top of the bulk - 4th place. Not bad – the surprize champions of 1976, disturbing the duopoly ruling Uruguayan football, were apparently consistent. The team was pretty much the same as in 1976, but it was not a squad with enough class.

That was pretty much the general picture of the league.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Uruguay sunk to the ranks of those 'unknown' – the crisis remained. The championship was played, of course, but also the exodus of players plagued the league. The poitical and economic situation of the country was not helpfull either. Yet, football is football... Conservative – or standard – league championships, nothing fancy and quite unlike the favoured in South America formulas. And another uniquely Uruguayan feature: the country was not represented at all – only Montevideo. First and second league were entirely consisting of Montevideo clubs. The rest of the country hoped for an odd third division team with no chances of advancement. In the 10-team second league El Tanque finished last and was relegated, despite its formidable name ('tank', in the military sense). They got only 9 points out of 18 games total. But relegation was complex affair: points of the last seasons were combined and who had the least went down: El Tanque had 17 points from the 1977 season, but still hopelessly behind the team above them in 1978, Uruguay (Montevideo). They had 35 points total. Another team had less – Colon (Montevideo) with 31. They finished 8th in 1978, nothing to worry yet. El Tanque exited, but was replaced by yet another Montevideo club so the capital's monopoly remained intact.

Up the scale promotion was the primery concern, but there was no real fight. River Plate finished confidently first, 6 points ahead of the closest pursuer La Luz. La Luz is amuzing club, thanks to its name: of course, it is undestood to mean 'light', but the club is named after the electric light bulb hanging over the table of the founders. The name did not help, though. As a whole, River Plate had no competition – their combined 2-season record left the next best 22 points behind! The totals mattered only for relegation, yet, the second division hardly had consistently strong candidates for top flight: Rampla Juniors, having the second best 2-year record, finished 6th in 1978. Mid-table, but in 10-team league 6th place is also the bottom half. But the troubles of others were not River Plate's concern.

Returning to First Division – happy moment. Naturally, second division teams hardly have any famous players and River Plate was no exception. Waldemar Victorino was on his way of becoming star, but this was his last season with River Plate – right after the victory, he moved to Nacional. He was already a nationa team player (since 1976) and obviously small club was unable to keep him for long. As for the club itself, winning Second Division – for third time already – was the highest achievement in their history. Still is. Which means their primery concern was surviving in First Division. Minus Victorino... tough future. As most Uruguayan clubs, River Plate was quite old: founded in 1932, from a merger between Olimpia and Capurro.

River Plate up, so who went down? Liverpool finished last in First Division. 4 points behind the lucky 11th – Bella Vista. Obvious outsiders from the start, they won only 3 matches, tied 7, and lost 12. No combined 2-season record in First Division.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Colombia – hard to place country. On one hand, constantly under the radar. On the other – constant magnet for foreign players. And to a large degree the imports shaped Colombian football. A mixed bag of players – some stars, some fairly well known, some completely anonymous. Hard to tell their real strength and impact – obviously, they benefited the clubs on local level. Internationally – not that much. But it may be fair to state that Colombia was generally more attractive destination for South American players than Europe at that time. Anyhow, the championship – or championships – chugged along. Quite complicated formula of four different stages – 'apertura' at first, a classic league championship. The top two teams qualified for the semi-final round-robin stage. 'Torneo Finalizacion' followed – the league divided in two 7-team groups, every team playing 21 matches. Six clubs qualified to the semi-finals. Since Atletico Nacional and Deportivo Cali qualified from 'Apertura', 'Finalizacion' did not mather much for them – Deportivo finished measly 6th in Group A, 6 points behind the 5th. Atletico Nacional performed better and finished 3rd, that is, in the qualifying zone. But because they already qualified, the 5th team – Cucuta Deportivo – was lucky and got a spot. No such problems in Group B, where the first 4 teams moved to the second round: Once Caldas, Atletico Junior, Union Magdalena, and Deportivo Pereira. They finished in this order, leaving the rest far behind – 5 points was the difference between Deportivo Pereira, 4th, and the 5th, Deportes Tolima. From Group A, apart from lucky Cucuta Deportivo, America (1st), Millonarios (2nd), and Independiente Santa Fe (4th) went ahead. Not all teams played so strong in Apertura stage, though: Union Magdalena was 9th, Atletico Junior was 10th, and Deportivo Pereira was not only last – they were hopelessly last in the first stage: Independiente Medellin, who finished 13th, was 7 points ahead.

Round-robin two semi-final groups in the next stage, top two of each group moving to the final stage. Slightly tougher fight in Group A: Atletico Nacional and Deportivo Cali finished on top with equal points, 7 each. Atletico Junior missed the final by a point. In Group B Independiente Santa Fe was dominant, finishing first with 8 points and the best stats in both groups: they scored amazing 17 goals in 6 matches, for instance. Obvioisly attacking team – they scored a lot, but allowed lots of goals too – 12 in total. Only one club received more. Second finished Millonarios with 6 points and negative goal difference – 8-9. Lucky guys... so far, they did not shine at all: 7th place in Apertura; second in Group A of Finalizacion; second with 2 wins, 2 ties, 2 losses, and negative goal-difference in the semi-final round. Hardly a contender, judging by their stats.

But in complicated championships what really counts is the final round. In the final round-robin group of 4, Millonarios was supreme. They did not lose a single match, scored a lot, had the best defense.

Final group Teams

1. Millonarios 6 3 3 0 8- 3 9

2. Deportivo Cali 6 2 3 1 6- 6 7

3. Atlético Nacional 6 1 3 2 8-10 5

4. Independiente Santa Fe 6 1 1 4 7-10 3

Deportivo Cali satisfied themselves with second place, giving them the second Colombian spot in the 1979 Copa Libertadores. The bottom two – nothing, no matter how they played earlier in the year. Millionarios, not successful at all in the earlier stages, ended champions. Once again, one might say, since Millonarios is perhaps the best known Colombian club outside South America. Once again, but after a lenghty drought: it was their first title since 1972. Confidence restored, if anything.

Standing from left: Arturo Segovia, Euclídes González, Jaime Rodríguez, Roberto Riquelme, Alonso “Pocillo” López, Oscar Ortega.

Crouching: Jorge Amado, Willington Ortíz, Juan José Irigoyen, Daniel “Tito” Gómez, Jaime Morón.

The names don't mean much at first glance. Yet, some famous players at least in Colombian context: the strikers Moron and Irigoyen for instance. Perhaps the greatest star was

Willington Ortiz. The combination of skillful foreigners and Colombian stars worked well enough, yet, most likely the credits should go to the coach:

Pedro Rodolfo Dellacha, already 52-years old Argentine in 1978, was and is hardly known outside South America, but over there is quite a legend. First as a player – he captained Argentina to winning Copa America in 1957. The defender earned his nickname 'Don Pedro del Area' at that time. But his real fame was as a coach – he won titles in four different countries (Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, and Peru). He won Copa Libertadores twice. He came to Millonarios practically when he was at his best: he was succsessful with Nacional (Montevideo) in 1977, but this was still nothing – he coached Independiente (Avallaneda) in their greatest years – from 1971 to 1975. One Argentine title and two Copa Libertadores. Obviously, great coach – he made Millonarios champions right away.

The rest is trivia... a look at the top goalscorers of the season shows how much Colombian football depended on foreign feet. Only 2 Colombians appear among the overall best 8 scorers – and they take 5th and 6th place, The rest are Argentines, beginning with the best scorer of the year:

Oswaldo Marcial Palavecino. He scored 36 goals, playing for Atletico Nacional. Hardly known outside Colombia, he is a legend there, for he played for many years and for many clubs. That is why he is pictured here as Independiente Santa Fe player. Some of the rest top scorers were of similar ilk: Irigoyen (Millonarios, 2nd with 34 goals), Jorge Ramon Caseres (America, 3rd with 32), Manuel Rosendo Magan (Independiente Santa Fe, 4th), but the 7th and the 8th were different – Nestor Leonel Scotta (Deportivo Cali) is well known. He played for the national team of Argentina. Just above him, 7th, ended a legendary name: Juan Ramon Veron. The Witch himself! At the end of his career surely, but still deadly.

La Bruja played for Cucuta Deportivo this season – his first with the club, after playing for Atletico Junior the previous year.

Standing from left: F. Gómez, Tumaco González, Américo Ortiz, Rodrigo Cosme, Julián Martínez, Héctor “Pichín” Roganti.
Bottom: Simón González, Alberto “Chamizo”  Cañas, Carlos Miguel “El Chiche Dizz, Hilario Bravi, Juán Ramón “La Bruja” Verón.

Cucuta was not all that strong – not this year anyway – and no doubt the relative weakness of the team affected Veron's performance, but the old Witch was still good for 21 goals. Still good for another season with Cucuta; still good to play one more season after that for his original club, Estudiantes (La Plata), completing a full circle in a 19-years long career.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ever mysterious Paraguay – hardly any news, hardly any famous players, yet, appreciated by foreign clubs from Spain to all South America for years. Staying largely outside international spotlights nevertheless. The second half of the 1970s is particularly dark – even final tables are difficult to find. Olimpia (Asuncion) won the title in 1978. Sol de America (Asuncion) finished second.

Old club, nice logo, no information... Sol de America is one of the many clubs in the Paraguayan capital. Typical for South America, where football is largely dominated by the clubs of the capital cities, but Paraguay is almost unique – with the exception of Uruguay, there is no other country with almost no rival city. The best Paraguayan clubs are concentrated in Asuncion, the rivalries are there, and the rest of the country has only one really strong club opposing Asuncion's domination – Sportivo Luqueno (Luque). It was not their year, though. It was not the year of the usual contestant Cerro Porteno either – Sol de America played evidently well. Well enough for silver medals.

As for the title – the best known Paraguayan club won it.

Olimpia – the oldest club of the country, the best known, and the most successful. They won their 24th title. Hard to best such record, yet, it was no business as usual: in retrospect the 1975-86 period is called 'the golden years' of the club. In real time it was not so – the club won the championship in 1975 and now in 1978. Not bad, but nothing special – but the title in 1978 was the first of the record 6 consequtive titles. Plus international success. All that was unknown in 1978, of course, and good or bad the champions left no trace of themselves.

This is a photo from the great 1979 Copa Libertadores winners, but it will suffice here: the team was almost the same, the key players were already shaping Olimpia for some time. Apparently, two players are creditted as instrumental for the 1978 title – the 26-years old Paraguayan Osvaldo Aquino and the Uruguayan import Migel Angel Piazza. But they were not alone – the young Jorge Guasch was in the team. He became regular national team player later, tottaling 47 caps for Paraguay between 1985 and 1991. Another player was already established Paraguayan star – the 29-years old Hugo Talavera.

Talavera, pictured here with the national team kit, was part of both Olimpia and Team Paraguay successes coming shortly after 1978.

Yet, the player perhaps deserving most praise was the goalkeeper Ever Hugo Almeida. He was already 30-years old in 1978, with good 13 years of professional football to his credit. He debuted in 1967 for Cerro (Montevideo) – rightly so, for he was born Uruguayan. Moved to Paraguay in 1972 and joined Olimpia in 1973, becoming Paraguayan citizen eventually and starting playing for the national team of his new country. For Paraguay the 'oriundo' played 22 matches. For Olimpia he became a legend – he stayed with the club to the end of his career. Which happened in 1991!

Hugo Almeida in his last playing years – by the time the world learned about a Paraguayan goallie or two... Chilavert, Mondragon, Almeida was still playing. 18 years for Olimpia. 24 years total. In 1978 he was perhaps at his best – experienced, wise, stable. Strong team starts with the goalkeeper, the common wisdom goes, and Olimpia already had the skeleton of strong and successful team, ready to conquer something larger than Paraguay.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bolivia, another of the low ranking countries, made significant change in 1977: full professional league was formed. The championship formula was complicated and also changed in later time, but the general format remains. It was the end of semi-professional football and chaotic tournaments, a determined step hoping to elevate the level of the game. The only problem at the end is counting titles – championships are divided: amateur era, semi-professional era, and the new league, so it is somewhat difficult to make totals. Anyhow, the new league started with 16 clubs, most of them the 'usual suspects' from La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz. Most of the big names settled well in the new environment , but there was one casualty: Always Ready (La Paz) was fading away and although they started very well in the new league, it was also their last success.

The teams were divided in two groups, 8 in each, for the first phase. The numbers don't add – every team ended with 16 matches played, which does not make sense, not fitting into neither 2-leg round-robin group tournament, nor into 1-leg inter-group championship. The top five of each group proceeded to the second phase, carrying their records from the first stage. The team with least points was relegated – the unlucky one was 20 de Augusto (Beni). They played in Group B and won only 4 points – 1 win and 2 ties. The next weakest club was the last in Group A, Aurora (Cochabamba), finishing with 9 points. No club was head and shoulders above the rest – the top two teams in both groups finished with equal points. The pursuers were close – the team with least points entering the second stage was Municipal (La Paz) with 16. The rest were: San Jose (Oruro), Always Ready (La Paz), Oriente Petrolero (Santa Cruz), The Strongest (La Paz), and Oriente Petrolero (Cochabamba) from Group A, and Bolivar (La Paz), Jorge Wilstermann (Cochabamba), Bata (Cochabamba), Blooming (Santa Cruz), and already mentioned Municipal. Perhaps with the exception of Bata – the traditional cream of Bolivian football, with increasingly strong Oriente Petrolero and Jorge Wilstermann.

The second phase was standard 2-led round-robin tournament, with the added records from the first phase, of course. The best two of the groups moved to the third stage. Jorge Wilstermann was almost unchalanged in Group B – they finished first with 33 points, 4 points ahead of Oriente Petrolero. Municipal was just happy to appear at this stage – they finished last with the least points among all – 20. Group A was tougher – three teams hardly played a role, but the battle between Bolivar and Always Ready lasted to the end. Bolivar clinched the top spot by a point, but the third finisher – Bata – ended 7 points behind Always Ready.

One more mini-league for the third phase: 2-leg round-robin tournament, previous records not counted. Beginning from scratch, yet, strong performance during the season distinguished the favourites – Bolivar and Jorge Wilstermann. Always Ready collapsed, however – they finished 4th, with measly 3 points. Oriente Petrolero was not much better – 5 points. The top two finished with equal points – 8 – and the final table depended on goal-difference, so Bolivar finished first by a goal.

Yet, the championship was finished: the top two had to play a final on neutral ground: Bolivar and Jorge Wilstermann met in Santa Cruz and Bolivar clinched a 1-0 victory – and the title.

One more note about the championship – high goalscoring. By 1978 scoring was getting lower, especially in Europe. The Bolivians achieved impressive 3.48 goals per match. Well, weaker leagues tend to have high records, but still – impressive.

Jorge Wilstermann finished second.
The club historians proudly speak of the second 'golden era' during the 1970s: the boys won two titles – 1972 and 1973 – and were steadily among the best. So silver was not bad, especially for a club founded as late as 1949. The Cochabamba club fougth to the end and lost by a single goal. Not champions, but increasing the importance of the La Paz – Cochabamba rivalry. Perhaps making it the most important in Bolivian football.

Bolivar are traditionally successful – they already had 12 titles: 6 during the amateur era, and 6 more during the semi-professional years. Their last was in 1976. Now they were proud to win their first title in the new professional league format.

Founded in 1925, Bolivar is not the oldest club in Bolivia – not even in La Paz, but already was one the strongest and most successful. They faced relegation only once – in 1964 – which, with time, became rather amusing point, for it was never repeated again. Their original name also sounds a bit amusing: it was Atletico Bolívar Literario Musical. The high-brow parts were eventually dropped and the club became simply Club Atletico Bolivar. Popular and strong, they earned long time ago the nickname 'La Academia', although their sky-blue colours made for another equally popular nickname – 'Los Celestes'. True to their nicknames, they added one more title.

Hard to tell much of the team – most players were unknown to the world. Plenty of foreigners: 5 plus one naturalized Argentinian. One Paraguayan and 4 Argentines. Not great stars, yet, at least two were fairly known names in South America – Luis Gregorio Gallo and the defender Ricardo Troncone.

Troncone became a legend of Bolivar – an iron defender, who generally won every ball and did not let straikers pass. He was helped by another club legend – Pablo Baldivieso, already nearing the end of his career, but considered one of the best Bolivian defenders in the 1960s.

Midfield was also strong: here perhaps the biggest club legend played -

Carlos Fernando Borja Bolívar – or simply Carlos Borja. He was mearly 22-years old in his second professional season, but rapidly becoming the most influencial player of the team. Borja scored a lot as well, but his major quality was consistency. He was incrediably loyal to the club – a one-club man, for which he played 20 years! As a total, he played 532 games and scored 129 goals for Bolivar. And equally strong was he as a national team player – 88 matches and 1 goal in 16 years, reaching at the end to the 1994 World Cup finals. 1978 established Borja as a Bolivian star – and he was called to the national team the next year. A true legend, which was not known in 1978, of course – back then he was bright new star.

The attack was strong as a whole, with Viviano Lugo (naturalized Argentine, who probably unjustly was never called to the Bolivian national team) and Waldino Palacios (Argentina), but the big name was the 24-years old Jesus Reynaldo. A goal scoring machine, he was already twice the top Bolivian scorer and, so far, bigger star than Borja.

Reynaldo (on the right) provided goals to Bolivar, delighting the fans. Unlike Borja, he played for few other clubs, scoring a plenty everywhere, and ending as the all-time best Bolivian goalscorer. But this was also in the future – for the present, he simply made Bolivar's attack lethal.

Strong squad, by Bolivian standards, but well-rounded and most importantly – quite young. Only three players were 30 or older. The veterans still had a few years ahead of them, providing experience and stability. The younger talent was very promissing – and the key players were all young: Borja, Reynaldo, Fierro, Araoz, Aragones. A team with a future. As a novelty, there were two 'strange' players: Vlado Svigir and Stephan Matic, clearly of Yugoslavian descent, most likely Croatian. But they were no imports – they were Bolivians. Neither played a role in the winning team, though – aparently deep reserves.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ecuadorian football ranked higher than venezuelan one, but some attention to it was paid only in South America. Obscure country, so the drama was almost entirely local. Three-stage championship: at first the 10-club league played standard 2-leg tournament. The bottom two teams were relegated and replaced by the best two in the second division. The top three qualified for the final stage, carrying extra points to it: 3 the first placed; two – the second, and a single point the third. El Nacional (Quito) finished first by a point. Tecnico Universitario (Ambato) was second and Emelec (Guayaquil) – third. The last two were LDU (Quito) – goal difference determined the fate of three clubs, and LDU had the worst – and at the last place ended Manta, clearly the outsider – they lost 10 of their 18 championship games. The club scored quite a lot of goals, but the defense was too leaky. These two were replaced by UD Valdez (Milagro) and Bonita Banana (Machala) for the second phase, clubs hardly meaning anything today, for they no longer exist.

The second phase was exact coppy of the first, once again the bottom two relegated and top three carrying points to the final stage. Bonita Banana performed well, ending 5th , but UD Valdez were pathetic and settled on the very bottom with measly 9 points from 18 games. The won a single match and lost 10. Above them finished LDU (Portoviejo), quite surprisingly, for only worse goal-difference denied them third place at the opening tournament.

At the top – no surprises: El Nacional was first again, but only because of better goal-difference. Barcelona, a traditional favourite, finished second, one point above two teams with also equal ponts. Goal-difference placed Tecnico Universitario third and Emelec was forth. Thus El Nacional, Tecnico Universitario, Barcelona, and Emelec composed the final group of 4 teams, competing for the title. The second placed in the fnal tournament got the second Ecuadorian spot for the Copa Libertadores.

El Nacional was starting with good advantage – they carried 6 points from the first two stages. TU had 3, Barcelona – 2, and Emelec – 1. Now the finalists had to play 2-leg round robin mini-championship. The competition was fierse and almost every away match was lost by all contestants. El Nacional was a bit better than the rest, finishing with 3 wins, 1 tie, and 2 losses. Barcelona was slightly worse – 2 wins, 1 tie, 3 losses. The other two teams won 3 matches, but lost also 3. The difference was really made by the bonus points, although El Nacional was first even if there were no additional points. Curiously, the second placed TU ended with negative goal-difference. Emelec scored the most goals.

The final table:

1.El Nacional 6 3 1 2 9- 6 13 [6]

2.Técnico Univ. 6 3 0 3 7-11 9 [3]

3.Emelec 6 3 0 3 12-10 7 [1]

4.Barcelona 6 2 1 3 6- 7 7 [2]

New old champions – El Nacional won third consecutive title, something no Ecuadorian club achieved before. All together, it was their 5th title – great success, considering that the club was founded in 1964 in Quito. But it was not just any club – El Nacional belonged to the Ecuadorian Military. Hence, it was not only well administered and financed, but had considerable weight in Ecuadorian football. One thing making the club attractive to fans was the policy of using only Ecuadorian players – not surprising policy for and army club, but endearing to sentimental public. And because of this policy the most popular nickname of El Nacional is 'Puros Criollos' – 'Pure Creoles', which may smack of nationalism, but also makes sense to many. The full name is typically long and nobody uses it, but it describes popular South American aims of making sporting club socially important gathering place: it is 'Club Social, Cultural y Deportivo "El Nacional"'. More than football, yet, football is the most imporatant part of it. As for rivelries – since the club was young and located in a city with few much older clubs, some 'derbies' were more or less artificially made – those with LDU and Deportivo Quito – but one occured instantly: with Espoli. Espoli belonged to the Police and rivelry between Police and Army happens everywhere. Thus, El Clásico de las Fuerzas del Orden (The Armed Services Derby) was quickly born.

Since Ecuadorian players were largely unknown abroad, little can be said for the strength of the squad – obviously, the policy of recruiting only Ecuadorians worked. And to work, obviously El Nacional had enough money and clout to get the best. To contemporary outsider the nickname may sound hypocritical – the abundance of black and Indian players is hardly 'purely Creol', but such suspicion is nonsense in South American context. Wikipedia credits the goalscorer Fabian Paz y Mino as the most important player of the team, but he is not in the picture. No matter what, highly successful club already.

Tecnico Universitario finished second, although a bit shaky in the final stage. Otherwise, seemingly the close pursuer of El Nacional during the year. Strong season – they captured the second spot alloted to Ecuador in Copa Libertadores.

For the club hailing from the city of Ambato it was great success: the club was founded in 1971! They won promotion to First Division in 1977 and finished second in their very first year among the best clubs of the country. It may apparead to be just enthisiastic season, but the club was ambitious and determined to keep its newly acquared position. Credits were given to players unfortunately little known outside Ecuador:

At least one was a foreigner: the Argentine Jorge 'El Polaco' Bustos, recently coaching Tecnico Universitario. If anything, the great dilemma remained unanswered: teams of local players were successful, but so were those employing foreign feet.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

And from North to South. Venezuela did not have to worry about World Cup or anything else on international stage. The whole concern was domestic. Two-stage championship: a regular 2-leg league at first and after that the top 6 clubs proceeded to compete for the title in a mini-league. The bottom 6 were less interesting – down there survival was the issue. The Venezuelan league ranked very low internationally, but it was full of foreigners. The imports hardly helped – there were old troubles: transportation, other irregularities, some scandals, all going under the umbrella word 'logistics'. Yet, the championship was trotting ahead. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Deportivo Lara (Barquisimeto) – they finished 11th in the first stage of the season. Only one club had worse record then them. Deportivo Lara had practically foreign squad: Isabelino Martínez (defense, Uruguay), Ángel Palacios (defense, Colombia), Edilberto Pedraza (midfield, Colombia), Gonzalo Flores (striker, Ecuador), Luis Salas (defense, Chile), Roberto Álvarez (defense, Argentina), José Luis Núñez (striker, Perú), José Manjarres (goalkeeper, Colombia), and Raúl Peñaranda (striker, Colombia). Practically, the whole regular team... which theoretically should have made Deportivo Lara a title contender, not an iutsider. But they finished at the bottom. At the top finished familiar to those following Venezuelan football: Portuguesa FC (Acarigua), champions in the last four years. They were first by a point, with 11 wins, 6 ties, and 5matches lost. So far, Portuguesa was not overwhelming leader – second placed ULA Merida had much better scoring record and three clubs had better defensive record. But the first phase meant nothing except qualifying for the real final tournament. It was there when Portuguesa really dominated: they did not lose a single match, won 6 and tied 4. The next club in the final table, Deportivo Galicia, finished with 3 losses and 4 points behind. Which is huge difference achieved in 10 games. Portuguesa scored the most goals – 18 – and allowed the least – 6.

Nothing new... 5th consecutive title for Portuguesa. Solid dominance. Evidently, the best Venezuelan club in the 1970s, most likely on the road for more success. Alas, this title was the last for Portuguesa – nobody would have predicted it in 1978, but... to this very day Portuguesa added nothing.

Home success without any resonance abroad. At the end, even a picture of the winners is difficult to find. Most likely the 1978 was similar to the one of 1977 – when perhaps the best international moment happened for Portuguesa:

Back in 1977 Portuguesa FC played a friendly against Cosmos New York. Pele, Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Chinaglia against the modest boys from Acarigua. It even did not matter how the match ended – the memories of playing against the greatest names in world football was cherished.

Carlos Nunez, one of the two Peruvians in the squad, posing with Franz Beckenbauer. No Venezuelans here, but what a moment for modest club and player.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Of course, it was NASL, not Mexico, the big news in North America. NASL continued to be controversial league – and in more than one sense. On the surface, it was very successful: the number of clubs increased. The number of famous players increased. Attendance was good. The main goal of NASL was to become major North-American league – which meant central TV spot and coverage. For that reason money were spent without much concern for returns. Tickets were cheap, especially the family packages, salaries were huge. Huge stadiums were used without thinking were they fit for the sport, or were they to be sold to full capacity. Expenses were considered investments: to lure the public, to capture the American minds, and to elevate football to the holly status of baseball, American football, basketball, and ice hockey. And for that reason NASL operated like any other major American league: rules were changed, international organizations were ignored, international competitions were ignored. NASL maintained the strange rules introduced earlier: the 35-yard offside line, the penalty shoot-out to break ties, and bonus points given for goals scored. 2/3 of the venues used had artificial turfs and were not designed for soccer. NASL did not follow the international transfer rules too. FIFA was outraged and NASL was on the verge of becoming outlaw league – if FIFA did not make the last step, it was not because NASL cooperated, but because FIFA too wanted soccer to become major American sport. NASL went its own way, transforming the sport into something else in an effort of selling it to the American public. For that, the game had to be lively, the scores – high, and no ties. Real football had no appeal to Americans, but the turfs contributed to the transformation as well: the ball bounced unpredictably on the hard artificial surface. Gridiron and baseball lines, never erased from the surface, constantly reminded the public of familiar sports and rules, thus, demanding the new sport to be made familiar. At the end, the biggest attraction to the average American was the cheap tickets – one was able to take the whole family to some show on Saturday. Then Sunday come – and real sports with it. American soccer was no longer soccer, yet, the battle for capturing American minds was lost. Most people saw soccer as some freak show and never bothered to understand the rules. (Even today watching soccer with North Americans is irritating – no matter what you say, to the end of the game you will be asked to explain what is an offside and why the corner kick. And when the match ends you will be told that the rules are impossible to understand. And why something is not done to make scoring easier? What is this 0-0 tie...) Anyhow, back in 1978, the signs of trouble were getting more and more: lucrative TV contracts were absent. The novelty value of the sport did not build loyal followers: after few packed initial games, attendance steadily declined. Only New York Cosmos and Vancouver Whitecaps were solidly attended. The press avoided football stubbornly, giving it little space. Clubs – or franchises, as they were called – folded or relocated. Market mentality was defeated by the market, yet, so far NASL brass did not see that the end of the operation was coming quickly. Instead, the crazy race set by Cosmos continued: signing of more foreign players for more money. It did not make sense at all – especially did not make business sense. As for the players coming to NASL, most of them enjoyed the league: it was easy living. Money were great, demands – few. It was fun. It was impossible to figure out the status of the players – particularly the British players. They not only moved frequently from franchise to franchise, but often had contracts just for few matches. To which club the Brits belonged was a mystery: some were loaned, others moved to NASL permanently. Some came only for the summer – between British seasons. Just a taste: to which club belonged Trevor Francis in 1978? He ended among the top scorers of NASL, representing Detroit Express. Back in Europe few people were even aware of the American exploits of the English star – he was Birmingham City player.

Nationality was another mystery: NASL greatly preferred foreign stars – as if the best of the world was playing in America. Thus, the newcomers Laszlo Harsanyi and Joszef Horvath, who defected in 1975, when Ujpesti Dosza played an European cup game in Switzerland, were listed as Hungarians. So was another Hungarian defector – Juli Veee (real name: Gyula Visnyei), who was already US citizen and played for the US national team. But another refugee, Igor Bachner, who played once upon a time for Skoda (Plzen)in his native Czechoslovakia, was not listed as Canadian. What criteria was used to determine who was Yugoslav and who was already American or Canadian? Perhaps nobody knew. And the lack of comprehensive transfer rules on top of everything: 8 players played for Cosmos this year, but only 'exhibition matches' . Were they any real part of Cosmos? Were they just visiting stars? Or prospective players on trial? Look at the names: the already mentioned Hungarian defectors Harsanyi and Horvath (both signed and played with other NASL clubs this season), Rivelino (never came to play regular football in USA), Arsene Auguste, who played for Haiti at the 1974 World Cup (played for Tampa Bay in 1978), 2 unknown British players – Willey and Jump, perhaps the most impressive Iranian player at the 1978 World Cup, Andranik Eskandarian (who most likely was a refugee, because the Iranian revolution happened – and many went into exile), and Johann Cruyff. Only Eskandarian became real Cosmos player of the bunch... The group was strangely arranged anyway: some world class stars; some fairly well known guys; and some nobodies. Reason? Any reason? It was not the same trying to sell Cruyff and trying to sell some Jump. But never mind. Cosmos set the tempo of buying frenzy – and every other club tried to follow. The spending spree was suicidal.

6 points for win, 1 point for penalty shoot-out win, breaking a tie, a point for every goal scored – limited to maximum of 3. 1-0 win gives 7 points. 3-4 loss – 3 points. A 0-0 tie, followed by penalty shoot-out win – 1 point. Got it? Your team may lose constantly and still be above a team winning only by shoot-outs. Of course high scoring was the objective, yet, even with such rules, unpredictable turfs, ball bouncing every each way and defenses pretty much meaningless, and the abundance of highly skilled strikers the results were not all that impressive: only Cosmos came close to 3 goals on average. Four clubs achieved 2 goals per game average.

Four teams'relocated' – that is, folded and moved to another places under new names. Or were sold and the new owners named them as they wished. No more St. Louis Stars – but California Surf; Team Hawaii became Tulsa Roughnecks; Las Vegas Quicksilvers - San Diego Sockers; and Connecticut Bicentennials - Oakland Stompers.

The league expanded by 6 teams as well – the new franchises were Colorado Caribous, Detroit Express, Houston Hurricane, Memphis Rogues, New England Tea Men, Philadelphia Fury. Thus NASL rounded to 20 teams – seemingly optymistic sign, as far as more teams meant 'growth'. With the new teams came perhaps the lowest point of NASL's 'concept' of football: the glory belongs to Colorado Caribous and their kit.
Home jersey

Away jersey.

Dave Clement dressed as Caribou... a far cry from the sober kit he weared when playing for Queens Park Rangers (London).

As a rule of tumb, US teams choose terrible colours and designs to this very day, but this kit beats everything else. What were they thinking in Colorado? Clearly, a circus. So the kit may be a great symbolic summary of NASL.

24 teams divided in 6 sub-groups – or divisions. Every team played 30 regular matches – as ever, North American leagues play unusual and hardly making sense regular season. Hoe they came to the number of 30? Except that is a round number, it means teams played more games with some opponents and fewer with others. Impossible to say why... but North American sports use such formulas all the time.

Top two teams of two Division and three from the other two advance to Conference play-offs, and the the winners – to the grand final. Cup format, nothing fancy.

Cosmos was best in everything during the reular season: they finished first with 212 points – a new league record. They won 24 matches – the most in the league; scored most goals – 88; and their defense was third – behind Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers. The next strongest club was Vancouver Whitecaps, finishing with 199 points and also winning 24 matches. The point difference depended on goals scored. Rochester Lancers were the unlucky members of the Eastern Division. Minnesota Kicks and Tulsa Roughnecks qualified in the Central Division. Los Angeles Aztecs was the only team in the Western Division not advancing. They were one of the weakest teams this year anyway – only the great Colorado Caribous was worse. Fancy kit did not help a bit. Ten clubs going to compete for the 'title' of the National Conference. Geography – an obvious reason for dividing a league into sub-groups in a vast country – seemingly played no role at all: teams from the East coast and the West coast are here.

Similar was the American Conference... Eastern, Central, and Western divisions. Tampa Bay Rowdies, New England Tea Men, and Fort Lauderdale Strikers advanced from Eastern; Detroit Express and Chicago Sting from Central; and San Diego Sockers and California Surf – from the Western Division. Something wrong? Seven teams? No – they were eight. Philadelphia Fury, dead last in the Eastern Division also advanced... and don't ask why. The answer is obvious... the top two teams of every Division and the last two – by points. Whoever got more among the remaining teams – Philadelphia was last, but with more points than any other lowly placed club in the American Conference. Sometimes it pays to be last...

The next stage was 1/8 finals – but really 1/4 finals: the teams were still playing between their original divisions for the the title of the coresponding Conference. Thus, the next stage was not 1/4 finals, but Conference Semifinals, followed by the Conference finals. Cosmos confidently won the National Conference, beating Portland Timbers twice – 1-0 and 5-0 in New York. The American Conference was tougher contest: Fort Lauderdale Strikers won at home 3-2, but lost the away match in Tampa 1-3. Tampa Bay qualifies? Not at all.. or not yet: goal-difference was nothing, so penalty shoot-out decided the winner. Tampa Bay Rowdies clinched the victory by amasing reasult: 1-0. In a shoot-out... and not even normal shoot-out, but 35-yards free attack. Anyway, Tampa Bay won.

And only after that – the real title. Or the only title, for who remembers Division and Conference 'champions'? Big final, played at the Giants Stadium, in East Rutherford, New York. Any need to say the famous stadium is not designed for football? On August 27 Cosmos and Tampa Bay came out. To a point, home advantage for Cosmos. But who knows? Well, Cosmos was classier by far and although Tampa Bay fought back bravely it was 3-1 for Cosmos at the end. A second consecuitve title for Cosmos.

No matter what, Tampa Bays Rowdies did very well.

'Doctored' pictures were made years before Photoshop – here Farrukh Quraishi was added at later time and apparently they had only black-and-white photo of him. But this is nothing – Tampa Bay, when compared to other teams and especially to Cosmos, had modest squad. It is this lack of big names which makes them significant: fairly unknown players went to the final and had a chance to win. A few players who played at the 1974 World Cup here: Adrian Alston played for Australia; Arsene Auguste – for Haiti; and Mirandinha for Brazil. None made big waves in 1974 and Mirandinha never played for Brazil after 1974. He was 26 years old in 1978, but his career seemingly was going downhill. At least he came from famous club – Sao Paulo. He was the newly acquired star this year, but the big name was Rodney Marsh. The controvercial former English national team player seemingly found greenr pasture in USA – similarly to George Best, his troubles in England were largely related to drinking. And similarly to Best, Marsh was going steadily downhill, not able to keep his place in any club and no longer even wanted by the clubs. But he was the big guy in Tampa Bay. The rest of the team, South Africans, Haitians, Englishmen, Scottish, the odd Argentinian, the ever present Yugoslav – or may be no longer Yugoslav, were unknown players. But the combination worked well enough.

Cosmos, of course, was nothing like Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay used small 22-strong roster – Cosmos used 34 players! 8 of them were accidental, but the rest weighted a lot. Starting with Beckenbauer. Newly acquired were Vladislav Bogicevic, Yugoslavian national player, coming from Crvena zvezda (Belgrade); Guiseppe 'Pino' Wilson, former Italian national player, coming from Lazio (Rome); Dennis Tueart, ocasionally called to play for England, arriving from Manchester City; and Angola-born occasional Portuguese national team player Seninho, coming from FC Porto. Not superstars like Pele and Beckenbauer, but still famous players. Bogicevic and Wilson played at the 1974 World Cup. Tueart had strong seasons, eventually moving him from Sunderland to Manchester City and the national team of England. Perhaps every newcomer was over his prime, but for NASL they were strong recruits. Wilson perhaps was directly invited by his former teammate and friend Chinaglia, who had big influence in Cosmos. Already strong team only got stronger, but Cosmos still had plenty of money and spent freely.

Champions again: top from left: ? , Ricky Davis(?), Fred Grgurev, Gary Etherington, Robert Iarusci, Ron Atanasio, Seninho(?), ?

Middle row: Jack Brand, David Brcic, Terry Garbett, Nelsi Morais (?), Bobby Smith, Santiago Formoso, Tony Donlic, Erol Yasin

Sitting: Steve Hunt, Vladislav Bogicevic, Giorgio Chinaglia, Eddie Firmani – coach, Werner Roth, Ray Klivecka – assistant coach, Franz Beckenbauer, Dennis Tueart, Carlos Alberto.

Not a bad squad – two world champions, various (former) national team players, whole bunch of solid professionals, and additional young talent, mostly American. But tensions were simmering and not only simmering as well – Chinaglia was the real mover and shaker and only on the pitch. The clash between the English flock and the rest was ongoing; the US players grumbled that foreigners were preffered; and new conflict was brewing between Chinaglia and coach Firmani. Firmani lost. Yet, it was formidable team – at least in North America. Competent enough to keep on winning even when in constant dressing room turmoil. Giorgio Chinaglia was the top goalscorer of the league with 34 goals and 11 assists in 30 matches played. Erol Yasin finished as second best goalkeeper in the league. Gary Etherington was voted rookie of the year. Carlos Alberto, Beckenbauer, and Chinaglia were voted in the NASL All-star team. If there was a North American team capable of competing in real championship – European or South American – it was Cosmos.

And may be Vancouver Whitecaps, the pleasant surprize in 1978. Competent, well rounded team, having the best coach of the year – Tony Waiters, and the best North American player of the year – Bobby Lenarduzzi. Whitecaps emplyed simple concept: hey used mostly English players, coached by Englishman. Lenarduzzi played in England few years back. Kevin Hector and Alan Hinton, although not great stars, provided enough class and influence. It was British team, playing British football – nobody had to change and adapt. It worked much better than the rag-tag teams combined of many nationalities, playing different styles and having trouble in understanding each other. But sanity was something rare in NASL – the league was already showing signs of decline and no reforms were planned. It was still full ahead, spend like crazy, hire everybody under the sun, and hope for a big break through.