Saturday, September 21, 2013

Copa Liberatdores, the crème of South American club football, also fell under the radar – nothing compared to the World Cup. Outside South America the tournament was practically ignored. In a way, the 1978 vintage became a tournaments for those unable to get anything better. Boca Juniors, the 1977 cup holders, were privileged to skip the first round. The round was in the usual format, quite different from what Europeans were used to: 5 4-team round-robin groups. The members of each group were from only two countries – transportation and money were the reason; less spending was crucial. Argentine and Ecuadorian clubs played in Group 1. No contest, really – River Plate and Independiente easily qualified, with equal points. Goal-difference did not matter, so play-off had to be played – River Plate won 4-1 and finished first.

Group2 Bolivian and Peruvian participants – just like Group 1, no contest. The Bolivians finished at the bottom. Alianza (Lima) was supreme – 5 wins and one tie. Sporting Cristal trailed 4 points behind – and still 3 points ahead of the better Bolivian club, The Strongest.

Group 3 was the toughest group – Brazilian vs Chileans. It was a group of surprises: Palestino, strong and confident in Chile, utterly failed and finished last with only 3 points. But even bigger disappointment were Sao Paulo – they managed to collect only 5 points, ending at 3rd place. Union Espanola, the second Chilean representative, mastered ties – 4 out of 6 matches. Thanks to that, they clinched 2nd place with a point more than Sao Paulo. Atletico Mineiro had no equals – they did not lose a game, tied two, and won four. They scored a lot – 16 goals in 6 matches. Only Alianza (Lima) scored more goals in the first round.

Group 4 opposed Colombian to Uruguayans. Theoretically, the Uruguayans should have been favourites, but those were the dark years of Uruguayan football, so the group was tough, if not especially strong. Danubio (Montevideo) finished last with 4 points – since they were practically newcomers to the tournaments, perhaps both the club and the fans were not very disappointed: the team fought and was not very far behind the other clubs. Atletico Junior (Barranquilla) finished third, completely tied with Penarol (Montevideo). Both clubs ended with 6 points and equal goal-difference. Curiously, no play-off was staged, as in Group 1, where at least the top teams differed by goal-difference. Here, Penarol finished with 7-7 and Atletico Junior 1-1. The matches between both teams had no significance – they ended exactly the same: Penarol won 1-0 at home; Atletico Junior mirrored the result in Barranquilla. So, the final standing was decided by more scored goals. Atletico Junior's record is a curious one, though: evidently, strong defense and very weak attack. A single goal scored in 6 games... Yet, a play-off was more appropriate here and not in Group 1 – if it mattered, for only the group winners qualified. Deportivo Cali topped the group, quite easily.

Group 5 – theoretically, the weakest group: Paraguayans vs Venezuelans. But... a surprise! Cerro Porteno (Asuncion) easily won the first place, but their neighbours Libertad were not good at all – they finished last. The representatives of the traditionally weakest South American country fought for the second place. Portuguesa (Acarigua) edged Estudiantes (Merida) – a single point better. Those were the strongest years of Portuguesa, but still... a year back they had Jairzinho, but he was no longer playing in 1978. Well done, but not enough – Cerro Porteno played much better, finishing first without losing a match: 3 wins and 3 ties.

The semi-finals – two round-robin groups of three teams each. Lady Luck played a little joke – very uneven groups. Group 1 was incredibly tough: Boca Juniors, River Plate, and Atletico Mineiro, Group 2 was easy... even weak. Deportivo Cali, Cerro Porteno, and Alianza. May be so, but the results show different: River Plate and Atletico Mineiro either underperformed, or Boca Juniors were way stronger. Both clubs together earned 5 points – still 2 points less than Boca Juniors. Exactly the same happened in Group 2 – the combined record of Cerro Porteno and Alianza was 2 points short than Deportivo Cali's. To a point, the failure of River Plate and Atletico Mineiro to really compete, was surprising. Even more surprising was the failure of Alianza – they were overwhelming in the first round, displaying high-scoring football (19 goals in 6 matches), not losing a single match, winning 5 out of 6. The semi-final group was no tougher than their first round group. Hard to tell... perhaps it was the hangover after the world cup: Alianza and River Plate had large number of players participating in the world championship. Boca Juniors practically had no national team player – may be it was fresher team; may be it was a team fueled by ambition to prove they were not worse than the Menotti's champions, may be the old South American tradition was at play – facing too many challenges, a club concentrates on one, abandoning the rest. Boca Juniors was competitive in the weak pre-World Cup Metropolitano championship, but had no noticeable presence in Campeonato Nacional. They fileded unrecognizable squads of reserve players in unimportant matches:

A 'strange' Boca formation in one the Copa Libertadores matches – many South American clubs employed such tactic, keeping their stars for the most important days. Such as playing against River Plate:

where Mastrangelo shined. Boca – 2, River – 0. Fillol, one of the best goalkeepers at the World Cup, down – Mastrangelo, ignored not only by Menotti, scores and wins. Boca Juniors was hungrier, no matter why. So were the strange Colombians of Deportivo Cali. So far.

The two-legged final was played at the end of November. Just in case, a reminder: at the end of South American spring, if Colombia gets a spring.

Deportivo Cali Col Boca Juniors Arg 0-0 0-4 0-4

1st leg. Estadio Pascual Guerrero, Cali, 23-11-1978

Deportivo Cali - Boca Juniors 0-0

Deportivo Cali: Zape, Ospina, F. Castro (Correa), Caicedo, M. Escobar, Arce Valverde,Otero (Jaramillo), Landucci, Torres, Scotta, A.J. Benítez.

Boca Juniors: C. Rodríguez, Pernía, Sá, Mouzo, Bordón, J.J. Benítez, Suñé, Zanabria, Mastrángelo, Salinas, Perotti.

Referee: Ortiz (Paraguay)

Attendance: 50,000

2nd leg. Estadio La Bombonera, Buenos Aires, 28-11-1978

Boca Juniors - Deportivo Cali 4-0

15' Perotti 1-0

60' Mastrangelo 2-0

71' Salinas 3-0

85' Perotti 4-0

Boca Juniors: Gatti, Pernía, Sá, Mouzo, Bordón, J.J. Benítez (Veglio), Suñé, Zanabria, Mastrángelo, Salinas, Perotti.

Deportivo Cali: Zape, Ospina (F. Castro), M. Escobar, Caicedo, Correa, Arce Valverde, Landucci, Otero (Umaña), Torres, Scotta, A.J. Benítez.

Referee: Pérez (Peru)

Attendance: 80,000

Boca managed a 0-0 tie in Cali and then completely destroyed Deportivo in Buenos Aires.

Slightly misleading picture – looks like Deportivo pressures Boca. But Gatti dominates... there was no Deportivo, especially in the second match.

There was mostly Boca... everywhere dark shirts, whites are hard to find.

One team to the end and beyond – triumphal Gatti, Sa, Mastrangelo, Veglio, and Bordon.

Mastrangelo, surrounded by fans, carries the cup. Rightly so – he did not fail to score at the final.

And who deserved to be carried on shoulders better than the great coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo?

May be another coach... Deportivo Cali lost the final, but it was great achievement anyway. It was carefully built team, developed in a few years and at its prime.

Deportivo Cali in 1977, when they earned a spot in Copa Libertadores. Take away the incidental goalkeeper Calero – he was the reserve of the Colombian legend Pedro Antonio Zape – and the squad is the same as the one meeting Boca at the 1978 final:

Almost the crème of Colombian football, but strongly influenced by Southern gauchos – to a point, Argentines played against Argentines at the final. Scotta, Landucci, and 'El Tigre' Benitez on the pitch, but that was not all – one Carlos Bilardo coached Deportivo. Young, still unknown coach, making his first marks. It was not bad at all reaching the Libertadores final. Sadly, only a ticket remains...

Boca got the cup.

This is the squad winning the Intercontinental Cup, but essentially the same guys won their second in a row Copa Libertadores. Curiously, a picture of the winners is difficult to find... may be because the national team of Argentina was the top priority of the year. May be because Boca was further lost by the duplication – winners in 1977, may be no need to really pay attention to them in 1978. Not fair, yet, a great underappreciated revenge for players left out of the national team – Gatti, Sa, Pernia, Bordon, Mastrangelo, Mouzo...

May be Sune too – but the captain still had a big cup to lift up high!