Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Atletico Torino promoted, therefore, someone was relegated. Which brings First Division complications... 16 teams in it at that time, playing three-staged championship. First stage: the Preliminary Tournament. The league divided into two groups, 8 teams in each, playing standard two-legged championship plus two inter-group matches to a total of 16 games. Strange formula. The group winners go to the championship finals. This year they were Alianza (Lima) from Group A and Coronel Bolognesi (Tacna) from Group B.

The next stage was the Descentralised Tournament – a standard league with standard formula. All 16 teams playing 2 legs against each other. One may wonder what could be the incentive for two winners of the first phase... they had nothing to play for. The top 4 clubs qualified to the final stage – but the winners of the Preliminary Tournament already qualified – there was no point for them even to participate, it seems. The other question was relegation of course – the relegated club was decided only in this tournament. Kind of decided, for the last placed was not going down right away – there was a play-off between the 15th and 16th placed instead. Deportivo Municipal (Lima) finished 15th and Cienciano (Cuzco), last, met in the relegation play-off and after three matches – goal-difference did not count so after each contestant won a match, a third one was needed – Deportivo Municipal clinched victory. Ciencano went down – one may wonder why so much trouble, since they were consistently last: last in the first stage, last in the second stage, 3 points behind the nearest team every time. Deportivo Municapal was only marginally better, but the margin was also consistent – they survived. The again, who can tell what is good and what is bad? Cienciano went down, but, if lucky next year, they had a chance to win a trophy – Copa Peru – as a provincial club. Lima based Deportivo Municipal had no such chance... wait a minute: without second league, may be they also had a chance of winning Copa Peru? Luckily, this problem will stay as a speculation here, for Deprotivo Municipal escaped cursed relegation.

Standing from left: Víctor Corbacho, Juan José Sato, Roger Valdivia, Rodulfo Manzo, Germán Leguía, Andrés Peña.

Bottom: Julio Argote, Francisco Celli, Mario Marzona, Ernesto Guillén, Jorge Jaramillo, and their famous fan "Cotito". Not much of a team and the club had much better days, but Cotito was perhaps happy in a small way at the end – survival also counts.

On top of the league finished CNI (Iquitos), Melgar FBC (Arequipa), Sporting Cristal (Lima), and Alianza (Lima). Alianza, 4th in Descentralised Tournament, already qualified to the final stage, so the 5th placed Universitario de Deportes (Lima) took the last spot. Hard to tell how consistent were the clubs – Alianza obviously was, but the rest did not do very well in the first stage. Correspondingly, Coronel Bolognesi seemingly took it easy in the second stage, finishing 6th. Saving strength for the final – a double-edged concept... but popular nevertheless. If the Tacna boys were really saving strength, for the final 6-team group had its own complication: the teams entered with their total record of the second stage. Nothing from the first, though. Then they played two-legged mini-league, adding 10 more games. Total points of 40 matches made the final table. Coronel Bolognesi did not do well – their combined record was good only for 5th place. Sixth and last were, quite predictably, Universitario – handicapped by their low points of entry, they hardly chance to recover even if playing better. Which they did not. The real contest went between 4 clubs, starting with roughly same points – two with 39 and two with 37. CNI dropped out of the race and finished 4th.

Standing from left: Israel Quijandría, Alfonso Marañón, Pedro Cajo, Roberto Céspedes, Rufino Bernales, Otorino Sartor.

First row: Juan del Aguila, Bernabé Navarro, Oscar Herrera, Carlos Gonzáles Pajuelo, Guillermo Rengifo.

Not bad for Colegio Nacional de Iquitos (CNI), not bad for a provincial club, that is. Another provincial club showed more teeth: Melgar FBC stayed in the race, at least the one for silver, to the end. They lost it by a point.

Standing from left: Alberto Alvarado, Raúl Obando, José Aguayo, Roberto "Tito" Reyna, Freddy Bustamante, Emilio Campana.

Crouching: Andrés Zegarra, José Leiva, Ernesto Mayta, Emilio Barra, Víctor Gutiérrez.

The club from Arequipa is one of the best Peruvian provincial clubs, but all is relative – they were not real contestants in 1977, finishing 3rd largely thanks to their entry record. Staring with 39 points, they added only 9 more – less than Coronel Bolognesi points in the final tournament; hopelessly less than the 1st and 2nd clubs. Which were from Lima, as if to confirm capital's superiority in perpetuity, no matter the efforts of the Peruvian Federation in enlarging the football map of the country. Sporting Cristal and Alianza, old, familiar rivalry. They started equal, with 37 points each. Sporting Cristal had better defense; Alianza – stronger attack. At the end attacking football triumphed. Sporting Cristal fell 3 points behind.
Sporting Cristal, pictured here together with Jose Galvez (Chimbote, in white). Standing from left: Ramón Quiroga, Guillermo Vargas, Oswaldo Ramírez, Carlos Carbonell, Eleazar Soria, Percy Rojas.

Bottom: Héctor Bailetti, Fernando Mellán, Alfredo Quesada, Juan Carlos Oblitas, José Navarro.

Well, it is clear why Sporting Cristal were high placed: Ramon Quiroga, Hector Bailetti, and the most famous – Percy Rojas and Juan Carlos Oblitas. Strong squad not only by Peruvian measures, obviously superior to provincial clubs, but trailing behind still. Yet, second place was important by itself – it gave the second Peruvian spot in Copa Libertadores. Sporting Cristal was unable to win at home, but had a chance to compensate internationally. And take revenge on Alianza, for the rules of Libertadores placed teams of same country together in one group.

But Libertadores was in the future – presently, it was Alianza. They qualified early for the finals, then played relatively strong second stage, entering the finals with good record of 37 points. Then they dominated the last tournament. Alianza lost only one match, building 3-point advantage by the end. They scored 82 goals in total – the highest record by far, not counting the 35 goals they scored in the first stage. Back then Alianza outscored everybody else as well – the winners of Group 2, Coronel Bolognesi scored measly 17 goals, for instance.
Reigning supreme at the end: second row, from left: Francisco Narducci, Julio "Buyo" Ramírez, Salvador Salguero, José Velásquez, José Gonzáles Ganoza, Jaime Duarte.

Crouching: César Cueto, Juan Tardío, Hugo Sotil, Freddy Ravello, Jorge Esquivel.

Not for nothing one of the nicknames of the popular 'people's' club is 'Victorianos' (the Victorians) – in 1977 they won their 16th Peruvian title. Confidently too and a team scoring plenty of goals is always enjoyable to watch. Alianza was more solid than Sporting Cristal, with Velasquez, Cueto, Ramirez, and particularly Hugo Sotil. Drunkard or not, Sotil shined. His years with Barcelona were not happy once, sitting on the reserves bench and watching Cruyff and Neeskens, but coming back from Europe instantly recovered his spirits. Good life in Lima. Well, depending on which club one supports. Cotito above was surely not among the happy people. The present was not his, may be the future would be.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Who ranked third in South America? May be Peru – were Peruvian club football better than others is debatable, but Peru was the reigning South American champion and heading towards 1978 World Cup finals. In terms of success, Peru was fine. The financial state was another matter – Peruvian players played abroad for years and not just the stars. Money and quality not always coincide, though. The real problem was exposure – outside South America, Peruvian football was somewhat familiar only to specialists searching for talent. In Europe very few people knew even basic facts about football in the Andes – how many clubs played in the league was mind-boggling question. In all fairness, South American championships were complicated affairs and Peru was no exception. Since 1976 there was no Second Division. Copa Peru was not traditional Cup tournament in the European sense. The national championship had three different stages. 16 teams played in the First Division at the time. Clear so far?

One typical South American problem was decentralization – everywhere old professional clubs with lots of clout were clustered in the capitals. It was heavy task to break the monopoly of the centre and include provincial clubs, making true national championship. Peru tackled the problem back in 1966 – First Division was already established and was not directly touched, but a tournament was created specifically promoting provincial clubs to top flight. Mind, there was already Second Division, so rules of promotion were made to include provincial winners without affecting regular promotion-relegation patterns. The irritating issue had not an easy answer, so the rules changed often. Since 1976 there was no Second Division at all. Copa Peru served the purpose – that was the tournament created in 1966 to put provincial clubs on the map. And since most provincial clubs were still amateur, it was also an effort to change them into professional once – by necessity really, for it was impossible for amateur clubs to travel vast distances and compete on equal footing with the big boys from Lima. The formula of Copa Peru changed frequently, going into many stages. The tournament still exists and is not the national cup tournament, but a promotional tournament. The winner was promoted to First Division – the only promotional spot in 1977, recognizing by this singularity the vast gap between provincial and top flight football. Mostly financial gap, I guess. Copa Peru culminated final mini-league, won by Atletico Torino (Talara).
Standing from left: José Novoa, Ricardo Valladares, Filimer Rojas, unknown, Pedro Lolandez, Luis Córdova.

Crouching: Enrique "Sivorí" Vargas, José Zapata, Ray Vargas, Francisco Montero, Humberto Correa.

The club form the province of Piura was quite old, but nothing else. Formidable in Piura may be, nothing much on national scale. The names of the players did not mean much even in Peru and the club had difficulties surviving at top level – they already won Copa Peru in 1970 and 1975, which means they were quickly relegated. Third attempt, then... today the club's name is a bit more familiar, but still its biggest success is winning Copa Peru. Going up was great, though – even if meaning no more trophies.

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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In the higher elevations, Primera A, there were two questions: to win the championship, of course, and survival. Of course. The league was to be reduced to 21 clubs for the next year, so three clubs were to go down. Ferro Caril Oeste finished last, the lowest of the low, with measly 23 points. The 22nd placed Temperlay ended with 36 points. Which was no help – they were 3 points short of safety. Above them finished Lanus and Platense with 38 points. Once again face-to-face games seemingly decided final spots, for Lanus had much better goal-difference, but ended at 21st place. But... there is almost ever a 'but' when South American football is looked at. Final table is one thing, relegation – quite another. Lanus and Platense had to meet in a play-off, deciding lucky survivor and the relegated. Whatever the play-off was in terms of beauty, it was at least tough: nobody scored a goal, and after overtime it went into prolonged penalty shoot-out. Platense eventually prevailed 8-7 and survived. The play-off was played in November – long after Metropolitano finished and when Campeonato Nacional was already in progress. Platense was playing in the Nacional; Lanus was not – go figure.

The three relegated clubs were from Buenos Aires, hardly a surprising news, since 17 out 23 Primera A clubs were from Greater Buenos Aires (including Avellaneda). Add 18 out of total 19 Primera B participants. The whole Campeonato Nacional was an effort to break Buenos Aires monopolly, cooked in 1967 by the government. Back then the government bailed out in mass the Buenos Aires clubs from bankruptcy at the price of forcing them to include provincial clubs. Ten years later the clubs were still broke and the provincials were still absent from the top league. Then again, what chances had clubs from somewhere in the Pampa? The freshly relegated Lanus had a stadium with over 45 000 capacity – more sits than most cities population. Even second division Buenos Aires clubs were not happy traveling – and losing money – to places like Comodoro Rivadavia. La Plata, Rosario, Cordoba, Santa Fe, but mainly Greater Buenos Aires – that was and is Argentine football geography. Anyhow, relegation is no fun for anyone. Quite the opposite is winning the title, which in such vast league of old clubs, locked in ancient rivalries and hatred, must be tightly contended. Must be, but was not – two clubs really battled for the first place, leaving 3rd placed Velez Sarsfield entirely out of the race: they were 5 points behind 2nd placed Independiente. The best clubs in the world in 1977, the winners of Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cup, Boca Juniors finished 4th. Which brings back the old money problem... in Europe, a strong club normally was equally strong both in international and domestic tournaments. In South America was different – either international, or domestic championship was sacrificed in order of concentrating in the other games. In Argentina, the most successful South American country on 1970s international club scene, it was all the more pronounced: domestic championships were neglected by those winning internationally. There was no enough money for so both domestic and international football, but there was another problem too – two domestic championship were quite taxing the teams. Adding international tournaments on the same level of concentration spelled out disaster – it was to be either strong at home, or strong abroad, but hardly both. Thus, Boca Juniors did not really have disastrous domestic season – their attention was just elsewhere. The race between River Plate and Independiente was practically equal: they ended with same number lost matches – 6 each, and practically same goal records: 83-46 River Plate and Independiente – 82-47. The difference came from two matches – River Plate won more games, which Independient tied. And River Plate won another title, what's new?

Campeón del Torneo Metropolitano 1977, second row from left: Passarella, Comelles, Merlo, Lonardi, Héctor López, Fillol.

Kneeling: Pedro González, Marchetti, Luque, Juan J. López, Ortiz.

Well known squad in Argentina, but unknown in Europe. Except Fillol, the Argentinian national team goalkeeper, now captaining River Plate. Of course, some names above are very familiar today, but that is not because of 1977, but because of 1978. In a way, this squad was a preparation for the World Cup – strong season-national team-world title-international fame. Leopoldo Luque deserves a note: an year back he was part of the successful newcomers to the league, Union (Santa Fe). Gatti and Lorenzo, the coach, moved to Boca Juniors. Luque – to River Plate. Governments may wish to include provincial football among the best, but provincial club is easily robbed – and plummets down (all is relative, of course – Union still played well, finishing 10th in 1977). Anyhow, River Plate had solid base and quite young too. The age perhaps made the whole difference: many a club depended on old stars – River Plate depended on new batch of talented players. Thanks to Angel Labruna perhaps? Labruna is massive legend – but that is the player Labruna. The coach is hardly ever mentioned... his first spell at the helm of his beloved River Plate, in the late 1960s, was almost a disaster. At any rate, he did not win anything. He led Rosario Central to the Nacional title in 1971, but after that – nothing. An year with Racing Club; an year with Talleres – did not last anywhere and won nothing. He started his second spell with River in 1975. And this time was different – a revival started right away. River Plate restored its 'rightful' place, started winning titles again. Was he a great coach? Who knows... his bios, not tainted by River Plate bias, are laconic: he 'brought much domestic success' to a side 'endowed with players like Daniel Passarella, Norberto Alonso, and Leopoldo Luque'. Hardly the best of praise – looks like the club got, as it ever did, the top players of the country. Not exactly a squad made by the coach, but merely having top talent able to win with or without coaching... Was it so? Quite likely – Labruna is not among the famous coaches in neither category – not among the revolutionaries; not among the great winners either. But River Plate was winning under him – and that was enough.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Compared to Brazilian mess, the Argentine championship appeared normal... but was it? It was puzzling to a foreign eye. To begin with, Argentina run two separate championships in a single season and had two champions correspondingly. There was nothing in common between the two – different formats and different participants. The Metropolitan was classic league format – first league, second league, and so on further down, with normal promotion-relegation, and the usual schedule of every club playing a home and away match against everybody else. The team with most points ended first, those with least – at the bottom of the final table. To my knowledge, it was the largest league in the world – 23 teams! England had 22. But after 44 games for the Metropolitano, the National championship started... with 32 teams, divided in 4 groups. Different structure: at first every mini-league played 2-legged traditional championship. The winners went ahead to 2-legged semi-finals , and after that – two-legged final decided the champion. So far, so good... most of the participants were those playing in Metropolitano First Division, familiar names. But the rest were entirely different clubs, not to be found in neither First, not Second Division: Circulo Deportivo (La Plata), Independiente Rivadavia (Mendoza), Central Norte (Salta), Sarmiento (Chaco), Atletico Ledesma (Jujuy). Why were they playing at top level was a mystery to outsiders – there was no promotion and relegation here, may be provincial tournaments were conducted before Campeonato Nacional, winners going to the grand stage... unfortunately, the Argentine championship was little known. The foreign public understood Argentine football simply as national team, Boca Juniors, River Plate, and a train of great players. And on top of it, in 1977 the world was concerned with other Argentine news, not the football – the military dictatorship and its atrocities. It was related to football - the question of the Argentine hosting of 1978 World Cup: was it right to play at it; was Argentina able to organize it – such types of questions, having little to do with local championships. Which were traditionally in trouble anyway: short of money clubs, which should have been bankrupt years ago; players strikes; various under the table deals; favours to the big clubs, inevitably leading to favours to smaller ones, just to keep the show running. It was a miracle Argentina was able to run championship at all, but it did. So let start from the bottom.

Primera B, the Second Division, orderly finished its own Metropolitano stage. 19 clubs played in it - why Argentina run odd-numbered leagues is unknown to me, but over there must have been some reason. The last four teams were relegated to Third Division. Among them was Talleres, at 16th place. Talleres had the same points as lucky survivor Almagro – 31, but much better goal-difference – why they were bellow Almagro? May be head-to-head games were decisive? May be... Let's put this aside and go to the champions of Primera B, a club going up to Primera A for the 1978 season. Only one club was getting a promotion, for the top flight was reduced a bit for the next season. The winners finished with 48 points from 36 games, two points ahead of there only competitor, Los Andes. Apparently, the winners were defensive-minded team: they lost only 5 matches, receiving only only 38 goals during the campaign – less then a goal per game average. Everybody else received over 40 goals. Good defense, not so deadly attack, striking only 55 goals. Four teams did better, and the 14th place Arsenal scored 55 as well. The relegated Talleres was not far behind with 50 goals. Defensive or not, Estudiantes (Buenos Aires) won and went up to Primera A.

Top, from left: Balbiano, Cortés, Paz, Bravo, Gérez, Manuel R. Pérez.

Kneeling: Ciccarello, Toloza, Pafundi, Ugarte, Juan Guillermo.

Second division squads normally consist of unfamiliar names and there is little point of even giving them, but still... this is the best ever squad of Estudiantes. Argentine clubs are generally ancient ones, and Estudiantes is no exception: they were found by students (hence, the name) on August 15, 1898. Contrary to their nickname – 'Matador' – they had no success. Never even playing top flight football. Winning Primera B in 1977 is their only success up to now – and their top season is 1978: they were promoted to Primera A alright, but surviving there was another matter: they finished last and relegated, never to return again. So let them bask in their 1977 glory. Well done indeed.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Operario was less convincing, qualifying from seemingly easier group – only Palmeiras from the big boys there – on goal difference. It was nice to see smaller clubs disturbing the mightiest, but was it possible to see them going all the way? In theory, yes.

Operario, traditional force in Mato Grosso do Sul, now making their mark at national stage. Not huge stars her, but a squad just ripe. Tadeu was the most famous name among them, but... which Tadeu? Tadeu Santos or Tadeu Macrini? The black or the white Tadeu? May be both? Well, both dreamed of winning.

Londrina EC, the sensation at this championship. Modest players disposing the great stars of the great clubs and going ahead.

The other two 1/2-finalists had it 'easy' – Atletico Mineiro facing Londrina RC and Sao Paulo – Operario. Games played in February 1978, the big boys having further 'good luck' by design or by chance – they were visitors in the first leg. Londrina tied Atletico Mineiro 2-2. Operario won 1-0. Heroics ended here... in the second legs nothing helped the brave small clubs. Atletico Mineiro won 4-2 and Sao Paulo – 3-0. Back to normal... big clubs at the final.

High stakes for the finalists: Atletico Mineiro won the first official Brazlian championship in 1971 and surely wanted a second title. Sao Paulo so far won nothing. By now, Brazilian finals were far from display of artistry and magic, but rather dull affairs. Tense, careful, physical fights. Winning was everything, no matter how. No exception this final – it ended 0-0. Nothing changed in the overtime. Penalty shoot-out was to decide the new champion. Atletico Mineiro missed three penalties. Sao Paulo – two, and won. One has to think.... yes, highly and tightly contested final, but Brazilian football is famous for its goals. Goals were entirely absent. And a little novelty – a player of Atletico Mineiro, young upstart, not known to the world yet, missed a penalty. One Toninho Serezo.

Standing from left: Juan Leite, Toninho Cerezo, Vantuir, Márcio Alves, Valdemir;
Kneeling: Marinho, Ángelo, Reinaldo, Paulo Isidoro,Ziza.

May be this Atletico Mineiro vintage sounded more familiar than the champions of 1971. To foreigners, I mean. Juan Leite, Vantuir, Reinaldo, Paulo Isidoro – vaguely familiar names. Toninho Cerezo was rising, although there were still few years before the world became aware of him. Nice squad, but lost the final by a hair.
Sao Paulo won their first title and what happiness it was for them! Champions at last! May be more lucky than convincing, but... champions and this is all that matter. Hardly the better team at the final, though – Mirandinha the big name here, and may be Valdir Peres. At least these two Europeans knew – knew as names, for Valdir Peres was not playing reserve at 1974 World Cup and Mirandinha failed to impress. Chicao was vaguely familiar and Ze Sergio seemed to be a rising star, but that's what European knew. In Brazil surely more players were well known stars, but still Sao Paulo did not appear brimming with talent. So, they won a final of equals – hence, the lack of goals and desperate and tough penalty shoot-out. Sao Paulo won their third attempt and it was a good revenge too, for they lost to Atletico Mineiro the final back in 1971. Once again there was no club from Rio at the final... actually, not a single one among the best four. Rio de Janeiro's final was clearly in decline – so far, only Vasco da Gama won the national title and Botafogo played – and lost – the final in 1972. The other noticeable thing was the absence of the superstar players – few megastars reached to the final so far. No matter how good Mirandinha was, he was not Pele or Tostao. And Zico was only hoping to play at a final so far.

Instead of great football and thrilling stars, Brazilian football produced this rather chilling self-comentary:

Final Table

1-São Paulo 21 9/ 4 4 4 40-15 39

2-Atlético-MG 21 11/ 6 4 0 55-16 49

3-Operário/CG 20 6/ 4 6 4 28-16 32

4-Londrina 20 4/ 6 4 6 33-28 28

5-Botafogo-RJ 18 8/ 3 7 0 30- 8 37

6-Palmeiras 18 7/ 5 3 3 33-18 34

7-Ponte Preta 19 7/ 4 3 5 29-12 32

8-Corinthians 19 5/ 5 6 3 24- 7 31

9-Flamengo-RJ 19 7/ 2 6 4 31-11 31

10-Santa Cruz 18 5/ 5 5 3 33-15 30

11-Bahia 19 6/ 3 6 4 26-12 30

12-Vasco da Gama 18 5/ 3 8 2 26-10 29

13-Grêmio 18 6/ 3 4 5 31-18 28

14-Remo 18 4/ 4 4 6 26-18 25

15-Botafogo-SP 18 2/ 6 6 4 28-21 24

16-Cruzeiro 18 5/ 1 7 5 30-27 24

17-América-RN 20 4/ 2 8 6 23-27 24

18-América-RJ 19 1/ 5 10 3 19-19 23

19-Desportiva 20 3/ 4 5 8 21-33 22

20-Sport 18 3/ 4 4 7 26-24 21

21-Santos 18 4/ 1 6 7 21-22 20

22-XV/Novembro(P) 18 2/ 2 8 6 12-13 18

23-Caxias 18 1/ 2 9 6 21-26 16

24-Fast 18 2/ 2 2 12 22-41 12

25-Internacional 13 5/ 2 3 3 22-10 22

26-Fluminense-RJ 14 2/ 6 2 4 23-10 20

27-Confiança 14 2/ 5 2 5 17-19 18

28-Guarani 14 4/ 2 2 6 18-10 18

29-Portuguesa 14 3/ 3 2 6 14-12 17

30-Ceará 15 2/ 4 3 6 16-15 17

31-Grêmio Maringá 13 3/ 3 2 5 14-13 17

32-Uberaba 13 3/ 2 4 4 15-11 17

33-Goytacaz 13 2/ 3 5 3 16-13 17

34-ABC 14 2/ 3 4 5 14-14 16

35-Goiás 13 2/ 2 6 3 19-17 16

36-Volta Redonda 15 2/ 2 6 5 17-16 16

37-Joinville 13 2/ 3 3 5 15-18 15

38-Vitória-BA 15 3/ 1 4 7 14-20 15

39-Juventude 13 1/ 4 3 5 12-11 14

40-Vitória-ES 16 1/ 4 3 8 13-30 14

41-Ríver 15 1/ 3 5 6 18-29 14

42-Sampaio Corrêa 15 2/ 1 6 6 15-20 14

43-Avaí 13 2/ 3 1 7 14-17 13

45-CRB 13 3/ 1 2 7 16-22 13

44-Atlético-PR 13 2/ 1 5 5 19-21 13

46-América-MG 13 2/ 2 2 7 13-18 12

47-CSA 13 2/ 1 4 6 12-16 12

48-Brasília 13 0/ 5 1 7 10-27 11

49-Coritiba 13 1/ 3 2 7 16-23 11

50-Americano 13 1/ 2 4 6 8-24 11

51-Paysandu 13 1/ 2 4 6 17-27 11

52-Náutico 13 1/ 3 2 7 15-16 11

53-Fortaleza 15 1/ 2 3 9 12-21 10

54-Nacional 13 1/ 2 2 8 9-22 9

55-Treze 13 0/ 2 5 6 9-28 9

56-Flamengo-PI 15 0/ 1 6 8 8-22 8

57-Botafogo-PB 13 1/ 1 2 9 9-22 7

58-Goiânia 13 0/ 2 3 8 14-29 7

59-Vila Nova 13 1/ 0 4 8 11-20 7

60-Fluminense-BA 15 0/ 1 5 9 6-21 7

61-Sergipe 15 0/ 2 2 11 12-27 6

62-Dom Bosco 13 0/ 1 3 9 13-32 5

Thus the championship of 1977 ended in March 1978.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

When some events are unjustly forgotten, others are impossible to remember. Brazil's national championship surely – to begin with, the 1977 championship started in 1977, but ended in March of 1978. It was the national championship alright, but also called the Cup of Brazil – Taca Brasil – the third issue of the concoction already. 62 clubs participated this year, the tournament getting larger and more complicated every next year. The Byzantine maze of a structure – overwhelming and difficult to follow – comes close, if not the direct inspiration for, 21st century's European club tournaments: many stages, with teams difficult to extract even when they lose. It was neither normal championship, nor pure cup format – preliminary groups were played at first, the top 5 clubs advancing from each, but the losers went ahead to the next stage as well – in new 'losers' groups. Next phase was also mini-league format and so on until the 'final stage', where four mini-leagues, 6 teams each, produced winners going to the semi-finals. And the ½ finals were at last pure cup format of two legs and direct elimination. As for what was going on before, it is hard even to make sense of it – various uneven in numbers groups produced winners, some of which logically eliminated months before, but still not only playing, but advancing. The design seemingly followed the interests, the influences, and the whims of the big clubs, but with so many contradicting and constantly changing interests, the result was a mess. The funny thing about it was that the influential big clubs still failed. And the other strange thing was that after the actual final was played a total final table was made. It was meaningless monstrousity – 62 teams arranged by... something like total points. 'Something', because in the final table the number one team had 10 points less than the second-placed, and the 6th should have been 3rd, if points really counted for anything. The final table counted points, but since teams different number of games, it was obvious that who survived longer acquired more points – at the bottom ended clubs eliminated early, after 13 matches. At the top – 20 and 21 games were played. But there was no reason to this final table at all, for there was no relegation – the final table did not provides neither gains, nor losses. For the sake of representing the meaningless, here is the last placed at the final table:
Dom Bosco. Little known club, which played only 13 matches and gathered 5 points total. Such a measly reacord would mean relegation elsewhere. In Brazil... well, nobody knows what meant in Brazil.

As if Byzantine structure was not enough, other scandals emerged. This year it was a little bribery. It was in the middle of the maze, in Group Q. Fluminense – not the famous one, but a small club from the state of Bahia – abandoned its home game with Desportiva. No points were given as a result... which benefited bigger Bahia boys: Vitoria, fighting with Desportiva for the 1st and only qualifying spot. Vitoria ended first indeed, 2 points ahead of Desportiva. Who was behind the scheme? The Federation of Bahia. Can you punish a state federation? May be in some other countries, but not in Brazil – the Brazilian Federation ordered a play-off between Vitoria and Desportiva. Vitoria refused to play in protest. Desportiva advanced. What happened to Fluminense, you may ask. Nothing.

Desportiva finished last in its next stage group, probably to the delight of the 'wronged' schemers from Bahia. This stage produced the semi-finalists and there was little delight for the big clubs – except Atletico Mineiro and Sao Paulo, none qualified. The other semi-finalist were small fry – if Operario (Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul state) was known middle of the road club, Londrina Esporte Clube (Londrina, Parana state) were dwarfs. They were also young club, founded in 1956. For both teams advancing that far was fantastic success. Especially for Londrina EC (which has to be mentioned, for there is another club of similar name – Londrina FC) : they eliminated Vasco da Gama, Corinthians, Santos, and Fluminense. Five points clear of 2nd placed Vasco da Gama in their group, without a single loss, and allowing only one goal in their net.

Grand Vasco da Gama in defense. Unknown players attack and Vasco lost 0-2 right in the middle of Rio de Janeiro. No matter what, Londrina EC were the true heroes of Taca Brasil.

Monday, January 14, 2013

In order of playing for the Intercontinental Cup, Boca Juniors had to win Libertadores Cup, of course. This they did in September 1977. The Libertadores final fluctuated widely – from April to October so far – and the uncertain dates year after year affected negatively the Intercontinental Cup: it was difficult to arrange dates, when European season was in full force. Apparently, it was difficult to fix dates in South America too – with different season order, domestic seasons were right in the middle exactly when Libertadores final should have been played - the conflicting interests of the clubs probably prevented fixing a date. And the final was two-leg, unlike the European one decisive match played on neutral stadium. Travel was difficult in the middle of home season. But it was not two games either – so far, 10 out of 17 Libertadores finals needed a third match to decide the winner. The rules required at least a win and a tie, for away goals and aggregate goal difference did not count. It was already becoming a tradition three matches to be played – since 1970 there was no two-leg winner. 1977 did not break the tradition. Cruzeiro, the winners in 1976, reached the final, hoping for a second Libertadores Cup. Once again their opposition was Argentine, although Boca Juniors, not River Plate as in 1976. Argentinian clubs were the other tradition of Libertadores finals: an Argentine club was finalist every year since 1963. Back then it was Boca Juniors, the first Argentine club reaching the final. They lost to mighty Santos with Pele and did not reappear again until 1977. For all the fame of Brazilian football, Brazilians did not rule Libertadores – it was the Argentines. And among them, it was not the famous River Plate and Boca Juniors – so far they lost their finals, River Plate twice and Boca Juniors once. Now Boca had a new chance. Expectations, hype... little drifted to Europe. Veglio scored in the 3rd minute the lone goal at La Bonbonera and Boca Juniors won the opening leg.

Boca Juniors - Cruzeiro 1-0

3' Veglio 1-0

Boca Juniors: Gatti, Pernía, Sá (Tesare), Mouzo, Tarantini, Veglio, Suñé,

Zanabria, Mastrángelo, Pavón (Bernabitti), Felman.

Cruzeiro: Raúl, Nelinho, Darcy Menezes, Morais, Vanderley, Zé Carlos, Eduardo,

Ely Carlos, Ely Mendes, Neca, Joãozinho.

Referee: Cerullo (Uruguay)

Attendance: 60,000

Five days later Nelinho scored the only goal in Belo Horizonte and Cruzeiro won. This time it was quite a late goal – scored in the 76th minute.

2nd leg. Estadio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte, 11- 9-1977

Cruzeiro - Boca Juniors 1-0

76' Nelinho 1-0

Cruzeiro: Raúl, Nelinho, Morais, Darcy Menezes, Vanderley, Zé Carlos, Eduardo,

Ely Carlos (Livio), Ely Mendes, Neca, Joãozinho.

Boca Juniors: Gatti, Pernía, Tesare, Mouzo, Tarantini, Ribolzi, Suñé,

Zanabria, Mastrángelo, Veglio (Pavón), Felman (Ortiz).

Referee: Orozco (Peru)

Attendance: 80,000

Once again – a third match, played at neutral stadium – in Montevideo, Uruguay. Estadio Centenario – what a legendary place! The stadium built for the first World Cup in 1930. Was it the spirit of the stadium? Copa Libertadores reached new level of impasse – a scoreless tie. First time there was winner after three matches. Now what? A forth? Or innovation? South America inaugurated penalty shoot-out this year. Boca Juniors prevailed 5-4.

Play-off. Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, 14- 9-1977

Boca Juniors - Cruzeiro 0-0 aet 5-4 pen

Boca Juniors: Gatti, Pernía, Tesare, Mouzo, Tarantini, J.J. Benitez (Ribolzi (Pavón)),Suñé, Zanabria, Mastrángelo, Veglio, Felman.

Cruzeiro: Raúl, Nelinho (Mariano), Morais, Darcy Menezes, Vanderley, Zé Carlos,

Eduardo, Ely Carlos (Livio), Ely Mendes, Neca, Joãozinho.

Referee: Llobregat (Venezuela)

Attendance: 60,000

Scored penalties: Boca: Mouzo, Tesare, Zanabria, Pernía, Felman.

Cruzeiro: Darcy Menezes, Neca, Morais, Livio.

Missed penalty: Cruzeiro: Vanderley.
Captain Mouzo (Boca Juniors) and Ze Carlos (Cruzeiro) shaking hands at the beginning of the maraton.
El Loco in action. Brazilian strikers look dangerous – but no goal. They were dangerous, but try to scare Gatti!
And good bye Cruzeiro! Happy Argentinians with Copa Libertadores. Note the unusual white shirts – a colour conflict – both teams playing in blue – required Boca to use different kit. Normally, it should have been yellow. Was it back then? Never mind... perhaps they should have changed to white, it was their lucky colour, bringing then the first ever Libertadores. It was more then beating Brazilians – same Cruzeiro left empty-handed River Plate a year back. Now Boca Juniors was happier – they won Libertadores, when their arch-enemy had none. Mud, dirt, bruises, who cares – Boca rules.
Here they are – soon to end years of misery. Enough of Estudiantes and Independiente – Boca Juniors finally won. Just like Juventus and Liverpool in Europe – this year great old clubs finally won the big trophies.
Perhaps the coach of Boca Juniors deserves some words here:
Juan Carlos Lorenzo. For some reason, rarely mentioned in the actual time and hardly remembered today. Well respected, but somewhat local – the big names were other. Considering his career, it is puzzling he was hardly ever mentioned. After playing for years in Italy, Lorenzo started his coaching career in the simple ways of long gone days: as a playing coach at first. He worked in France and Spain at first and his influence was Helenio Herrera. Which means catenaccio... but at the beginning of the 1960s this was the vanguard concept, so Lorenzo was very much on top of modern tactics. Coached Argentina at the 1962 World Cup. After that – back to Europe, to Italy. In 1966 again coached Argentina at the World Cup finals. And again returned to Europe – to Mallorca (Spain) and Lazio (Italy). The first Argentine club he coached was San Lorenzo – he made them champions in 1972 and immediately returned to Spain to coach Atletico (Madrid). With them, he lost the European Champion Cup final in 1974. Atletico did not appear in touch with the new total football in 1974, and this may be the reason for the 'forgotten name' – Lorenzo belonged to the 1960s football. Outdated. May be. May be that was why his new Argentine club was relative newcomer to top flight – Union (Santa Fe). Lorenzo took the reigns of Union in 1975 and apparently did well enough to impress Boca Juniors. Hugo Gatti also joined Union in 1975 and the next year goalkeeper and coach went to Boca Juniors. Lorenzo revived the club – Boca was not that successful for quite some time, but with Lorenzo a new great era began. Boca won the championship, won Libertadores, won the Intercontinental Cup, won... but it is still in the future. Lorenzo's squad was a bit curious – various old-timers and bunch of solid, but not exactly first rate players. Gatti between the goalposts. Pernia, Sa, Mouzo, and Tarantini in defense. Tesare, Benitez, Sune, Zanabria in midfield. Mastrangelo, Pavon, Felman in attack. Iron defense, taking no hostages; crowded midfield, and practically one regular striker – it looked old fashion catenaccio concept. Except Tarantini, the squad was not young, but vastly experienced. It was- not a team remembered for fancy football, but their were not outcries about Boca's brutalities either. Compared to notorious villains – Estudiantes and Indepenediente (at least, to the Europeans) – Boca Juniors were like doves. Most likely the team was effective, but dull – even before Menotti Boca's players were not invited to the national team. Menotti used Pernia and Gatti for awhile, but no Boca player was a regular of the 1978 world champions. Tarantini already was not in the club – so none... curious absence, considering that Boca Juniors were at their best exactly then. Which mean they were dull... effective collectively, sturdy, dependable, but nothing special individually and very likely playing conservative, outdated football. But whatever they were, Lorenzo made them winners – a balanced, well working team, capable of overcoming Brazilians and West Germans. Lorenzo deserves to be remembered, I think.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

One more, but not everything: the Intercontinental Cup was not Liverpool's. The tournament continued its decline – Liverpool refused to participate. It was already 5th occasion when European Champions Cup holder declined to play. Twice Ajax, twice Bayern, now Liverpool. And not only that – it was difficult to find time for the challenge. The 1977 Intercontinental Cup was not played in 1977, but stretched in 1978: the first match was played in March and the second – in August. Clearly, the Europeans lost whatever interest they had. Borussia (Moenchengladbach) replaced Liverpool and on the surface it looked like the Germans would be more determined to win, for they were short on international success. Were they really is another matter – the World Cup took place between the first and second leg of the intercontinental final. Then it was transfer period and preparation for the next season. Hardly a time to excite fans. Clearly, the Cup was near death, just one more convulsion. The South Americans were still more interested and serious – so far, no Libertadores Cup holder refused to play and Boca Juniors were no exception. Alas, they barely survived at home in Buenos Aires. Three goals were scored in the first 20 minutes, Boca opening, and then Borussia getting the lead. Eventually, Ribolzi equalized in the 51st minute. A tie, tilting the chances heavily in favour of Borussia.

1st. leg:

Venue: Buenos Aires. Field: Boca Juniors ("La Bombonera").

March 21, 1978.

Boca Juniors (Argentina) 2-2 Borussia Mönchengladbach (West Germany)

Goals: 1-0 16' Mastrángelo.

1-1 24' Hannes.

1-2 29' Bonhof.

2-2 51' Ribolzi.

Boca Juniors:Osvaldo Norberto Santos - Francisco Pedro Manuel Sa, Miguel Ángel Bordón - Vicente Alberto Pernía, Rubén José Suñé,Roberto Mouzo - Ernesto Enrique Mastrángelo,Jorge José Benítez (46' Jorge Daniel Ribolzi),Daniel Severino Pavón (64' Carlos Alberto Álvarez),Mario Nicasio Zanabria, Carlos Horacio Salinas.

Borussia Mönchengladbach: Kleff; Horst Wohlers, Wilfried Hannes, Herbert Wimmer (56' Daner),Bertie Vogts; Schäfer, Rainer Bonhof, Cristian Kulik; Calle Del'Haye, Carsten Nielsen, Ewald Lienen.

The second leg was more or less lost to the general public: on one hand, Boca Juniors was little known in Europe – it was just a big name, but the players meant nothing. The flamboyant and extravagant Hugo Gatti was just a name... Sa was remembered from his days with Independiente... Pernia was vaguely familiar... the problem was that these players were hardly ever seen by Europeans. No Argentinian national team players here – the only possibility was Alberto Tarantini, but back in march he was absolutely unknown, and in August – no longer playing for Boca Juniors. In fact, he was not Boca player even in March – entangled in contract dispute, he refused to play for the team and was practically clubless footballer. Boca Juniors was not a team to get European crowds. May be that was why the second leg was played in Karlsruhe, and not in the customary Dusseldorf, where normally Borussia played their 'home' international fixtures.

In front of Uruguayan referee Roque Cerullo captains Ruben Sune and Berti Vogts shake hands.

Karlsruhe was a disaster for the Germans – Boca destroyed them 3-0, scoring the first goal in the 2nd minute. Gatti and Simonsen, who did not play in Buenos Aires, are in the lines this time – to negative effect for Borussia. Somewhat Borussia's line-ups looked... experimental in both games.

Determination or painful struggle?

Hard to tell... looks like pain,even for scoring Argentinians.
Unhappy Vogts – the Atgentines scored again.
2nd. leg:

Venue: Karlsruhe. Field: Wildpark.

August 1, 1978.

Borussia Mönchengladbach (West Germany) 0-3 Boca Juniors (Argentina)

Goals: 0-1 2' Felman.

0-2 33' Mastrángelo.

0-3 37' Salinas.

Borussia Mönchengladbach: Kneib; Ringels, Wilfried Hannes,Horst Wohlers (46' Winfried Schäfer),Berti Vogts; Carsten Nielsen, Bruns, Cristian Kulik;Allan Simonsen, Lausen (72' Ewald Lienen), Gores.

Coach: Udo Lattek.

Boca Juniors: Hugo Orlando Gatti - José Luis Tesare, José María Suárez - Vicente Alberto Pernía, Rubén José Suñé,Miguel Ángel Bordón - Ernesto Enrique Mastrángelo, Mario Nicasio Zanabria,José Luis Saldaño (46' Carlos José Veglio),Carlos Horacio Salinas, Darío Luis Felman.

Coach: Juan Carlos Lorenzo.

Referee: Roque Cerullo (Uruguay).
At the end Boca Juniors lifted the Cup. It was great for the Argentines – like Borussia, they were famous club short on international success. Winning the Intercontinental Cup was relief – finally, fame was supported with trophy. For their coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo it was a personal revenge – back in 1974 Atletico (Madrid) lost the European Champions Cup final to Bayern. Lorenzo coached Atletico and Lattek – Bayern. Now Lorenzo destroyed Lattek and in Germany, on top of that.

Unquestionable winners, who were ignored and remain almost anonymous in Europe. Curiously, they played little for the Argentine national team and therefore are mostly Boca Juniors legends. A little trivia then... Hugo Gatti is well known, of course, although rarely seen by European eye. By 1978 he was already 34 years old, starting his career in the distant 1962. 'El Loco' ('the Madman') is more than a legend in Argentina for his unorthodox playing style, his flashy and unusual kit, and his trademark bandana. And he came to Germany with his own answer to Germans: Borussia played with adds on their shirts – the keeper responded in kind: 'Gatti' was imprinted on the front of his jersey. A personal add? Let them know who was against them. Another interesting figure is the right back Vicente Alberto Pernia. Menotti left him out of the national team in favour of Olguin – some say it was because Pernia was much too vicious player; others – because the Military Junta favoured Olguin. Menotti said Pernia was out because he looked too sad – Olguin was more cheerful. Whatever the reason was, 'El Tano' ('the Italian') was a staple of this Boca vintage. But when he retired from football, he made very unusual change of career – he became professional car race driver. Good one too. His passions are divided between his sons – Leonel took car racing, but Mariano became football player. Unlike his father Mariano Pernia was not ignored by national team coaches: he was a member of Spain squad for the 2006 World Cup. Francisco Sa was probably the most ignored by the Europeans – Argentina played badly at the 1974 World Cup, so Sa did not impress anyone, but: by 1978 he had won 5 Libertadores Cups and 1 Intercontinental Cup. Now he added a second Intercontinental. It was not the end of his collection yet. How many players won that many cups? In Argentina he made his name with the great squad of Independiente, moving to Boca Juniors in 1975. Ernesto Mastrangelo was perhaps ignored not only in Europe, but in Argentina too, at least in terms of national team, but he was the leading striker of Boca. And scored 2 goals in the Borussia's net – one in each match.

May be this Boca Juniors squad deserves acknowledgment, not anonymity. There were players before Maradona after all.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Supercup continued to be troubled 'mega-cup' – UEFA made it official in 1976, but the challenge still had no real place in the calendar. It was to be played near the end of 1977 – difficult to attract fans, for the end of November, although the same year, did not belong to the same season. It was not a culmination of the past season and had nothing to do with the new one either, for it was mid-season in terms of both domestic and international football. But there was hard to find any other time – practically the season finished with the European Champions Cup, vacation followed, the transfer period, preparation for the new season, then all-important start of season. The calendar was full already. And because of that the 'super-final' between the holders of the ECC and the Cup Winners Cup was not exactly breathlessly anticipated clash, but amusement of little interest and import. There was even an ironic twist in 1977: back in the summer Liverpool sold Kevin Keegan. The buyer was Hamburger SV, meaning Keegan was to play against his former club for the Supercup. HSV were serious to stay among the top European clubs – along with Keegan they signed Ivan Buljan from Hajduk (Split). Very serious reinforcement, but the focus in the summer was on Keegan. The case of Cruyff, moving to Barcelona in 1973 was recalled: it was the end of great Ajax. Was Liverpool making the same mistake? The other interesting aspect was the destination: clearly, West Germany was the place to be by now, not Spain – the top European player chose a German club and it was hardly because of the level of football – apparently, the Germans were able to match, if not better, Spanish salaries.
Kevin Keegan, a Hamburger SV player. English stars were moving to the Bundesliga – he was not the only one. And he was ready to score in the net of Liverpool.

Liverpool, however, made its own big news at the transfer market – Bob Paisley got Kenny Dalglish from Celtic (Glasgow). It was tough deal, narrated like a spy novel:

False names, remote hotels, secrecy, late night meetings, ushering through back doors... the point is the transfer record. English transfers were going up and up, but Liverpool had money – Keegan's money.
Kenny Dalglish joined Liverpool – he was expected to move from Celtic, and very likely to a foreign club, hence, the rush of Paisley in disguise. The journalists went berserk with speculations – 'wondering' about Dalglish's position in Liverpool. Most profoundly thought he was to replace Keegan... as if it was not obvious. Dalglish was similar to Keegan kind of striker and even the same age . One thing was certain: Liverpool was not to change tactically. Unlike Ajax a few years back, Liverpool was replacing one star with another. To a point, the whole transfer gymnastics were even stupid – same type of players shuffled, the money from Keegan's transfer spent to buy his double. Why going such troubles? The only real question in the summer was was Dalglish able to blend into Liverpool's fabric. He did. Keegan also shined in Hamburg. By November it was certain, but the Supercup challenge did not benefit greatly from that: Hamburger SV were looking for the winter break and had a number of injured players. In England – traditionally, the biggest excitement was around Christmas, the toughest period of the league championship. More or less, neither club had the Supercup as a high priority. The fans did not look forward for the 'superfinal' either – in a sense, the Supercup was already played. Back in August, Liverpool and Hamburger SV met in a friendly. It was part of the Keegan's transfer.
Nogly and Hughes shaking hands before the friendly in August, 1977. To see the same in late November was redundant. Back in August Keegan already made his own transfer – by scoring spectacular goal in the net of Ray Clemence:
What more could be seen in November? Nothing much... the opening leg in Hamburg was not well attended and the match was not great. Kargus, Nogly, Reimann, and Volkert were not on the field because of injures. For many, it was suspicious absence – looked like HSV was not interested at all, just like Bayern was thought in 1975 – going through the motions. The thrill of Keegan playing against his former club was gone as well.

Nobody's news – Keegan tackled by Neal. Memering on the left. Seen already...

The match ended 1-1 and observers grumbled: was this a final? The summer friendly was much better.

1st Leg, Volksparkstadion, Hamburg, 22 Nov 1977

Hamburger SV (1) 1 Liverpool (0) 1

29' 1-0 H: Keller

65' 1-1 L: Fairclough

Hamburger SV:Jürgen Stars, Manfred Kaltz, Hans-Jürgen Ripp, Ivan Buljan (Andreas Karow), Kurt Eigl, Klaus Zaczyk, Caspar Memering, Felix Magath (Horst Bertl), Kevin Keegan, Ferdinand Keller, Arno Steffenhagen

Liverpool:Ray Clemence, Phil Neal, Joey Jones (Tommy Smith), Phil Thompson, Ray Kennedy, Emlyn Hughes, Kenny Dalglish, Jimmy Case (David Johnson), Steve Heighway, David Fairclough, Ian Callaghan.

The second leg was no contest at all. Liverpool just scored, scored, and scored. The finishing touch was put by Dalglish – in a way, confirming how wise Paisley was in the summer. Keegan 0 – Dalglish 1. Clearly, Paisley got a better player – at least in the minds of Liverpool's fans. Keegan was dead; Dalglish was the king.

2nd Leg, Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, 6 Dec 1977

Liverpool (2) 6 Hamburger SV (0) 0

21' 1-0 L: Thompson

40' 2-0 L: McDermott

56' 3-0 L: McDermott

57' 4-0 L: McDermott

84' 5-0 L: Fairclough

88' 6-0 L: Dalglish

Liverpool: Ray Clemence, Phil Neal, Tommy Smith, Phil Thompson, Ray Kennedy, Emlyn Hughes, Kenny Dalglish, Terry McDermott, Steve Heighway (David Johnson), David Fairclough, Jimmy Case.

Hamburger SV: Rudi Kargus, Hans-Jürgen Ripp, Peter Nogly, Horst Bartl, Peter Hidien, Manfred Kaltz, Kevin Keegan,Ferdinand Keller (Arno Steffenhagen), Klaus Zaczyk (Kurt Eigl), Felix Magath, Georg Volkert.

Liverpool ended 1977 in style. With new hero as well. The Supercup remained the unloved bastard child of European football. For a third year in a row German teams showed little interest in winning the cup, which did not help in elevating the Supercup's status. At least the challenge was made official. And after two years of Cup Winners Cup winners winning the Supercup as well, this year Liverpool restored the faded glory of the European champions. It was not much of a show and great football, but Liverpool won one more cup.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The semi-finals – yet another joke of the fate: Dinamo Kiev vs Borussia Moenchengladbach. Too many Germans for the Soviets? May be it was good think after all? Well, the results were exactly the same – 1-0 and 0-2. The only difference was that this time it was not Dinamo losing by a goal and winning by two – he matches were again tough, but Dinamo struggled and on top of everything their goalkeeper Rudakov failed them in Dusseldorf. At least so was written in the Soviet press – in reality, he was a keeper of the 'shaky' kind and under pressure he often made mistakes. Bayern had no sufficient bite, but Borussia with Simonsen, Heynckes, and Bonhof was another story. There was some hope for Dinamo – after the second goal Borussia moved back and looked – from aside – tired. Dinamo put some pressure, but it was Borussia shaped by Udo Lattek, hence, skilled in defensive matters. Dinamo did not look hopeless or tired, but it was predictable team – and paid the prize for that.

	In the other semi-final everything went 'normal' – the fairy-tale of FC Zurich ended, outclassed by Liverpool. The Swiss lost both legs, scoring a single goal at home, and receiving 6 – three in each match – in return. 
	Liverpool – Borussia Moenchengladbach at the final in Rome. Once again this year the finalists were 'newcomers'. Both clubs were eager to add the top European club to their list of trophies. Both were expected to make impression on this level at last – at last, for they were strong teams for half a decade already. And the final was a copy of the UEFA Cup final of 1973 – back then Liverpool won. Borussia wanted a revenge surely. Four years is large difference today, but not so in the 1970s: 12 players of the finals in 1973 met again in 1977 – six in each club played before, in a sense, the opponents knew each other well. Clemence, Smith, Hughes, Keegan, Heighway, and Calaghan vs Bonhof, Vogts, Wimmer, Kulik, Simonsen, and Heynckes. Deja vu? May be... by now the Germans were getting old. Netzer was long gone. Heynckes suffered from almost permanent injuries. Kleff was mere reserve by now, and Wimmer – no longer called to the national team. Negatives for Borussia... But Smith, Heighway, and Calaghan were no younger either, Toshack and Lindsay were on the bench... looks like Liverpool did not have any advantage. Borussia had Bonhof and Simonsen, major European stars by now. Liverpool had Keegan – the best player in Europe by 1977... the opponents were equal in strength, both playing fast attacking football, both very fit and no strangers to tough physical tackles, both loved to score. It was to be a delightful match. And it was. 
Hughes and Vogts, all smiles, shaking hands once again before a final.
Psychologically, Borussia had the edge – according to observers. Liverpool was on rollercoster – they just secured the English title, but lost to Manchester United the Cup final 4 days before the final with Borussia. The Germans were not so tired and their last domestic business was a breeze. Bob Paisley was slightly concerned, Udo Lattek was not. Pre-game talk and nonsense... Both teams were in splendid form and opposed similar tactics – quick, mass concentration back in their half as soon as the ball was lost. Then back in speedy attack. Fight for every inch of the pitch, trying to brake the rhythm of the opposition. And trying to overcome wicked defense and score. Having Vogts, one thing was obvious even to children: he was to shadow Keegan. 
Vogts never away from Keegan. Remember the fate of Cruyff in 1974? Well, Keegan did not shine either. 
	Liverpool was more active and effective during the first half. McDermott used his chance in the 29th minute and scored – 1-0 Liverpool.

There was more than Keegan for Vogts to handle... McDermott scores. 
	The first-half ended with Liverpool's lead – which meant nothing. The second started as fiery as the first, and soon the result was equalized.

Alan Simonsen shoots and Ray Clemence can only watch in pain – 1-1. 
	So far Liverpool was slightly better, but after the leveling goal Borussia went into full assault and in the next ten minutes it looked like the end of Liverpool was at hand. But gradually the boys in red neutralized the Germans and showed their own teeth. In those days corner kicks were deadly for teams playing against English clubs: fighting in the air in front of the net was British trademark. It was not that Borussia did not know, but knowledge helped not.
A classic English goal – a perfect header from the iron defender Tommy Smith after a corner kick and Liverpool was leading again in the 67th minute. 
	It was far from over yet, but something was detectable – Liverpool was getting stronger. Wimmer got injured and had to be replaced, bad luck for the Germans. Fighting to the last second was traditional virtue of English football, so there were no defensive tricks and wasting time – the Germans usually killed teams trying to preserve the result, but the English were different sort: they continued to attack in high speed. Here age played its own joke... Keegan was no Cruyff, and Vogts was three years older then in 1974. Unlike Cruyff, who mostly walked , Keegan mostly run. Bertie had to run too... and eventually showed signs of tiredness. Younger Keegan was starting to get away and thus more involved in the game – therefore, deadlier. And one of his forays left no option... he was fouled in the penalty area. 
Phil Neal stepped in and just slammed the ball in the net. 3-1 five minutes before the final whistle. A match with Germans is never won and over before the referee whistles the end, but Liverpool survived. 
Final, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, 25 May 1977, att 52000

Liverpool                (1) 3  Borussia Monchengladbach (0) 1
29' 1-0  L: McDermott
50' 1-1  BM: Simonsen
67' 2-1  L: Smith
85' 3-1  L: Neal (pen)

Liverpool (trainer Paisley)
    Clemence; Neal, Jones, Smith, Hughes; Case, Kennedy, Callaghan,
    McDermott; Keegan, Heighway
Borussia Monchengladbach (trainer Lattek)
    Kneib; Vogts, Klinkhammer, Wittkamp, Schäffer; Wohlers (Hannes),
    Wimmer (Kulik), Stielike, Bonhof; Simonsen, Heynckes
Referee: Wurtz (France)
Liverpool won there first European Champions Cup – and deservingly so. 

Amazing evening, completing the trend of 1977 –  brand new winners of every European Cup tournament. The European Champions Cup was elusive to English clubs – only Manchester United won it so far and that was long time ago in 1968. Now, finally, an English club managed to win the top European tournament, looking like it was not just an accidental victory. It was a full change – old heroes clearly stepped down – Bayern, Ajax, Leeds United, Milan, Inter, and to some degree – Borussia. Different clubs were coming to dominate European football – Liverpool, Juventus, Hamburger SV, Anderlecht. A complete make-over. 

Borussia losing a second time to Liverpool an European final. A symbolic loss: it showed that Borussia was not truly great team. Just like Leeds United, Saint Etienne, and PSV Eindhoven, they came a bit short of greatness. They lost when mattered most. And with this lost final perhaps the downfall of Borussia really started. 
Liverpool on the other hand finally exploded after simmering since 1970 – refining the team every year, getting stronger and stronger, and finally – on top. A team with all the signs of dynastic making. It was clear that they were determined to shape and rule both English and European football. Winners, not mere hopefuls. 
	The aftermath of the final was interesting too -  first of all, the final displayed great football and everybody was pleased by the show. There was bid relief after three years of unsatisfying finals – the dull confrontation of Bayern and Atletico Madrid, followed by two finals when the public clearly preferred the losing team. The end of Bayern's domination was happy occasion and after them football was fun again and also the better team was a winner again. But other, not so positive things were noticed as well – tactically, the final of 1977 produced nothing new. It was not even on the standard of total football. Both finalists played, at least nominally, 4-4-2 – nominally, total football was 4-3-3. Elements of total football were adapted to otherwise old schemes: changing positions at will was easy for both finalists, but it was more a matter of efficiency than a matter of tactical change during the game in order of surprising and overcoming the opposition. Both finalists were duller and predictable when contrasted to Ajax at its peak. Liverpool played in entirely old-fashioned defensive mode – in line, without a libero. All English teams played like that, which was considered risky concept, vulnerable to speedy strikers, playing at the edge of offside. It also affected negatively the attack – by now, a libero was needed to control the tempo, to start attacks and provide ingenious passes, surprising the opposition. Liverpool lacked that and eventually often used traditional English attacks – high balls in front of the net, hoping a tall forward to strike a header. Keegan was not really a playmaker. And Bonhof was no Netzer... Imaginative players were missing – the new stars were plainer and more traditional. Simonsen and Keegan – one a pure winger, the other operating from behind, but a stiker, not a constructor. There was less magic and more efficiency. Liverpool compensated with team play, high spirit, well-rounded squad, good reserves, and high tempo. It worked, but it was clear that tactical innovations stopped and the total football model instead of developing further was more or less abandoned – only elements of it were adapted to otherwise old-fashioned tactical structures. Yet, it did not matter much, for Liverpool were exciting to watch. 
Life was great – Ray Clemence and Tommy Smith having their beer in the company of the Cup. Today the picture appears... pedestrian. Too relaxed, too homey... plain wives or girlfriends, basking in the sun, legs on the table, few beers... nothing glamorous or really scandalous. May be that was why Liverpool stayed on top of the football world for so long – 1977 only whetted their appetite. For beer too.