Colo-Colo 1991: Mystical Journey of the Eternal Champions 

The first line of Colo-Colo’s official anthem says, “Let us all sing from Arica to Magallanes, for Colo-Colo, an example of valour”. This perfectly summarizes the expansion of club’s fan base in Chile from Arica in the north to Magallanes in the south. The team has a special place in Chile’s heart and helped Chileans hope for unity during years of political turbulence. Tamas Sinha at Goalden Times takes us through the extravagant journey of a club that became a part of Chilean folklore.

Chapter 1: La Copa, La Copa, se mira y no se toca

Atlantic and Pacific, the two biggest oceans on this earth, surround South America in the east and the west. While three countries from the Atlantic coast went on to conquer the world of soccer, the pacific coast countries remained mostly in their shadows. Even though the recent domination of Chile in Copa America made Lionel Messi retire from his national duties for few months, the so-called “Pacific Rim” is nowhere as great as its eastern counterpart. This superiority was always clearly visible in continental club championships as well. Since the inception of Copa Libertadores in 1960, the coveted trophy stayed within a few miles of Rio de la Plata for a decade. Then, in 1973, things changed. A Chilean club stood firmly in the way of Argentinian champions Club Atlético Independiente.

1973 was a historic year in Chile for more than one reason. In September, armed forces overthrew the country’s socialist government to establish the right-wing military regime under the leadership of Augusto Pinochet. Before that, however, the famous “Colo-Colo 1973” undertook an unforgettable continental journey to bring the politically divided nation together.

When a 17-year-old Carlos Caszely signed for El Cacique, their arch-rivals Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica were dominating Chile’s domestic football. The kid soon became a goal scoring sensation. During his six-year-tenure at the club, he won two national titles (in 1970 and 1972), earning them a place in the continental championship. Tactician Luis Álamos gave the Chilean club a shape by giving Francisco Chamaco Valdés, later became the all-time highest scorer in Chilean Premier division, a role in midfield to feed the lethal Caszely—often known as the “King of square meter”. During his prime, in the 1973 edition of Copa Libertadores Colo-Colo stormed past the group stage, scoring an incredible five goals in each home game to meet Cerro Porteño of Paraguay and Botafogo of Brazil in the semi-finals. The semi-finals (home-away league format between three teams) started with a memorable 1–2 victory over Botafogo at Maracanã. This unexpected win on Brazilian soil undoubtedly boosted the team’s confidence. Both Caszely and Valdés scored against the Brazilians, but a 5–1 humiliation in Asunción came as a shock to Colo-Colo and they were left with two home games to recover. They did get their sweet revenge, as they hammered Cerro Porteño 4–0 at the Nacional stadium of Santiago within a month’s time. That win managed to keep their Libertadores dream alive. The resurgence of Botafogo after two early defeats denied Cerro Porteño a place in the final, and put Colo-Colo on the brink of that ultimate glory that no other Chilean club had yet reached. Their opponent in the final match was Independiente, who had claimed the title by defeating Universitario of Peru in the last edition. The defending champion had it much easier, being granted a direct semi-final berth in their 1973 campaign. In the semi-finals they overcame San Lorenzo, a team from the “Big five” of Buenos Aires, and Millonarios of Bogotá. They secured their place in the finals by defeating San Lorenzo in a decider derby at Avellaneda.

Chile was going through political chaos at that time, and Colo-Colo gave them the hope and unity they so badly needed. The final match was so influential that the armed forces delayed its military coup—football was literally the only thing that was keeping Chile together. President Salvador Allende urged the team to keep on winning, reminding them that all of Chile had their hopes pinned on them[1]. The finals could not have been any more controversial. The first leg was played in the port city of Avellaneda in Buenos Aires, and the match made several headlines in Chilean newspapers. It is still remembered in Chile as “the robbery of Avellaneda”[2]. Colo-Colo players later said that they were playing not only against Independiente, but against the officials too. The Chileans had a lead in this away match via an own goal from Francisco Sá, but Independiente equalized with an illegitimate goal scored by Mario Mendoza. The Chileans thought it was a clear foul on goalkeeper Adolfo Nef, when Mendoza pushed him into the goal (instead of the ball). Nef recalled later – “He (Mendoza) pushed me when I was falling, and he didn’t even head the ball.”[1] Referee Milton Lorenzo of Uruguay was not ready to disallow the goal. Guillermo Páez of Colo-Colo received a yellow card as he kicked Mendoza during his celebration. Páez later said, “I kicked him because I could not accept what he did.” Decisions mostly went against the visitors and Sergio Ahumada, a dependable Chilean player, was later expelled by the referee. Ahumada kicked the ball during a foul around the center-circle, and referee showed him a straight red—no foul, no yellow card. This decision would make him unavailable in the return leg as well. Colo-Colo felt a sense of conspiracy there.

The final match was so influential that the armed forces delayed its military coup—football was literally the only thing that was keeping Chile together. President Salvador Allende urged the team to keep on winning, reminding them that all of Chile had their hopes pinned on them.

The return leg was no different. Romualdo Filho of Brazil was the referee in this match. Leonel Herrera later revealed in an interview that the officials came to the hotel where Colo-Colo team was staying. It was clear that they wanted money, but Colo-Colo President Hector Galvez wanted to win fairly. Herrera tried to convince the President that the prize money from the tournament would be enough the recover it, but Don Hector stood firm on his principles. Interestingly, the officials changed their hotel immediately. They also did not take this lightly, and reciprocated on the field. Even more controversy followed. Caszely was denied a legitimate goal in the match. Leonardo Veliz sent a perfectly timed cross that kissed the Independiente defender Ricardo Pavoni’s head before reaching Caszely. Caszely made no mistake to put in the back of the net and but it was disallowed due to offside. Video footage, however, tells a different story. Referee Filho kissed Caszely on the cheek before declaring his goal offside. Caszely later compared that to the “Kiss of Judas”. That goal could have earned Colo-Colo the glory they were seeking, but the match ended in a goalless draw and teams flew to Uruguay to play the finale. A draw in this match would have assured Colo-Colo the trophy with the away goal rule, and they knew already that it wasn’t going to be easy in this corrupt competition.

Mendoza gave the Red Devils an early lead in Montevideo, but Caszely equalized with a beautiful chip over the goalkeeper. In the last quarter of the match, referee José Romei of Paraguay gave Leonel Herrera a red card. This meant that Colo-Colo entered the 30 minutes of extra time with one-man-deficit. As expected, Independiente scored the decider in the extra-time to deny Colo-Colo their Libertadores dream. Caszely later claimed that they were cheated thrice. According to him, it was like stealing a ship—it happened in Avellaneda, then again in Santiago, and then in Montevideo too.

 “La Copa, La Copa, se mira y no se toca”, which roughly means “The cup, the cup, it is to be seen but it is not to be touched”, a popular chant that is supposed to have been born after the 1973 finals. It was aimed primarily at the Pacific coast teams who lost to Independiente in successive finals. It seemed like the dominance of the Atlantic teams would never end. It was the fourth Libertadores title of Independiente, and they went on to win next two years as well—making them the most successful club in the competition’s history. This record still remains unbroken.

Chapter 2: Birth of an emotion

In the 15th century, when Europeans were exploring new continents around the world, a nearly 40-year-old sailor convinced King Charles I of Spain that he could find the Spice Islands by the westward route through the new world. In 1518, Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese sailor—supported extensively by the King—started preparing for his journey in the Spanish city of Valladolid. After a year of preparation, he left for the unknown on a fleet of five vessels named Armada de las Molucas. The historical expedition is often remembered as the first circumnavigation of the globe, but Magellan lost his life in a battle in 1521—leaving behind a vast legacy. A much-remembered episode of this quest was finding a pathway to the peaceful sea, or Mar Pacifico, as he called the Pacific—a strait connecting the gigantic oceans in the mystical land of Patagonia. This was later renamed as The Strait of Magellan in his honour— seven years after his death.

Almost 400 years later, the strait became international news again in the early 20th century. Argentina and Chile fought endlessly over border territories, and, in 1904, a major conflict had risen up regarding the control of the strait. After much controversy and negotiations, the Strait of Magellan remained in Chile’s possession. This influenced a certain club from Santiago to rename themselves as Magallanes Atlético on their seventh anniversary. The team started in 1897 as Atlético Escuela Normal in Santiago—the football capital of Chile. A group of youngsters from Normal School decided to form a football club, which is now considered to be the first step taken towards a ground-breaking journey. Eventually they adopted the legal name Deportivo Magallanes. The albicelestes, as they were known for their jersey colour, became a sensation in Chile—winning multiple metropolitan leagues in the next two decades. When national league finally formed in 1935, Magallanes created a record by winning the Chilean championship in three consecutive seasons. This achievement remained unparalleled till another special club came by half a century later. We will come to that story later. History, however, remembers them for something even greater— specifically for the prodigy they created.

In 1919, a boy from Normal School grabbed everyone’s attention with his brilliant technique and skills. His efforts didn’t go unnoticed by club scouts, and Enrique Abello approached him to join the Magallanes. David Arellano, then 17 years old, started to leave his mark from the very first season of his arrival. He won back-to-back Metropolitan Leagues—the biggest club championship in Chile before the commencement of premier division. Gradually he became a part of the national team as well, and Chile entered the South American Championship in 1924. They had failed to register a single win in the competition earlier, and were hoping to change their unlucky streak in international tournaments. In 1924, by virtue of Arellano’s goal, Chile was able to take a lead for the first time in the tournament since its inception, but the team still failed to register their first win. Arellano realized that the traditional powerhouses of South America were already many steps ahead of Chile and were evolving to match up to their European colleagues. He felt that Chilean football needed some major reforms in structure, but sadly not everyone was convinced. He tried to give the Magallanes a professional shape, and demanded regular wages for the players. But his demands seemed ludicrous to the club, specifically his argument to replace some older names from the Albicelestes. However, Arellano wasn’t alone. He, along with his brothers (who were also a part of the team) and a few other important players met the club management on 4th April, 1925. The meeting didn’t go well and soon a new captain was chosen to replace Arellano. The rebels, led by the Arellano brothers, left the club. Fifteen days later, on 19th April, Chilean football saw the birth of its most successful club and the Magallanes neglected a chance to be a part of history.

The club was born to take Chilean football to new heights. The connection with Chile’s indigenous culture was eminent as the club was named Colo-Colo, after the great Mapuche Indian chief Colocolo. He is an inspirational character in Chilean history, who fought against Spaniards in the early stages of the century-long Arauco War and never surrendered in his lifetime. Colo-Colo’s uniform was black and white—white as the colour of purity and black as the symbol of seriousness. Their foundation was strong and captain Arellano implemented a systematic training regime that helped the team excel further. They entered the Metropolitan Championship in 1925 with a thumping 6–0 victory over local club English, but the most memorable encounter was against the Magallanes. Colo-Colo won the match 2–0—then finished the championship undefeated, earning the “Invincible 1925” tag. Colo-Colo’s success was reflected in the national team’s performance as well. When host Chile started the 1926 South American Championship steamrolling newcomer Bolivia by 7–1, fans could feel the change in the team. Chilean players had always lacked on-field discipline in previous competitions, and Arellano definitely brought some changes to their mind-set. Chile’s performance in Santiago was quite revolutionary at that time. They won two matches in the competition and Arellano scored hat-tricks in both of them. They also managed to force mighty Argentina into a draw, but finished third behind Uruguay and Argentina in the end. Although everyone’s favourite David (fans always preferred his first name) could not score in the bigger occasions against both Argentina and Uruguay, he won the golden boot for scoring seven goals.

In the 20th century, Argentine and Uruguayan clubs were exploring European football and had made several tours to Europe since 1904. Nacional and Boca Juniors had already shown the path to other clubs. Arellano convinced Carlos Cariola, a visionary entrepreneur and erstwhile President of Football Federation of Chile (FFC) to help him achieve his dream to conduct a tour to Europe. Cariola foresaw the financial benefits from such tours and organized a seven-month-long tour for the team. Arellano sailed to the other side of Atlantic and the footballing exploration started in January 1927. They initially visited Cuba, Ecuador, and Mexico before reaching the European shores. Unsurprisingly, they won ten out of twelve matches against weaker opponents. In this prolonged tour, Colo-Colo visited various cities in Portugal and Spain. Arellano became an instant hit since his bicycle kicks were new to the European audience. The European press lauded his skills and named it “La Chilena”, while his Colo-Colo teammates were praised for their display of fair play. Their Spanish opponents were superior and Atletico de Madrid outclassed them with a 3–1 victory. Colo-Colo’s lack of finishing skill was very prominent in these matches against superior teams.

Colo-Colo 1991
Front page of Los Sports. [Source – Memoria Chilena]

For their next match, Colo-Colo went to Valladolid, once the Spanish capital where Magellan’s famous expedition was organized. Their match was against Real Unión Deportiva de Valladolid, and this time the Chilean team demolished the Spanish opponents decisively by a margin of 6–2. The Spanish team didn’t take this lightly and challenged the Chileans to play another match the very next day. Arellano was hesitant at first but his team persuaded him for the rematch. On May 2, 1927, he played the last match of his short-lived career. An accidental blow to his stomach at the 35th minute saw him leaving the field. Colo-Colo drew the match 3-3, but the very next day their commander suffered from traumatic peritonitis and died in the middle of the tour.

DOLOR!” means pain in Latin. That’s how Los Sports, a Santiago-based magazine, described the painful fate of Arellano. The news shocked the nation, and Chileans mourned the death of a national hero. The tour, however, continued solemnly. Football culture in Chile was badly affected and Colo-Colo took some time to recover from this loss. Colo-Colo still has a permanent black bar right over its crest in Arellano’s remembrance.

David Arellano might have lived for only 25 years, but he gave birth to an emotion that will live an eternity. According to a study in 2009, over 44% of Chile’s football fans prefer Colo-Colo over other clubs in the country[3]. A club that could see beyond national success, Colo-Colo is not only a football club in Chile—it has now become synonymous to an emotion.

Chapter 3: Sueño Libertador

Simon Bolivar had a dream when he freed six nations (Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama) from the Spanish rule—the Dream of Liberation. Before his death, he wanted to unite these countries into a single nation like the United States of America. He wanted this nation to be called Columbia, after the great Columbus. His dream remained unfulfilled, but Sueño Libertador or the “dream of liberation” is still alive in the biggest continental club championship of Latin America. The term “libertadores” is often used in the continent to refer to the great independence warriors who fought against the Spanish and Portuguese colonial rulers. In 1960, CONMEBOL christened the tournament in homage to these heroes. La Copa Libertadores de America became the dream possession of every club in South America.

In 1991, Colo-Colo won three consecutive premier division title—depicting the dominance of the club at the national arena and emulating the feat that Magellanes achieved at the inception of the tournament. Pacific teams had started to emerge as strong performers, and a few years back America de Cali from Colombia had made the finals three years in a row. They managed to be finalists in 1985, 1986, and 1987, but went on to lose all three matches—an unbelievable feat! In 1989, Atlético Nacional of Colombia won it, and they have won it once more since then. What’s ironic is that although Colombia has part of its coast in the Pacific, Atletico Nacional’s hometown is in Medellin, the notorious city of infamous Pablo Escobar that sits on the shore of the Atlantic. Technically, thus, the Pacific teams were yet to grace the trophy.

Colo-Colo entered the competition in 1991 with a new coach at the helm. Mirko Jozić, the Croatian coach, came to fame when the golden generation of Yugoslavian football lifted the FIFA youth championship in 1987 in Chile. Yugoslavia had all their matches in Santiago, which brought him into Colo-Colo’s notice. As Arturo Salah left to take the responsibility of the national team after Cacique’s impressive domestic run, Colo-Colo’s management didn’t hesitate to offer Jozić the job. Jozić’s influence was became immediately visible as he implemented a style that had never been seen in Chilean football before. He revolutionized the team in way that’s never been done before.

Harold Schumacher might be one of the least popular Germans in France after his disastrous attempt to injure Patrick Battiston in the 1982 World Cup, but he had a fan on the other side of Atlantic. This fan was aspiring goalkeeper Daniel Morón, from the Mendoza province of Argentina. Mendoza was the nearest Argentine province to Santiago, which helped Morón to know the Chileans better. When he finally came to join Colo-Colo from Union de Santa Fe of Argentina in 1989, he had huge shoes to fill. Roberto Rojas, the controversial Chilean goalie, was at prime form when he decided to join Sao Paulo—leaving the spot open for the little-known Argentine. Due to his prominent nose, fans used to call him Loro—which means parrot. His wife Griselda, a woman with a great sense of humour, also always managed to keep him grounded. If any reporter had called Morón asking for the “man of the house”, Griselda would say “Matias, this guy wants to talk to you.” Matias was Morón’s oldest child, a school boy at that time. If a reporter asked for “the best goalkeeper in Chile,” she would say “I’m sorry, wrong number, Marco Cornez doesn’t live here.” Marco Cornez was the starting goalie at rival Universidad Católica, and Rojas’ back up in the national team. Despite not being the greatest at his position, Morón is still remembered by the fans for his excellent athleticism and shot-stopping ability. He used to wear the yellow jersey inspired by his hero Schumacher, and all Colo-Colo keepers have worn yellow since him.  Later, he became a Chilean citizen and played for the national team. He also went on to become the goalkeepers’ coach for Chile under the mastermind Marcelo Bielsa. His love for the club was unmatched. Even when he was shipped off from the team in 1994, he used to wear the Cacique jersey beneath his team’s jersey.

Another little-known Argentine joined the ranks of Colo-Colo in 1988. Marcelo Barticciotto, the skinny 21-year-old, who later became the second most successful player in Colo-Colo’s history with seven league titles in his lifetime, signed for the club with very little expectation. He scored the first goal at the inauguration of Monumental Stadium in 1989 against Penarol and soon El Barti became an indispensable part of the squad. His quick feet, his unstoppable movement on the right flank, his goal scoring prowess—this Argentinean endeared himself to the fandom with his quiet nature, and his passionate love for the white jersey. Though he couldn’t settle anywhere else but in Colo-Colo, he joined Colo’s rival Católica in later years, where he scored against Colo-Colo once, and then refused to celebrate. He later claimed to have regretted that goal which unsurprisingly upset fans and the club management, and he was handed a transfer from Católica. Naturally, he joined Colo-Colo again.

Colo-Colo made a bizarre signing in 1991—an out-of-form Patricio Yanez in a commando-like operation, where an Universidad de Chile fan chased him down the highway and on an airplane with a suitcase full of dollars to convince him to not go to the arch-rival. This cost that particular fan six months of separation from his wife. When he first arrived in the early 80s, Yanez was an instant hit in Chilean football with his blue eyes and good looks. With Caszely retiring in 1985, and Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas still two young fellows a few years away from becoming superstars, El Pato became an idol in Chile. He salvaged some of his reputation in the disastrous 1982 World Cup campaign and became part of the Spanish club Valladolid at a time when very few Chileans were playing in Europe. Though he was lethal down the flank, he was a very poor finisher. He made up for that with his uncanny ability to find the center forward inside the box. He was going through a tough time in Universidad de Chile, with his knee injury and multiple tabloid gossips. Colo-Colo signed him from the near bankrupt Universidad de Chile at a time when he had scored a single goal in an injury-ridden season, and everyone thought he was finished. But things changed in Colo-Colo. His knees started healing with Barti was there too to share the load in the flanks. Yanez never lost his aura, which is why fans kept admiring him always.

Beside the Argentines and Yanez, Jozić’s team had Ruben Espinoza—the free-kick specialist with an immaculate match reading skill. So, when they entered the 1991 Copa Libertadores, they had high hopes around this squad. But Argentine and Brazilian clubs were still financially stronger and had star-studded squads. As per the rules in that edition of Libertadores, each group had teams from two different countries, and Chilean teams were seeded with Ecuadorian teams. The relatively easier group helped Colo-Colo progress to the next round as the undefeated group topper. Universitario, the best Peruvian club of last century, was the second round opponent of Colo-Colo. The rivalry between Chilean and Peruvian clubs are always intense, but Colo-Colo was more cautious this time around after their dramatic loss to Vasco da Gama of Brazil last year. In that tie, after a stale goalless first leg in Rio De Janeiro, Colo had hosted the return leg with the hope to turn things around. Unsurprisingly, they found themselves 3–1 ahead in the match. But the dramatic changes were yet to come. Vasco made an incredible late comeback to finish the match 3–3, leading the tie to a shootout. Colo-Colo were eliminated from the competition after losing the tiebreaker 5–4. Again, their first leg at Lima saw a similar fate, and the match ended goalless. Tension mounted in the Chilean camp for their home tie. This time, though, the Chileans won, and advanced to the next round beating the La U’s 2–1 in a tense match at Santiago. Their next opponent was none other than Nacional—three times Libertadores Champion and Uruguayan powerhouse. Colo-Colo won the first leg at Monumental 4–0, beating the Uruguayan side decisively. This was an achievement on its own. Despite losing the away tie 2–0, they advanced to the semis comfortably. There, they faced their biggest challenge in the competition and played a match that will never be forgotten by South American football.

Chapter 4: The Battle of Macul

A quarter of a century has passed, but one can still sense the nostalgia for this match in almost every corner of the Monumental. It was arguably one of the worst-behaved football matches in history. Boca Juniors, the South American super giants, had reached the finals after getting past their arch-rival River Plate, and two Brazilian power houses—Corinthians and Flamengo—in the knockouts. Undoubtedly, they were the toughest opponent Colo-Colo could have faced. The team travelled to Buenos Aires to play the first leg at roaring La Bombonera, the most feared ground in South America. (The name ironically means “chocolate box” in Spanish.) The notorious Argentines pulled out every trick to make it difficult for the visitors—even shutting off cold water so that the Chileans had to shower in the burning hot water. Reports also came in that the visitor locker room was stinking miserably. Despite all the hindrances, Colo-Colo performed extremely well in the match, losing it to the home side by a solitary penalty goal.

The repercussion of all this was expected from the Chileans, and when Boca players landed at the Santiago airport, jeers and insulting chants came flying around from every corner. Boca players evidently had always had a sense of superiority over the Chileans, and the insults prompted them to keep trash talking through the media. They especially targeted the lesser known Argentine players playing for Colo-Colo. The atmosphere around the return leg was heating up and everyone in the city wanted to witness the battle. Scenes around the stadium were impossible that night: people were everywhere, with many fans roaming around the edge of the pitch—an area usually reserved for the security personnel and media people.

Boca had everything at their disposal—an expensive squad starring the confident guard Navarro Montoya, the budding superstar Gabriel Batistuta, and the first “New Maradona” Diego Latorre. Although the squad value was immensely different in two teams, Colo-Colo started the match in full strength with the Argentine duo Morón and Barticciotto, the legend Pato Yáñez, and Espinoza and Ruben Martinez in front. Their captain Jaime Pizarro was known as “El Kaiser” as his play resembled the great Beckenbauer. He was the national captain as well. The list of medications Boca submitted for its players was longer than usual. This made Colo-Colo officials curious and some still believe that Boca players played the match under the influence of those medicines.

Goalkeepers hardly broke any sweat in the first half that ended goalless. Although the early signs of ill-temper were clearly visible from both sides, Montoya was always at the centre of it. Then things quickly escalated when Ruben Martinez put Colo ahead at 64th minute from a Barticciotto cross. Barticciotto came into the frame again, when he put Colo ahead with a second goal in two minutes. The 62,000-strong crowd went insane with every goal scored. People around the ground, media personnel—they all started celebrating with the home players, and began invading the pitch in great numbers. Oscar Tabarez, the Uruguayan tactician of Boca got angry with the invasion, and police had to interrupt and clear away everyone. Boca players were still in shock. It felt like an unexpected punch on the face that came flying from nowhere to almost knock them off.

After ten minutes, Boca came back into the match. Latorre put the ball into the net for Boca with a perfect cross from Batistuta. His celebration after the goal was farcical. The match had changed in a few minutes. This result would have taken the match to a tiebreaker. Colo-Colo was not confident about that, and Chilean teams have a not-so-good history with penalties. They even lost the previous year in a shootout. Above all, despite being a good goalkeeper, Morón was not the best choice in penalties, while Marcelo Ramirez, the second-choice keeper, was a good penalty saver.  But they didn’t want to burn the quota (two players in a match) of substitutes for a goalkeeper. Pressure started mounting.

Colo-Colo 1991
Photos from the historic match at Monumental.
[Source – Vida Magazine]

Just eight minutes later, Ruben Martinez scored his second goal of the night to put Colo-Colo ahead in the tie again! This time, the celebration went out of hand, and everyone around the pitch started getting inside the field again. The field had a dry moat around it that was used to help the ball retrieval procedure. Now after the third goal, someone came jumping into the pitch and grabbed a Boca player before tossing him into the moat. Carlos Navarro Montoya, the arrogant goalie, lost his cool when some of the invaders got near him. From that very moment, Boca players began reacting violently. They completely lost their control, and started hitting whoever they saw, be it a Colo-Colo players, media, or security personnel. Everything could have justified but the biggest blunder they did that night was hitting the Chilean National Police – locally known as the Carabineros. They crossed all limits by hitting the police of another country they were visiting. This, incidentally, turned their hooliganism into an actual crime. Things kept on getting out of hand. Boca players kept on breaking cameras and destroying other equipment and a photographer was beaten so badly that he almost lost eye. Interestingly, the crowd never got involved in the fight and kept watching from the stand. Colo-Colo players tried to separate people, but to no avail. The night became unforgettable when a police dog bit an angry Navarro on the field. Monumental was a proud possession of Colo-Colo fans, who had waited over 40 years before having their own stadium. So, when the Boca players turned their pride into a war zone, fans felt personally insulted. The crowd at the stand never got involved in the fight—they only watched the madness of the Argentines from the other side of the fence. Hence, the fightback from Ron, the dog, became a symbol of their resistance. It was doubly good that Ron had attacked Navarro Montoya, the one who irritated the crowd most. Fans loved the fact that the big goalkeeper with a big ego, a big mouth, and an unbearable attitude got attacked, of all places, in the rear end. Ron did not bite Montoya’s leg, which could have damaged his football career. Fans on television also witnessed a dog chomping away at Navarro’s dark shorts. “The fact that Ron scored one for the underdog also makes his story more compelling among Chileans, who have long considered themselves the underdog at almost everything”, explained Sebastian Moraga, a life-long Colo-Colo fan. Though the dog died in 1992, fans still visit his grave—especially when a Chilean team plays Boca in Santiago.

The fact that Ron scored one for the underdog also makes his story more compelling among Chileans, who have long considered themselves the underdog at almost everything

Eventually everything simmered down on that fateful day, and the game resumed again. The Brazilian referee Renato Marsiglia had already sent Boca’s Blas Giunta and Colo’s Yanez back to the bench. Colo-Colo successfully held on to its two-goal-lead and advanced to play defending champions Olimpia, the Paraguayan squad known as “The King of Cups”. This fight with the national police had farfetched repercussions, and the visitors found themselves in trouble with the law of the host country. Blas Giunta and the Boca head coach, Oscar Washington Tabarez, were not allowed to leave Chile for the next 60 days. The Argentinean embassy in Chile, led by a prominent Argentinean politician and onetime presidential candidate Antonio Cafiero, stepped in to get them the permission to leave the country. After weeks of legal battles, the Chilean Government agreed to allow Giunta and Tabarez to leave. Boca tried to make peace with the Chilean side and invited them to play the Cup of Friendship in Buenos Aires on the very next year as a goodwill gesture. But their intentions failed miserably as the teams started fighting each other on the field in that disastrous friendly.

Interestingly, nine years after that fateful match, Navarro Montoya came to play football in Chile. He played for Concepcion for a season and even flirted with the idea of playing for Colo-Colo. For one unofficial game that year, the farewell game for Chilean forward Ivo Basay, he played as Colo-Colo’s goalkeeper in the same stadium where Ron bit him. Football sure is a great leveller.

Chapter 5: La Copa, La Copa, se mira y se toca

The craze of the finale was something unusual. After the victory in the infamous “Battle of Macul”, which was dubbed as the “real” final, people had already started celebrating. Olimpia, the defending champions, were not the easiest of the opponents, and were nicknamed “King of the cups” for their incredible records in cup finals. But people had incredible faith on Colo-Colo after they had beaten Boca. It was only the third occasion at that time where no club from the big three (Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay) featured in the final. Eventually, the hope and optimism doubled after the goalless draw in Asunción. As Monumental was hosting the second leg, people believed that the team could overturn results even if they lost the first leg marginally. The first draw, thus, was more than a bonus to the Chileans. All the newspapers in the country had the same news on their first page and the two largest network broadcasters decided to team up for the event—with the match beamed live simultaneously on both channels. It was like an undeclared holiday in Chile. It had been almost ten years since any Chilean team had made it to the finals. Corbreloa, the mine city club, had been finalists of Libertadores twice in the early 80s and unfortunately lost both of them. The Copa America was scheduled later in that year in Chile, and the nation needed a major boost after being unable to participate in the 1994 World Cup. (That was because Roberto Rojas deliberately injured himself during a qualifying match in an attempt to avoid a loss against Brazil.)

An inexplicable incident happened a week before the match. Olimpia’s star striker and the top goal scorer of 1990 tournament, Adriano Samaniego, shot himself on the foot!  After the draw in Asuncion, he visited a nightclub the very next day, and when a fight broke out, he accidentally shot himself. The injury was enough to keep him out of the decider. Now, as Virginio Caceres was suspended and the legend Raul Amarilla injured, the Paraguayan side looked feeble. Colo-Colo had important players missing as well. The hero of the semi-final, Martinez, received a red card along with Caceres, which kept him on the bench with Yanez. Ricardo Dabrowski, another crucial striker, missed the match due to an injury. Jozić, however, had prepared a squad with amazing bench strength where no one was irreplaceable—if some players were missing the final, then others would step up to fill the void. Olimpia last played in Chile just a year earlier on the way to their championship, when they faced Católica in a 4–4 thriller, eliminating the latter from the tournament.

Superstitions are a part and parcel of the game, and the Colo-Colo players had strange one too—they never used to take bus to the stadium, instead they used to come in their own cars.  The expected heavy traffic around the stadium became a real concern when Morón and Jozić had issues with their cars while arriving that evening. The team started panicking with every passing minute, thinking that they might have to start the biggest match of their career without the first-choice goalie and the coach on the bench. However, to everyone’s relief, they arrived minutes before the kick-off, and Morón featured in the first team.

The anxious moment finally arrived. 66,000 people in the stadium applauded each home player with the loudest cheers possible. The rest of the country was glued to television screens or radios to witness history. The military regime of dictator Pinochet has ended just a year ago, and football could give the countrymen a chance to celebrate as one unit again. That night Colo-Colo didn’t disappoint their fans. Luis Perez scored two back-to-back goals within 17 minutes, and when the referee expelled Gabriel Gonzalez of Olimpia at the 29th minute, Colo-Colo fans knew that nothing could stop them tonight. Just five minutes before the end, Leonel Herrera Junior hit the final nail on the coffin to seal the match in favour of “the eternal champions”. His father, Leonel Herrera Senior, who was expelled at the decider against Independiente in 1973, broke into tears. It was poetic justice! Another 1973 legend, Carlos Caszely, wept like a baby that night—this win meant more than a trophy to him, a cure to that insufferable pain he had been carrying around since the final two decades back. Fans couldn’t stop celebrating—the entire stadium erupted like Mount Vesuvius and the noise could be heard from the Andes cordillera. When everyone was busy celebrating, the press and photographers were looking for certain kid, who was last seen during the pre-match photoshoot of the Colo-Colo players.

Luis Mauricio Lopez Recabarren, the “Phantom Fan” (as they call him in Chile), is still depicted as the proverbial 12th man of the team that played that night. He was last seen with the eleven Colo-Colo players. He had a crazy hobby—which he probably got genetically from his father—of climbing fences to invade football matches. On that night in Monumental, this kid was seen running towards the Colo-Colo players with the national flag. Incredibly, his timing was perfect, and he managed to reach the right spot just at the moment of the photoshoot. Police escorted him off the field, and by the time the media wanted to take a photo of him at the end of match, he had disappeared like a ghost. They call him the “Phantom Fan” as no one knew who was he or what happened to him after that. Rumour spread that Jose Luis Villanueva, now an international football player, was the phantom fan, who was also the unofficial mascot in the Boca game but when journalists confronted him, he revealed that CONMEBOL forbidden mascots in the final, so he wasn’t there inside the stadium that night. One guy even tried to fool a renowned journalist, claiming that he was the phantom fan. Then few years after Recabarren’s untimely death, Luis Miranda Valderrama, another journalist, met some people who knew his father and found where he lived—finally unmasking his identity. Although his efforts became famous in his neighbourhood, he never wanted to come in the spotlight. He was forbidden from entering the ground, but it was like an addiction to him. He kept on breaching fences and breaking rules. Later, people came to know he invaded again during a match between Chile and Argentina in Copa America 1991, leading to the suspension of the police captain. He got shot in the head during a robbery in 1999 and went to prison, where he died of leukaemia at the age of 23. The phantom fan has forever remained a tantalizing symbol of that night.

Colo-Colo 1991
The famous photo from the 1991 Libertadores Final (left); Family remembering Luis. (right)

The aftermath of the victory was extraordinary. Over ten people died during celebrations. On the brighter side, the victory brought people together. Even Colo-Colo’s greatest rival Universidad de Chile players came down to Monumental in the celebration ceremony two days later and shook hand with the champions. But Colo-Colo didn’t return the courtesy when the La U’s won the Copa Sudamericana later. Still, even after two-and-a-half decades, fans cherish every moment of that magical experience. “25 years ago, almost 26, the triumph of Colo-Colo was hailed as a new era in Chilean sports. ‘No more moral victories,’ was the unofficial motto of thousands of ecstatic fans, politicians, and athletes,” recalled Sebastian Moraga, who witnessed the phenomenon as an 11-year-kid. “And for a while, it appeared as if something was afoot. Colo-Colo won the Interamericana in 1991 and Recopa in 1992, and it won the Interamericana. Plus, two years later, Católica made the finals of the Libertadores, losing to Sao Paulo. All these successes, coupled with the return to democracy after 17 years of dictatorship, made me feel like Chile was on the cusp of something big, off and on the soccer field”, he added.

25 years ago, almost 26, the triumph of Colo-Colo was hailed as a new era in Chilean sports. ‘No more moral victories,’ was the unofficial motto of thousands of ecstatic fans, politicians, and athletes.

The curse of the Pacific teams was finally lifted, and a new chant emerged from the Monumental that night — “la copa, la copa, se mira y se toca”. Yes, they didn’t only see it from a distance—the “eternal champions” lifted the cup as well. Later, Caldas of Colombia and LDU Quito of Ecuador also won the trophy from the Pacific side of the continent but no other team from Chile has yet been able to replicate the success of Colo-Colo. The club finally turned David Arellano’s dream of continental supremacy into a reality. As a popular Colo-Colo hymn says, “The memory of David Arellano will always guide us to a triumphant path.”


[1] YouTube – The biggest robbery of football history
[2] Pasion Futbol – 1973 “El robo de Avellaneda”
[3] UST – Colo Colo most popular club in Chile
4. Colo-Colo – Official Site
5. Magallanes – Official Site
6. Memoria Chilena – David Arellano
7. Latercera – El fantasma que pasó a la historia
8. D10 – Adriano Samaniego
9. Vida Magazine – Getting to Know Colo-Colo
10. ¡Golazo!: A History of Latin American Football – By Andreas Campomar


Special thanks to Sebastian Moraga, the sports editor for the Quincy Valley Post-Register of Washington and a lifelong Colo-Colo fan, for his incredible guidance and assistance on research of this article and Jorge Jorquera, an English-Spanish interpreter and a Musician, for his help.

Chile: the Perennial Underachievers

Can Chile finally shrug off the underachiever’s tag and lift the Copa America in their Home Soil? They have had their fair share of chances but have always failed to go the distance. Tamas Sinha narrates the story of those so-close-yet-so-far and those millions of broken hearts here at Goalden Times. You can read the other stories of the Copa America series here

When Marcelo Salas stepped up to take his penalty shot that day in 1999, the bar was probably still rattling from the venomous free-kick that José Luis Sierra had taken a few seconds ago. Uruguay were already ahead (with a goal from Daniel Lembo), and Chile needed a come back desperately. Referee Ubaldo Aquino, famous for the Martin Palermo penalty incident, blew the whistle and El Matador started his run. Uruguayan goalkeeper Fabián Carini misjudged, and jumped to his left. However, Salas’ shot hit the middle of the bar, exactly like Palermo, and Chile missed the opportunity to equalize the game.

Let’s travel back one more year. Chile were facing (at that time) three-time World champion Italy in their thrilling opening match at Bordeaux,  and had almost beaten them before ending in a 2–2 draw. Salas scored both the goals for Chile, and that was how the world came to know about the magnificent striking pair of El Matador “Salas” and Iván “Bam Bam” Zamorano.

The deadly duo of La Rojas couldn’t win the match for Chile
The deadly duo of La Rojas couldn’t win the match for Chile

The nation had high hopes for these two when they played together in Copa America 1999—the only time they had played with one another in this tournament. This was the fateful semi-final against Uruguay. Chile were still 1–0 down, but didn’t remain that way for very long. The 73rd minute saw them getting another free kick. This time, Sierra pushed a swerving ball into the box and “Bam Bam”  Zamorano scored an exquisite header to bring Chile back into the match.  Later, the match went to the tiebreaker, and, sadly enough, Mauricio Aros missed the only penalty in the shootout. Chile were shown the door. Yet again,La Rojas had failed to deliver when it was needed the most.

The Journey Starts

We need to go back almost 100 years to see how it all started. We all know how sports has always been associated with celebrations. So, when Argentina wanted to celebrate the centenary year of May Revolution, they invited Uruguay and Chile to play a friendly tournament in 1910. The success of this tournament influenced Héctor Rivadavia Gomez, then board member of the Uruguayan Football Association, to form a football federation in South America.  Gomez’s project turned into the first South American championship in 1916 as everyone unanimously supported it. It was the centenary celebration of Argentina’s independence, and Gomez influenced the formation of Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL), the oldest FIFA confederation. The oldest continental championship was started in South America in 1916 with only four nations—Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. While the other three nations have been the most successful in the history of South American championship, Chile has never been able to touch the silverware till date, despite being the fifth most successful team in the competition(as per all time tables). Why has Chile had this sorry fate for 100 years? Let’s see how it all began.

Early Years (19161953)

CONMEBOL is the smallest football confederation under FIFA, which has only ten associated, affiliated nations till date. Despite the small number of participants, South American teams have always played the most enthralling and competitive football in the world. Even though the four nations started off in similar circumstances, Chile found it difficult to cope up with three other Latin American giants. The misery continued for decades, and the team couldn’t win a single match in the competition till 1926. In addition to that, Chile had a miserable tournament in 1917, when they conceded ten goals, but scored none.  Apart from this, Chile had withdrawn from the tournament in 1921, 1923, and 1925 at the last moment for various reasons.


 Fortune started favouring the La Rojas a little in 1926, when they hosted the tournament and found their first victory in the competition in their first match, against newcomers Bolivia.  David Arellano, the founder of Chile’s most successful football club Colo Colo and attributed with showcasing the “Chilena” to Europe, architected Bolivia’s demolition with four goals in the match. Interestingly, they also scored the first ever goal scored from direct corner kick in the South American Football Championship in this match. Despite the brilliant start, the Chileans couldn’t go past Uruguay and Argentina, and finally ended at the third spot with another hat-trick from Arellano in their final match against Paraguay. Arellano also earned the golden boot by scoring seven goals in the tournament.

David Arellano became a key player for Chile in 1926
David Arellano became a key player for Chile in 1926

Arellano’s accidental death in 1927 while playing for Colo Colo came as a shock to everyone. This was followed by the side’s withdrawal from the next two tournaments, and their comeback was not special either. Their campaigns in the 1930s were nothing but lacklustre other than the heroics of Raúl Toro, who scored seven goals in 1937’s tournament and earned the coveted golden boot.In 1941, Chile celebrated the founding of Santiago’s 400th anniversary by hosting the tournament, and also invested heavily in their national stadium. However, despite their initial success, Argentina defeated them to clinch the title. In 1945, they hosted another special edition of the competition where no trophy was handed over. This tournament was a goal fest (4.24 goals per match), and Chile started off with a brilliant 6-3 victory over Ecuador, which featured a hat-trick from Juan Alcántara. Alcántara, along with Guillermo Clavero, inspired a 5–0 demolition of Bolivia. Santiago brought out the best from their performance, but Chile remained a few steps behind Argentina. In 1953, Chile exhibited another great individual talent in Francisco “Paco” Molina, who scored eight goals to bag the golden boot in Lima. His great performance in the tournament earned his transfer to Atletico Madrid in Spain, where he left his remarkable legacy. Chile, however, remained far from the destination.

So Close, Yet So Far (19551956)

The story revolves around the Colo-Colo Legend, Enrique “Cua Cua” Hormazábal. His intelligence and exquisite technique brought a new wave of hope to Chilean football. He used to believe that “Football is played with the feet, but is born in the head”. Santiago again hosted the championship in 1955, and Chile started the journey with a thumping 7–1 victory over Ecuador. This was the match that saw the rise of Cua Cua in the South American championship with a memorable hat-trick. Chile’s best match came against their eternal rival Peru, when they beat Peru in the best match of that championship edition. Chile was leading the match 4–1 with the brilliant brace from former Newcastle United star George Robledo. Unbelievably though, Peru made a comeback and leveled the score 4–4 at the 83rd minute. However, within a minute of the equalizer, Jaime “Superclase” Ramírez put Chile in the front again with his winning goal. Chile continued the journey with a draw against Uruguay and a 5–0 thrashing of Paraguay to meet Argentina in Estadio Nacional for the title decider. Argentina prevailed again with a narrow win in the finale, which was decided by a single strike of tournament top scorer Rodolfo Micheli. Hormazábal, despite being the best player of the tournament and scoring in all other matches, failed to transform the Chilean dream into reality.

Enrique “Cua Cua” Hormazábal
Enrique “Cua Cua” Hormazábal

One year later, Chile and Cua Cua returned in search of their first title in Montevideo, Uruguay. They started with another brilliant win against heavyweight Brazil, and Cua Cua scored a brace. This match saw the rise of another star in Chilean football—Leonel Sánchez—the iconic figure of Universidad de Chile. Despite the initial victory, Chile’s dream remained unfulfilled yet again as they lost back-to-back matches  against Uruguay and Argentina. Chile then met Peru in another thrilling encounter, which ended 4–3 in favour of Chile. Both Cua Cua and Sánchez scored for Chile. Cua Cua finished the tournament as the highest scorer but couldn’t deliver the ultimate glory to his country. Chile finished one step away from the title after losing to Argentina in the final. This was the only time in the history of competition when Chile finished in the second place in two consecutive years.

The Saga Continues (19572011)

After their brilliant performances in 1955 and 1956, Chile had a long period of drought, and didn’t have a memorable Copa for the next 23 years. The tournament format had changed by then. It was a six-month long competition in 1979, where matches were played in home-away basis in different countries. Chile had beaten Peru in that year to reach the final against Paraguay. Their journey was helped by the brilliance of Carlos Caszely, the player of the tournament. Elias Figueroa—the finest Chilean player and one of the greatest South American defenders of all time—was also instrumental in their amazing run.  Don Figueroa, who recovered from an onset of polio in his childhood, was once heralded by Pele as the best defender the latter had ever faced. However, their opponents were the rejuvenated Paraguayans blessed with the twinkle toes of their greatest player, Romerito. Chile lost the away game in Asunción 0–3 (Romerito scored a brace). But they came back next week, and avenged their loss by beating Paraguay 1–0 at Santiago, with a solitary goal from Carlos Rivas. This, effectively, pushed the deciding match to Buenos Aires. Rules were different then—goals scored in the final matches were not counted and one win from either team in the home and away legs forced the final playoff. To make things more complex, goals scored in the first two “final” matches were taken into account if this game happened to end in a tie. This left no choice for La Rojas but to win the last game. The decider ended in a goalless draw even after the additional time, and Chile were left empty handed once again.

Chile playing against Paraguay in the 1979 Final
Chile playing against Paraguay in the 1979 Final

Eight years later, in 1987, Chile managed to reach the final again—beating heavyweight Brazil in the group stage.  This time, their match was against Uruguay. After beating Maradona’s Argentina, Uruguay were favourite to win the tie, and Buenos Aires had never been lucky for Chile. It was a game between two brutal teams and Chileans took the upper hand with their violent plays, especially against “El Príncipe” Enzo Francescoli.The game saw four players sent off from the field, and expectedly enough,  Uruguay won their 13th title with a solitary goal.

Another venture in 1991 fell short again in the final round. This time, though, the Chileans were hosting the tournament, and a certain Gabriel Batistuta took Argentina to the summit. Chileans again started seeing some ray of hope in 1999, when Chile’s favourite sons (as mentioned before) played together in the competition.  Despite a not-so-impressive performance in the first round, Chile went to the knockouts as the best third-placed team (having won one and lost two matches). Chile beat Colombia in the next round to meet Uruguay in a thrilling semi-final. A lot was depending on the SaZa pair in this match, but sadly enough, the climax was different. Uruguay drew the first blood and Marcelo Salas stepped up to the grand opportunity. Chile managed to choke, once again. Since then, the team hasn’t made it to the final four in the tournament.

Story of the Rivals

The “Derby of the Pacific” (Clásico del Pacífico) is the rivalry between the neighbouring Pacific countries of Chile and Peru. The tension between these nations can be traced back to the War of the Pacific in the nineteenth century, and that influenced their football relations as well. This rivalry is one of the most popular international rivalries in the world and the intensity saw a marked increase after the failure of the formation of the “Combinado del Pacifico”, a binational football team consisting of Chilean and Peruvian footballers.

There is one major controversy regarding the invention of bicycle kick as well. In Chile they believe that Ramon Unzaga invented this move in 1914 in Talcahuano, and demonstrated it in the early versions of Copa. The Argentine press named it “la chileña”. On the other hand, Peruvians claim that it was invented before that, during 1892 in port of Callao by the locals known as Chalaco. According to Peru,  Chileans copied it later during their regular matches between Callao and the Chilean port of Valparaiso. That’s why it’s known as “La Chalaca” in Peru.

 "Chile salio DERROTADO en un match que nunca debio PERDER" (English: "Chile came out defeated in a match that it should have never lost"). A sub-heading further reads: "CHILENOS JUEGAN MEJOR Futbol Que los PERUANOS" (English: "Chileans play better football than the Peruvians")
When Chile lost to Peru in their first ever match, a Chilean news-paper printed this – “Chile came out defeated in a match that it should have never lost”. A sub-heading further reads: “Chileans play better football than the Peruvians”

Peru’s first championship came in 1939, when they won all the games in the competition to claim the title. Peru beat Uruguay in the decider to clinch that title, while Chile has always choked on the big stage. In 1975, when the new format was introduced in Copa, Peru managed to clinch the title once again. Luck favored them in their semi-final match against Brazil, which they won via a controversial lottery. Chile, despite being in the same group with Peru, failed to beat them even at home. In Chile they believe that Chileans play better football than the Peruvians. However, it cannot be denied that Peru has won the South American trophy twice, even though Chile started their Copa journey before them. Chile have always had an abundance of individual brilliances, but have lacked the proper support to overcome mighty opponents. On the other hand, their fierce rival Peru is a perfect example how a team can perform successfully together (especially in the 1970s).

The dream goes on

Despite being a part of the founding nations of CONMEBOL, Chile has never been as strong as the three other South American powerhouses. The competition in South America has always been very intense and the teams are always very close in term of quality. Even in the Copa Libertadores (the continental club championship of South America) Chile’s performance has not been very good. Chile’s best club Colo Colo has only won the Championship once. It is also the only Chilean club to win the title till date.

The Chileans have always performed well at home and could have been a strong contender for the South American throne this year, but for the dual obstacles of Brazil and Argentina. The team that coach Jorge Sampaoli has assembled has no dearth of talents. Alexis Sanchez had a wonderful debut season for Arsenal; Claudio Bravo played a pivotal role in Barcelona’s historic treble win; Arturo “Il Guerriro” Vidal earned the cap of one of the world’s best midfielders for his performance for the Bianconeri. All these players have the ability to win a match on their day. In fact, they were just one “cross-bar” width away from knocking out Brazil from World Cup last year. However, they do still lack the big match temperament, which has caused them to be the perennial underachievers for 99 years.