Deportivo Cali returns this Thursday to a stage that marked a milestone in its history, La Bombonera, the legendary Boca Juniors stadium. It leaves for a place in the round of 16 of the Copa Libertadores, almost 44 years after becoming the first Colombian club to reach the final of this tournament.
That team is in the memory of the fans who lived through that historic 1978 campaign. And those who were born after and inherited the passion for Cali heard, surely, and more than once, the feat of a team that marked an era.
(Deportes Tolima: great victory in Brazil and goes to the second round in the Libertadores)
The arrival of Carlos Bilardo changed Deportivo Cali
The person in charge of the team was Carlos Salvador Bilardo, an Argentine coach whom Alex Gorayeb, president of Deportivo Cali, hired in 1977 to break the hegemony that Bilardo’s teacher, Osvaldo Juan Zubeldía, had with Atlético Nacional a year earlier.
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Bilardo revolutionized the way of working in Colombian soccer. “Before, one worked a single day. Even in my first years as a player, one was summoned to the stadium the same day of the game, we had lunch and played. And when the game finished, one went directly home, without a medical check-up. or anything. With Bilardo things changed. He even did things like open the stadium, and Cali paid, so that we trained at night, at the same time as the games we had to play”, recalled one of his most outstanding students. , Fernando ‘Pecoso’ Castro.
In that first year with Cali, Bilardo reached the semifinal of the Copa Libertadores and that is where the story of the rivalry with Boca Juniors began.. The tournament system was two triangular, from which the two finalists came out. The area was completed by Libertad, from Paraguay.
Boca’s coach was Juan Carlos Lorenzo and there was already a certain pica. Boca had to play first in Colombia. Lorenzo had complained that the match between Cali and Libertad was not televised in Argentina, according to him, by order of the ‘Narigón’.
Precisely, the theme of the videos was an obsession for Bilardo. “Don Aurelio (Grimberg, manager of Cali) ordered everything to be recorded. I even saw the cameraman several times even in training, he recorded the physical work, the tactical work, all of that was there. Through the videos, Bilardo could see how the team played, what it wanted, if it was giving the result that one expected,” said ‘Pecoso’.
“With those videos one also realized what the rival was doing, how he charged, how he made the barriers, how the defense moved, the midfield. We began to have a total knowledge of the rival. That was one of the great advances we had at the time,” he added.
Before the game, Lorenzo went with his team to reconnoiter the Pascual Guerrero field. Boca’s DT gave the express order not to let anyone in. Bilardo, very clever, climbed a fence and had his picture taken. And he started yelling, “Lorenzo, I’m spying on you!”
The tense atmosphere continued at the Boca concentration hotel, where there was an incident between four players and a guest who was attacked. They ended up at a police station.
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The two games between Cali and Boca ended 1-1 and the Argentines advanced to the final, which they later won by beating Cruzeiro in the first penalty shootout in Libertadores history.
The paths were very different for Boca and Cali in 1978. While the Argentines entered directly to the semifinals due to their status as champions, the Colombians had to play in the group stage against Junior and the Uruguayans Danubio and Peñarol. Classified with solvency.
Then, Cali resolved with two wins, against Alianza Lima and Cerro Porteño, both as visitors, their way to the title dispute, something that excited their fans. Boca, meanwhile, left River Plate and Atlético Mineiro behind to reach their second consecutive final.
The date of the final, a game that was lost against Boca
Before playing the duel against Boca, Cali lost a very important duel. Emboldened by the way they qualified, Bilardo’s team came with a boost. Boca, on the other hand, suffered to get into the final. The initial idea was to play the finals on November 1 and 8, 15 days after the semifinals.
“The president of Boca Juniors, the veteran Alberto J. Armando, will not allow the matches with Cali to take place immediately,” wrote EL TIEMPO correspondent Florentino Corrales. “Armando, aware of the rise that the Colombian team is experiencing, will not risk so much and will let it pass for at least a month,” he added.
The theme had an effect, above all, because of the Cali calendar: while waiting for the duel against Boca, Bilardo and his group had to squeeze themselves to play the semifinal homer against Nacional, Junior and Cristal Caldas. He had to wait for the last date to advance to the final. Boca, much more rested, came with an advantage.
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On November 23, 1978, at the Pascual Guerrero, Boca and Cali drew 0-0. And five days later, the appointment was at La Bombonera. The technical staff of the sugar workers worked miracles to have the complete group. Diego Umaña, the team’s ’10’, had missed the first leg due to injury. He managed to get to Argentina, but he did not do it in the best shape.
Skills, dogs and gunpowder, factors against Cali
In the Cup of that time intrigues were handled and any factor was used to take advantage. In those years, the Police at the games had dogs around the field to use in case of incidents.
However, Lorenzo, Boca’s coach, managed to use them in another way and annoy the Cali players. He strategically placed them near the corners, so that when the rivals tried to take a corner, the dog would not leave them space. The main victims of canine harassment were Diego Umaña and Ángel María Torres.
It was not the only strategy. Lorenzo spread the word that Boca had been mistreated in the first leg in Cali. Thus, the atmosphere heated up and La Bombonera, which in itself was already intimidating, already had an additional factor in favor of the xeneizes.
Of course the fans made themselves felt long before. The night before the match, the Boca brava arrived in front of the hotel where Deportivo Cali was concentrated and serenaded it with songs and a lot, a lot of gunpowder.
The game was torture for Cali. And there was a preponderant figure in that match, left winger Hugo Osmar Perotti, who years later played, without much success, for Atlético Nacional. At 15 minutes, a left-footed shot from him, after a cross from Rubén Suñe, made it 1-0.
(In other news: Deportes Tolima: great victory in Brazil and goes to the second round in the Libertadores)
In the second half, Cali made too many mistakes and Boca did not forgive him. First, at 16, a ball from Suñé took ‘Pecoso’ very badly, who was poorly outlined and lost in the race with Ernesto Mastrángelo, who hooked inside and finished off cross. The final was already 2-0.
The third goal, at 28 of the second stage, also had some luck: a long kick by goalkeeper Hugo Gatti hit the head of Carlos Horacio Salinas, who had his back to the play. The ball shot towards Pedro Zape’s goal and Salinas himself gained speed and shot from the edge of the area.
And the fourth, three minutes from the end, also came from a serious error by the defense. Henry Caicedo wanted to control a ball, it was long and Perotti stole it and finished off, again from outside the area. The final ended in a rout.
This is how the protagonists reacted 43 years ago
“The only thing that makes me sad is the score, never the result. After all, playing the Cup final here at La Bombonera is an honor,” Gorayeb was honest after the match with EL TIEMPO’s special envoy, Camilo Tovar Ramos . “This is just hellish, but it’s something worth living. I’ve never seen 60,000 people scream like they did tonight,” he added.
In turn, Bilardo consoled himself after a night in which, surely, he did not wink. “A result like this cannot erase the work of a whole year. This has already happened and now we will seek to do the best things possible so that Cali will be in the Copa Libertadores again next year,” he declared.
Bilardo delivered: less than a month after that final, Cali once again qualified for the Libertadores, with an Olympic goal by Ángel María Torres in the last minute against Nacional, at the Atanasio Girardot. But that was his last game with the club. The sugar bowls took 21 years to return to the final.
After that final, Cali returned to La Bombonera three times. He could never win. In fact, the last time he was there he ended up beaten: 6-2, in 2016, with a protagonist of that final on the bench, ‘Pecoso’ Castro. Now go back to that stage. A tie is enough for him to continue in the race. A new story is written.
Jose Orlando Ascencio
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