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.