First featured on the award-winning website on football & pop culture – Goalden Times.
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 summarises 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 in five extraordinary chapters.
Chapter Three: 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 titles – 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 recently 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. 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 under Colo-Colo’s radar. 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 became immediately visible as he implemented a style that had never been seen in Chilean football 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 grasp 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 goalkeeper, was in 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 – roughly translating to 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 schoolboy 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 keeper at rivals 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. 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 their arch-rivals. 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 centre 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 and Barti was there 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.