The African Cup Winners Cup

The African Cup Winners Cup started with 28 teams. Three withdrew – USCA Bangui (Central African Republic), Al-Nil (Sudan), and Al-Ittihad (Egypt). Since most participants and their relative strength were entirely unknown, it is impossible to judge were their any upsets in the 1/16 finals – only Kadiogo (Upper Volta) vs Asante Kotoko (Ghana) was a drama: each opponent lost the home match 0-1, so penalty shootout decided the winner. Ghana had strong reputation in Africa, but even this is doubtful to a point. Kadiogo won the shootout 4-2 and eliminated Asante at their home turf.

After the first round, the tournament proceeded without any irregularities – or so it appears on paper. Two winners were decided by away goal rule in the 1/8 finals: Gor Mahia (Kenya) eliminated Nsambya FC (Uganda) after both legs ended in a draw – 0-0 and 1-1. Luckily, Gor Mahia scored in Uganda. Pan African (Tanzania) overcome 2-1 AS Vita Club (Zaire) at home, but lost 0-1 away and Vita qualified. They were also vaguely familiar name outside Africa – something like a favourite.

The ¼ finals opposed AS Vita Club to Canon Yaounde (Cameroon) – the closest to an early meeting of big clubs. Vita were successful in the 1960s-early 1970s, Canon won the African Champions Cup in 1978. Was it a derby is questionable, though. Vita won 3-1 at home, but was entirely destroyed in Yaounde – 1-6. The real drama happened between anonymous clubs: AC Sotema (Madagascar) lost their home leg 0-2 to Bendel Insurance (Nigeria). At the time Nigerian football meant absolutely nothing, yet, Madagascar was less than nothing, so the second match should have been just a matter of protocol. But Sotema upset their hosts and won also 2-0. Penalty shootout decided the winner – Bendel Insurance prevailed 5-3.

Thus, the ½ finalists had two favourites and two outsiders – entirely arbitrary judgment, based on scarce information. The favourites had lucky draw: Canon Yaounde vs Bendel Insurance and Gor Mahia vs Horoya SC (Conacry, Guinea). From today point of view, the strong teams should have been the Nigerians and the Cameroonians – but it was not so in real time. Kenyan football had stronger reputation in the 1960s, carried to the 1970s just as a reputation – more likely Kenyan football was in a decline, compared to other countries, but it was hard to judge. Horoya SC was entirely unknown, but their city rivals Hafia were one of the best clubs in Africa at the time – on that strength, Horoya was taken seriously. A serious ‘may be’ – Gor Mahia was better known club. Evaluations of the other pair were similar – Cameroonian football was on ascent, particularly on club level. Nigeria was not anything special yet. However, rivalry between neighbours existed, so Canon perhaps was expected to win, but nobody would have been sure. And it was the tougher semi-final: only one goal was scored in the two legs. Canon won 1-0 the opening match in Yaounde and then managed a 0-0 tie away. Horoya SC evidently was not Hafia: they lost both legs to Gor Mahia – 0-1- and 0-2.

The final was played between old and new in a sense: fading Kenyan vs progerssing Cameroonian football. The formula was the same as the whole tournament – two matches, played on November 25 and December 9, 1979. It was overwhelming victory of the ‘new’. Canon practically finished Gor Mahia in the first leg, played in Kenya. They won 2-0. Back at home, to the delight of their supporters, Canon scored 6 goals. Gor Mahia was not able to score at all. Canon won the African Cup Winners Cup.

What can be said about the losers? Yes, they were – and are – big in Kenya. They were obviously too weak an opponent at the final. How good, how bad… information is next to nothing and the only way of showing the difference is showing the line-ups of the first leg ( finding them requires serious searching of obscure internet cites. I failed to unearth info about the second leg): Gor Mahia – Dan Odhiambo, Paulo Codra Oduwo, Festus Nyakota, Bobby Ogolla, Mike ‘Machine’ Ogolla, Jerry Imbo, Andrew Obunya (John Chore), Sammy ‘Kempes’ Owino, George ‘Best’ Yoga, Allan ‘Ogango wuon pap’ Thigo, Nahashon Oluoch’Lule (Paul Owora). Judging by the nicknames, stars of Kenyan football – the mysterious nickname of Thigo is particularly formidable: ‘ruler of the field’. Perhaps Jerry Imbo and George Yoga have some standing in the history of African football, but even their names mean nothing.

Canon were clearly very strong, in African terms. They won the African Champions Cup in 1978 and continued their international success by easily collecting the Cup Winners Cup in 1979. They were also evidence of rapidly developing football – compared to Hafia (Connacry, Guinea), perhaps the strongest African club in the second half of the 1970s, there was big difference: Hafia had no rival at home and no matter how good they were, the national team of Guinea was not really strong. Canon had strong rivals in Cameroon and did not dominate the country’s football – best in Africa, they did not win the Cameroonian championship and had to play in the lesser continental tournament in 1979. They also had a star player recognized outside Africa – Jean Manga Onguene was not huge international star, but if outsiders recognized an African player at all, it was his name. The national team of Cameroon was also pushing ahead and establishing among the strong African national teams. And the evidence was presented in the line-up beating Gor Mahia in Kenya: Thomas N’Kono, Doumbe Lea, Ibrahim Aoudou, Isaac Sinkot, Emmanuel Kunde, Gregoire M’Bida, Theophile Abega, Jean Manga Onguene, Oule Oule (Ernest Ebongue), Jean-Paul Akono. Of course, everybody would recognize one name – Thomas N’Kono – but in 1979 the recognizable name was Jean Manga Onguene, one of the best African players in the 1970s. N’Kono, however, is emblematic: he was 23 years old, entirely unheard of, and had to wait until 1982 to become world-famous. He represented the generation which put African football on the map thanks to the wonderful performance of Cameroon at the 1982 World Cup. He was not alone: 6 players of this squad played at the 1982 World Cup: N’Kono, Aoudou, Kunde, M’Bida, Abega, and Ebongue. Five of them were born between 1954 and 1956 – one generation. Ebongue was younger – born 1962 – suggesting, that the older players were not just one-time affair, but Cameroonian football was building and developing continuously. Nobody knew those players in 1979, but they were already very successful. As for Canon, the club already was 3 times Cameroonian champion, won 7 cups, 1 African Champions Cup, and added one Cup Winners Cup. Not bad? Well, they were hungry for more.


But football was played and results depended largely on momentary strength of a team, for the only club which had something like long-term plan was Cosmos. Rochester Lancers, Atlanta Chiefs, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, New England Tea Men, Memphis Rogues, Edmonton Drillers, and San Jose Earthquakes were the teams eliminated after the first phase of the championship finished. Cosmos had the best record of all clubs, finishing with 216 points.

In the next stage things changed a bit – direct elimination took no account of any previous performance. Houston Huricane, the team with second best record in the first phase, lost both legs to Philadelphia Fury, which was 3rd in their original Eastern Division of the American Conference and the team with the worst record in the first phase – they got 111 points, which was less than all 4th-placed clubs in the National Conference. In fact all pairs at this stage had stronger team, winning both legs. The worst team at this stage was California Surf – they were champions of their division, but now lost 2-4 and 2-7 to San Diego Sockers. Three matches were decided in overtime, the most dramatic was the victory of Tulsa Roughnecks over Minnesota Kicks: both legs went into overtime, eventually the Roughnecks prevailing both times 2-1.

The Conference ½ finals followed and here two teams were eliminated, which in another country could have been a surprise.

Los Angeles Aztecs, lead by Michels and Cruyff, looked like a team aiming at the title. However, they were eliminated by Vancouver Whitecaps – a club with may be too much British flavour to be considered stronger than fashionable Dutch. It was strong and dramatic battle, though: each opponent won a leg, but the match in Los Angeles went to a shoot-out to brake the tie. The rule of third mini-match was applied after the two legs and Vancouver won it 1-0. Cruyff was asked about his impression of NASL and his future – he said he will play one more year in North America and retire for good. Definitely. Remember this statement.

One more match was decided by shootout – the first match between Philadelphia Fury and Tampa Bay Rowdies. Tampa Bay won both legs at the end. New York Cosmos had troubles against Tulsa Roughnecks – the opponents won their home legs 3-0 each and once again a mini-game was scheduled: this time Cosmos won 3-1.

The last pair gave the second surprise:

Judging by the squad, Chicago Sting was favourite. But they were unable to score even a single goal and lost both legs to San Diego Sockers.

Thus, the Conference finals opposed San Diego Sockers to Tampa Bay Rowdies for the title of American Conference, and New York Cosmos to Vancouver Whitecaps for National Conference championship final. Third match decided both winners: Vancouver and San Diego won their home leg, but lost after shootout the second. Tampa Bay eliminated San Diego in the third mini-match 1-0, but the other Conference final had no winner and went to yet another shootout. Vancouver won it 3-2.

San Diego Sockers, perhaps the least impressive squad of the Conference finalists, still had players familiar with success: Harsanyi was part of the strong Ujpesti Dosza team of mid-1970s, Gross reached the UEFA Cup final with Twente and even played a match for the national team of West Germany in 1970. The real stars were Cuellar and Sanchez, who came on loan from UNAM. But that was nothing compared to the other loser.

Cosmos’ squad was formidable and compared to any other – unbeatable. It was perhaps the only NASL team, not just a few old stars and bunch of so-so players. But Beckenbauer and Co. lost.

So, on September 8 Vancouver Whitecaps and Tampa Bay Rowdies met at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, to decide the championship. Soccer Bowl’79. Over 50 000 attended – the record attendance of the season was much higher, but still it was huge crowd for a country not concerned with this kind of football. Trevor Whymark gave the lead to Vancouver in the 13th minute. Van der Veen equalized in the 23rd minute. In the second half Whymark scored his second goal in the 60th minute and since no more goals were scored Vancouver won 2-1. The new NASL champions hailed from Canada.

Tampa Bay came close to winning the championship, ending a strong season – they won their division, and did not lose a match in the play-offs – not in regular time, that is. But they were not as solid team as Vancouver. The stars of the team were of smaller status: Rodney Marsh (England) – a lesser version of George Best on and off the field, Mirandinha (Brazil), who played at the 1974 World Cup, but was never called to play for Brazil after that, Arsen Auguste (Haiti), who also played at the 1974 World Cup, Peter Baralic (Yugoslavia), a former regular of Crvena zvezda (Belgrade), but never a national team player, Jan van der Veen (Holland), who played for various Dutch and Belgian clubs, but not the big ones. The best player this year was Oscar Fabbiani, born in Argentina, but when playing in Chile became Chilean citizen and national team player, including at 1979 Copa America – Fabbiani was not wold famous, but finished as the top striker of NASL this season.

Vancouver Whitecaps enjoyed wonderful season, crowned with the title. Perhaps they were the team with the best chemistry in the league: largely English squad plus few good Canadian players familiar with British football, coached by English coach. No language problems, familiar tactical approach, familiar training, good fighting spirit. A few Canadian legends practically established themselves this year – Bob and Dan Lenarduzzi, Carl Valentine and Tony Waiters, the coach. Bruce Grobelaar, a reserve keeper still, got his introduction to big football and soon became famous with Liverpool. That was the legacy of this team – its real strength in 1979 was the British stars known for years already. Allan Ball (b.1945), world champion of 1966 with 72 caps and 8 goals for England, Kevin Hector (b. 1944), English champion with Darby County and 2 caps, Trevor Whymark (b. 1950) was a regular with constantly improving in the 1970s Ipswich Town and played 1 match for England, Phil Parkes (b. 1947), the goalkeeper of the strong Woolverhampton Wanderers side of the first half of the 1970s and also familiar with North American football, having played for US teams in 1967 and 1969, Willie Johnston (b. 1946), 21 caps for Scotland and long time key player of Glasgow Rangers, also ill-famed – he was tested positive for a banned stimulant at the 1978 World Cup and consequently expelled from the Scottish team. Finally, Bob McNab (b. 1944), well known from his years with Arsenal, having also 4 caps for England – his role was more or less symbolic, for he played only 3 matches for Vancouver in 1979 – two more than Bruce Grobelaar (b. 1957). Ball, Parkes, and Whymark were the key figures.

Vancouver bought Trevor Whymark for $300 000 from Ipswich Town – money well spent, for he scored both goals for his new club at the final and thus Vancouver won the title.

The stars were influential and inspirational, but it was a squad of similar minds: 12 English players, 1 Scot, 10 born or naturalized Canadians, and 1 player from South Africa/Zimbabwe – same language, same culture, same kind of football from coach to last reserve. Chemistry was perhaps essential for success.


NASL overview

Central and North America was all about NASL. Talking about hype… statistics and awards. So many of those, it is even pointless to mention most: it looked like no one should have been forgotten and given something. The end of the1970s were the the peak years of NASL, a league going fast to its doom. 24 teams participated in the 12th league season. There were some changes: two teams were relocated. In another country that would mean two clubs seized to exist, but in North America it was just moving a franchise from one place to another… Colorado Caribous, the club with the most garish kit, was no more – there was Atlanta Chiefs instead. Oakland Stompers became Edmonton Drillers – they moved to another country, not just to another city. Two franchises only changed names: Toronto Metro-Croatia became Toronto Blizzard and Cosmos returned to its original name New York Cosmos.

The rules of the championship were almost left untouched, but must be mentioned because they were weird and complicated. 6 points for a win, 1 point for a shootout win, 0 points for a loss, 1 point for each regulation goal scored up to three per game. Goal-scoring was a combination of goal+pass – 2 points per goal, 1 per assist. The new addition was breaking the tie in the play-offs: if a playoff series was tied at one victory each, a full 30 minute mini-game was played. If neither team held an advantage after the 30 minutes, the teams would then move on to a shoot-out to determine a series winner. The rest was ‘familiar’ – the league was divided into 2 conferences, each divided itself into 3 divisions, consisting of 4 clubs each. Every team played 30 games in the first phase – a mix bag of games played against their divisional opponents and some others. 8 clubs were going to the conference play-offs and here was the first little obstacle. The top 2 of each division was understandable… plus 2 of the three 3rd-placed teams. Points determined those, so the team with least points among the 3rd-placed was out. Practically, only 4 of the 12 members of each conference were out of the race after the first stage. The play-offs proceeded with 2 regular games and a mini-game after that, if there was a tie. Direct elimination followed to the conference final. The winners of each conference played a single match league final – the Soccer Bowl. The championship was played largely in the summer, ending on September 8th. The schedule, added by the lax transfer rules, made the usual mess – players changed clubs during the season, came on loan from other clubs, or moved to NASL after there European and South American seasons finished. The league always trumpeted its ‘world’ status, so the biggest emphasize was on foreign players – to the point to be impossible to tell who was legitimate import. Naturalized Canadians were presented often – but not always – as Canadians; naturalized or just born overseas Americans were most often presented as foreigners. The results were even comic, for there was a Japanese player according to NASL this year – in reality, a guy with american parents and thorough Anglo-Saxon name, who was born in Japan, having no other relation to the country. The Yugoslavians – arguably, the second biggest group of players after the British – were the most complicated case: most were Yugoslavian born, yet, listed rather frivolously as Yugoslavians, Americans, and Canadians – real citizenship seemingly was not important to the league. Since proper team-building was never practiced in NASL, the closest to it was the current coach, also a foreigner, convincing the club’s brass to get a bulk of players of his own country – thus, many teams had distinct flavour: British, Yugoslavian, and in 1979 – Dutch. For in 1979 a famous coach finally arrived in NASL – Rinus Michels was hired by Los Angeles Aztecs and with him – a bunch of Dutch players. Transfers, then… or what looked like traditional transfers. Since the list was enourmous every summer, only what appeared to be the biggest ones will be mentioned. Johan Cruyff signed with Los Angeles Aztecs – wait a second: he retired from the game in 1978. Well, he came back – without mentioning retirement, as if never announced. Wim Suurbier arrived in Los Angeles too. Plus three more Dutch players, hardly known, but Dutch – Leo van Veen, Thomas Rougen, and Hubert Smeets. Thus, Los Angeles Aztecs were clearly based on Dutch sceleton. Cosmos bought their usual group of big names – Dutch stars Johan Neeskens and Wim Rijsbergen, the Brazilian full back Francisco Marinho, the Iranian full back, so impressive at the 1978 World Cup, Andranik Eskandarian, and… almost annonimous West German goalkeeper, who played largely second division football to this moment – Hubert Birkenmeier. Neeskens and Birkenmeier were clearly not on the same level, but… Birkenmeier quickly established himself as the best NASL goalkeeper, so may be he was more important player in the history of the league than his famous teammate.

In short time Birkenmeier became the top NASL goalkeeper – nobody remembers him in Germany, but in USA he became a legend.

Of course, the league was full of famous names: here is a brief sample: Horst Blankenburg, Arno Steffenhagen, Wim van Hanegem, Peter Ressel, Jorgen Kristensen, and Dick Advocaat were all with Chicago Sting. Except Advocaat, the rest won huge number of domestic and European trophies in the 1970s. Then again everybody known who Advocaat is nowadays. Bjorn Nordqvist and Willie Morgan played for Minnesota Kicks. Alex Stepney and Antonio Simoes for Dallas Tornado. Salif Keita, Artur, Alhinho, and Jordao – for New England Tea Men, which seemingly chose Portuguese sceleton. Peter Lorimer was with Toronto Blizzard. David Nish with Tulsa Roughnecks. Alan Hudson and Harry Redknapp with Seattle Sounders. Clyde Best with Portland Timbers. Miralem Fazlic, Julio Baylon, and Piero Prati with Rochester Lancers. Phil Parkes, Kevin Hector, Willie Johnston, Allan Ball, and entirely unknown yet Bruce Grobelaar with Vancouver Whitecaps. Trevor Francis with Detroit Express. So far – relatively clear, but: Joszef Horvath (Washington Diplomats) and Laszlo Harsanyi, Hugo Sanchez, Leonardo Cuellar, and Julie Veee, all of San Diego Sockers were not so. The Mexican stars Sanchez and Cuellar were loaned to the Sockers after the end of the Mexican season – or may be even before the end? The three Hungarians are difficult to figure out – were they legally allowed to play abroad or were they refugees? Looks like Hungary started exporting players after the 1978 World Cup – largely, in 1979. But the trio played abroad before that and most likely were defectors. Horvath arrived from Rot Weiss (Essen, West Germany), where he played in the 1977-78 season. Harsanyi joined San Diego in 1978. As for Julie Veee, this is not his real name, but the one he chose to use when he left Hungary – he was clearly a defector, eventually became US citizen and even played for the national team of USA. Yet, listed as Hungarian in the NASL records – but American when he played in Europe, for he moved often from one continent to another. Big names, not so bi names… who is not familiar with the names above can just Google them and find out. Perhaps the most famous new arrival this year was Gerd Muller. If not the biggest, at least the most emblematic.

Gerd Muller displaying his new shirt – contract signed with Fort Lauderdale Strikers. On his right, the old star of the team – one George Best. Well, who can dream of more lethal strikers than Muller and Best together? Note the number Muller got – 15. Strange, for NASL heavily promoted ‘brands’ – and Muller’s ‘brand’ was number 9. The other option was 13 – the number he used at the 1970 and 1974 World Cups. The new number was not one associated with Muller. Then again, George Best played with number 3 this season. Eventually these two got one more famous addition to help them from the midfield – the Peruvian star Teofilo Cubillas. Jumping ahead, he had excellent season. Muller too, but the picture above was a hint of the life in NASL:

Soon Muller was photographed enjoying American life. Doesn’t look concerned with the next game… NASL was really well paid good time for aging stars. A bit of football and back to the pool with glass in hand – George Best was the master at that. Gerd Muller was starting to enjoy his booze too… eventually becoming an alcoholic, just like Best.

As for the less important than drinking activity – playing football – this photo shows something unthinkable: Muller vs Beckenbauer. They never played against each other before 1979. The famous teammates, fond of each other, creating fantastic moments for years together, now were opposing each other. And both using new, unfamiliar numbers. Well, this was NASL summerized in three photos – no wonder European and South American players loved it. George Best summed it once upon a time: one can spent hours everyday in the bar and nobody will ever bother him with nasty press. After all, socker players were never real stars in North America – the press covered baseball, american football, basketball, ice hockey. Golf and tennis players, boxers were more important too – and socker players enjoyed almost anonymous, but rich life to indulge in their vices. British players liked their drink, Neeskens his drugs, and so on – and nobody cared. Life was great and to hell with football.

Mexico I Division

Two changes in 1st division for the new season – one was normal, the other – peculiar.

Club Deportivo Zacatepec (Zacatepec city, Morelos state) was the 2nd division winner the pervious season and promoted. It was a quick return to top flight for the ‘Caneros’ (‘Sugarcane growers’) – although their best years were in the 1950s, usually they played in first division. Relegated in 1976-77, they came after a season in the lower division.

The second new name was really new: Deportivo Neza.

The club was founded in 1978 and was member of the top division without even playing a single official match. This was possible in Mexico because of peculiar rules – a combination of traditional football rules and US rules. The Mexican league, like professional leagues in USA, sold franchises and that was what the participating clubs owned. And had the right to sell. The franchise was the whole thing – not the name, not the location. As a result, clubs appeared and disappeared, popping in different cities and confusing forever fans and historians. After the 1977-78 season ended the city of Neza bought the franchise of Club de Futbol Laguna. Deportivo Neza was founded and took the place of now defunct club in first division. Go figure… was there continuation or was it something entirely new? Deportivo Neza itself did not last long -in 1982 the club – or the franchise? – was sold and moved to Tamaulipas, becoming Correcaminos UAT. Years later Deportivo Neza was resurrected and today plays in the Mexican 3rd division. Meantime Correcaminos was gone and the cities of Neza and Laguna had been quite regularly represented in first division. Tracing who is who is very difficult – Mexican teams are often written either as just city names or by their nicknames, both suggesting continuation, not different entities. Just looking at final tables, it seems that Neza has long, long history. In the same time Deportivo Neza and, say, Toros Neza have nothing in common… or may be they have… Anyhow, the system provided a way around traditional rules of ascent, a parallel system of going up – a club may go up from the bottom of the system, from league to league, via standard rules of promotion. Or may bye a franchise and become a member of first division without the difficulties of having to play at all. The ‘Coyotes’, as Deportivo Neza were nicknamed, chose the quick way – as many other short or long lasting clubs… or franchises?

New ‘Coyotes’ were hardly new as a roster at their debut. They impressed no one in their first season. At the end, what mattered was only that: there was no more Club de Futbol Laguna and there was Deportivo Neza. The beloved cliché of sports journalists – ‘writing history’, ‘re-writing history’, ‘the rest is history’ – hardly apply in the Mexican case: precisely history is difficult to uncover and as for ‘writing it’… the ‘Coyotes’ were apparently not great writers.

The Mexican league was subdivided into 4 groups of 5 teams each. All teams played twice against each other, as everywhere in the world, but every group had separate table. The top two teams of each group went ahead, the rest finished the season. The team with least points among the bottom placed in the groups was relegated. Deportivo Neza finished last in Group 4 – so much for ‘writing history’ – but escaped relegation. Veracruz from Group 1 finished with 23 points. Club Social y Deportivo Jalisco (Guadalajara) – now defunct – had 28 in Group 2, and Deportivo Neza – 30 points. Hardly a memorable start, but at least the Coyotes escaped relegation. From the teams unable to go ahead perhaps the unluckiest were Atlante and Puebla.

Atlante, old club from Mexico City, was normally expected to perform better – clubs from the capital should have more money than others and therefore better teams. But Atlante finished 4th in Group 1.

Puebla finished 3rd in Group 3.

The winners were mixed bag – some typical favourites, some inreasingly getting stronger young clubs, and some surprises. Zacatepec, just coming back from 2nd division, was one of the surprises. Monterrey and America were the top two in Group 1, UNAM and Atletico Potosino from Group2, Cruz Azul and Toluca – Group 3, and UANL and Zacatepec – Group 4. If a normal table was made, Cruz Azul would have been 1st – they had the most points, 51, followed by UANL with 48. Monterrey and America, however, would not be among the best teams in such a table – they earned less points than two clubs taking 3rd places in their groups.

The second stage divided the 8 group winners into 2 quarter-final groups – the winners of each going to the final. Cruz Azul were overwhelming in Group 1. UNAM clinched first place in Group 2 thanks to better goal average. UANL were unlucky 2nd, but they would have been 2nd if goal-difference was the decisive factor too. Zacatepec was the worst team at this stage, but still it was a good season for the newcomers.

The final opposed clubs from the capital – the old and popular Cruz Azul vs rapidly becoming leading and very popular UNAM, better known as Pumas today. It was not to be their year – they were unable to beat Cruz Azul at home and the scoreless tie seemingly benefited the opposition. But in Mexico City ‘home’ games meant little, if anything at all – the second match was the real final, winner takes all. This time Cruz Azul, nominally the host, scored 2 unanswered goals. 0-0 and 2-0 – the champions were dressed in blue.

Cruz Azul triumphed with their 6th title.

UNAM had Hugo Sanchez and Leonardo Cuellar, but Cruz Azul was perhaps the better squad. A bunch of Mexican stars, who played at the 1978 World Cup finals: two defenders – Guillermo Mendizabal (b.1954) and Ignacio Flores (b. 1953) and two midfielders – Horacio Lopez Salgado (b. 1948) and Gerardo Lugo Gomez (b.1955). Ignacio Flores is a club legend – he played only for Cruz Azul during his long career – 1972-1990. 18 years is no joke. The Mexican stars were helped by the usual foreign group of players, who were not international stars, but fitted well in the Mexican league – three Argentinians and one Paraguayan were part of the champion team. Jose Miguel Marin (b. 1945) was reliable goalkeeper, who arrived in Mexico in 1971 and stayed for 10 years. At the time of his arrival he was a member of the national team and played 2 matches for Argentina in 1971. The second Argentine was a defender – Miguel Angel Cornejo (b. 1952) – who played 5 seasons for Cruz Azul (1977-82). The most recent arrival was the midfielder Jose Luis Ceballos (b. 1953) – he came just before the season and instantly helped his new club to win the title. He was also the player with the shortest stay – only 2 seasons. In attack Cruz Azul had a Paraguayan: Carlos Jara Saguier (b. 1950), who arrived in 1975. He was also the only national team player among the foreigners – he played for Paraguay from 1970 to 1981. For Cruz Azul he played until 1983. The team was not world famous, but solid one it was. The title was well deserved – Cruz Azul dominated the league from the start to the end of the season.

Mexico II Division

North America was worth mentioning only because of Mexico and NASL. NASL was more then a threat to Mexican football – not only all foreign interest was focused on it, but the close proximity made it very easy for US and Canadian clubs to lure Mexican players. But nothing really dangerous happened in 1978-79: the stars stayed at home, particularly Hugo Sanchez and Leonardo Cuellar. Not only that, but Mexico acquired world-class star may be for the first time – Dirceu, the leader of Brazil, moved from Vasco da Gama to America (Mexico City). This was big: stars even old rarely joined Mexican clubs – and Dirceu was at his prime!

Dirceu with America jersey. A world class star in Mexico.

So, the league looked even stronger, despite the 1978 World Cup fiasco. Second division proceeded as usual – that is, entirely outside foreign interest. Atlas (Guadalajara) and Club Deportivo Cuautla (Cuautla) reached the final of the championship, deciding the single promotion.

CD Cuautla is practically unknown club, although they do exist to this very day. They were formed in 1952 and their earliest years were their best, for they played in the 1st division from 1955 to 1959, when they were relegated and played 2nd division football practically for ever since. They tried to return to top flight, of course – in 1971-72 Cuautla reached the 2nd division final and lost it to Atlas. Now it was their second attempt – against the same adversary. Cuautla hosted the first leg and lost it 1-2. It was over… almost. In the hostile Guadalajara they fought bravely and managed 1-1 tie. Close, but they lost for a second time the battle for promotion to Atlas.

Atlas, normally 1st division member, was relegated in the 1977-78 season and were eager to return to their rightful place. Unlike Cuautla, Atlas had been one of the stronger Mexican clubs and a constant member of top division. They came back quickly, but were not overwhelming champions – modest Cuautla gave them hard time. Yet, all finished well and Atlas won the promotion, just like in 1971-72.

Copa America final

Peru joined the three group winners and the semi-finals opposed the reigning South America champions to Chile. Brazil played against Paraguay. And expected to win. The other winner was not so easy to predict, but perhaps Peru was favoured – they played well at the World Cup 1978, which Chile did reach. Peru had few well known around the world players too. However, Cubillas, Sotil, and Oblitas were not in the team. In front of 50 000 fans, Chile surprisingly won in Lima. Carlos Caszely scored both goals for his team.

He silenced the home crowd in the 36th minute. Mosquera equalized in the 71st, but it was Peruvian day.

Caszely (third from left) scored a second goal in the 76th minute and was substituted 4 minutes later. Peru lost at home and the chances of repeating 1975 were next to nothing.

The losers in Lima, from left: Rubén Toribio Díaz, Guillermo La Rosa, Roberto Mosquera, Jaime Duarte, César Cueto, Freddy Ravello, Jorge Olaechea, José Velásquez, Germán Leguía, Eusebio Acasuzo, Héctor Chumpitaz. More was expected from this team, but still there was one more match. No miracle happened in Santiago, where 75 000, largely Chileans, saw a bitter battle and two players were sent off – Rojas (Peru) in 33rd minute, and Figueroa (Chile) in the 40th. No goals were scored at all and Peru was eliminated. Chile went to the final.

Meantime, Brazil visited Paraguay and lost 1-2 in Asuncion. Once again there was new attacking line: Jair, Socrates, and Eder. Zico was out again. So was Paulo Cesar Carpeggiani. Falcao was the key midfielder, supported by Chicao and Tarciso. So far, Brazil was not impressive at all and may be changes were badly needed, but there were too many changes. It was different midfield and attack almost every match. And nothing worked… Brazil was 0-2 after the first half and managed to score a goal at last in the 79th minute. Palinha, who replaced Jair, scored the only goal. The strikers performed poorly again – Eder was also replaced. Yet, nothing really terrible – the match in Asuncion was expected to be difficult, but Brazil managed to lose by a goal. Now Palinha and ZeSergio – the substitutes in Asuncion – were regulars, Paulo Cesar Carpeggiani was back, with Falcao and Tita, and Marco Antonio started as left full back. Marco Antonio, world champions from 1970, and member of the 1974 world cup team, was out of favour for some time – and suddenly he was back again. Zico was out, though… Coutinho was clearly uncertain of his team, constantly made changes, keeping only Leao and the central defenders as regulars. Too many changes… no stability, and no clear idea. The experiments did not work so far – and did not work again. Falcao opened the score in the 29th minute. Two minutes later Milciades Morel equalized. Socrates scored from a penalty in the 61st – 2-1 Brazil. The advantage lasted only 7 minutes – Romero equalized again and the tough Paraguayans kept the tie to the end: 2-2. Brazil, instead of champions, were eliminated.

Perhaps Claudio Coutinho was really to blame – his team was far from great at the 1978 World Cup. This time he experimented too much, without success – he used 37 players in 6 games. Some choices were strange, mildly said. There was no really promising line and even he introduced a whole bunch of players soon to become world-famous, they became famous under another coach – Socrates, Falcao, Eder had to wait a few more years. Zico was in and out of the team – supposedly the greatest player of his generation was hardly the leader Brazil needed. Unfortunately, Carpeggiani was not either, contrary to what was expected from him after his impressive 1974 World Cup. 1979 was yet another disappointment, as the whole decade was for Brazil.

Chile vs Paraguay. Unexpected finalist, but well deserving to be there. Paraguay had won Copa America once – in the distant 1953, Chile – never. Chilean football was going up, but it was the same with Paraguayns: Olimpia (Asuncion) won Copa Libertadores this very year and the national team depended heavily on Olimpia players. The other slight advantage was individual – Chile depended on aging stars – Figueroa and Caszely. Paraguay – on rising stars, particularly Romero, considered at that time more talented than Maradona. The final was played as the whole tournament – two legs, home and away games. Paraguay hosted the first match – and won it with confidence 3-0. Romero scored twice and Victor Milciades Morel added the third.

The new heroes scoring and enjoying themselves.

28.11.79 Asunción, Defensores del Chaco


PAR – CHI 3:0 (2:0)


(40,000) Luis Gregorio Da Rosa URU


PAR: Fernández – Espínola, Paredes (79 Cibils), Sosa, Torales – Torres (62 Florentín),Kiese, Romero – Isasi, M.Morel, E.Morel

CHI: Osbén – Galindo, Valenzuela, Quintano, Escobar – Rivas, Soto, Bonvallet (46 Estay) -Rojas, Caszely, Fabbiani


1:0 Romero 12, 2:0 M.Morel 36, 3:0 Romero 85.

A week later Chile needed a win to stay alive – the rules stipulated a third match, if the finalists won one and lost the other match. The hosts clinched 1-0 victory, thanks to early goal. Two players were sent off in the 17th minute – Eduardo Bonvallet (Chile) and Eugenio Morel (Paraguay). It was not a friendly match… Chile was not overwhelming, but the struggle had to continue.

CHI – PAR 1:0 (1:0)


(55,000) Ramón Barreto URU


CHI: Osbén – Galindo, Valenzuela, Figueroa, Escobar – Rivas, Bonvallet, Rojas (85 Neira) -Caszely, Fabbiani (56 Estay), Véliz

PAR: Fernández – Solalinde, Paredes, Sosa, Torales – Romero, Kiese (46 Florentín), Talavera (80 Cabañas) – Isasi, M.Morel, E.Morel


1:0 Rivas 10


sent off: Bonvallet (17) / E.Morel (17)

There was nothing new about a third match – during the 1970s it was common to play a third final match in South America to decide winners at last. It had to be on neutral ground – in Buenos Aires, a week after the match in Santiago. Only 6000 attended… a tiny number for continental final, but in Argentina nobody cared much for either Chile, or Paraguay. Both teams battled, unable to score. Extra time was played to no change. 0-0.

11.12.79 Buenos Aires, José Amalfitani

PAR – CHI 0:0 (0:0, 0:0, 0:0)


(6,000) Arnaldo César Coelho BRA


PAR: Fernández – Espínola, Paredes, Sosa, Torales – Florentín, Kiese, Romero – Pérez(85 Cibils), M.Morel, Aquino (61 Torres)

CHI: Osbén – Galindo, Figueroa, Valenzuela, Escobar – Rivas, Dubó (90 Estay), Rojas – Caszely, Fabbiani (61 Yáñez), Véliz

No winner… But there was – goal-difference was the next decisive factor. And it was in favour of Paraguay! One can imagine the joy.

Unable to score a goal for 210 minutes – two matches plus overtime – Paraguay were champions of the continent. Thanks to their home victory. One can pity the Chileans…

Chile was not a great team, but not bad one either and the boys gave their best, Unfortunately, they came only second. One can be sorry for Figueroa and Caszely, who were getting old empty-handed. It was almost their last chance to win a trophy with the national team. Still, second in South America was a big achievement – the first silver medals for Chile.

Paraguay were of course happy with the cup in their hands. A second South American title ranked them immediately 4th most successful country on the continent.

Modest champions from a modest country. Paraguay really depended on small group of players and used almost the same regulars from the start to the end of the championship.

These are the main heroes: standing from left: Juan Espinola, Juan B. Torales, Flaminio Sosa, Carlos Kiese, Roberto Fernandez, Roberto Paredes.

First row: Aldo Florentin, Milciades Morel, Osvaldo Aquino, Amado Perez, Julio Cesar Romero.

Little known, all playing for Paraguayan clubs, and lead by equally unknown coach – Ranulfo Miranda. Eight players from Olimpia, which already won Copa Libertadores and was going to add the Intercontinental Cup to the trophy room. It was fully Paraguayan year – winning everything and adding a world class star as well – Julio Cesar Romero. ‘Romerito’ had excellent tournament and had the edge over younger Maradona: he was champion of South America. Maradona played a little bit for early eliminated Argentina… quite a difference. New champion, new star – that was the sum of Copa America. For Paraguay – perhaps the best year in the history of her football. As a legacy… this championship was quickly forgotten. Nothing really exciting, may be more disappointment. If one is not Paraguayan, of course.

Copa America

The big international championship of 1979 was Copa America – the oldest continental championship. For a second time it was organized without a host – the 10 countries were divided into three groups and the winners went to the ½ finals. Plus the champions of the previous tournament – Peru – which entered the competition directly in the ½ finals. Home and away matches were more difficult to stage and the competition took quite a long time – from July 18 until December 11. Even before any match was played there was something strange: Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay were the traditional powers, winning almost all tournaments and therefore – the constant favourites. But Uruguay was in decline during the 1970s. Argentina on the other hand were fresh world champions. Under normal circumstances, they and Brazil should have been the finalists and winner – one of them, Argentina more likely. There was no way for such final – Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia were together in Group 2. One was to be eliminated early, opening the road to easy victory to the other. However, the tournament was traditional mystery to outsiders – the relative strength of the smaller countries was entirely unknown. The big three often used players little known outside South America, so routinely their squads appeared experimental. Occasionally, it appeared that the favourites were not very interested – judging by the players they used. Copa America had little coverage outside the continent, but still – there was Brazil, and there was Argentina – the former vividly remembered from 1978 when they won the world championship, and the latter – eager to get revenge and prove better, for Brazil ended without losing a match at the World Cup and felt wronged by the suspect Argentinian victory over Peru, which eliminated Brazil. That much was calculated and expected… and it was not to be really.

Group 1 – Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela. Easy to predict group… Venezuela was the outsider, Colombia – not strong enough, Chile – on a slight ascent. All depended on Chile – if they played well, no problem. If they did not, may be Colombia had a chance. Colombia had no stars… the only recognizable name was their coach: the Yugoslavian Blagoje Vidinic, once upon a time a famous goalkeeper, known for coaching Morocco and Zaire at the World finals in 1970 and 1974. Nothing surprising happened – Venezuela tied her home games, thus leaving things as they were expected to be: the clash between Chile and Colombia was decisive. Colombia won at home against Chile – 1-0. The last three matches were simple to calculate: both favourites had to win big against Venezuela and Chile had to win somehow their home match against Colombia. Very likely goal-difference would to be decisive factor. Chile had small advantage: they hosted Venezuela after Colombia and the last match of the group was also in Santiago. Colombia won 4-0 against the outsiders. Chile, knowing already how much they had to score , won 7-0. Now they had to beat Colombia in Santiago – and they did: 2-0.

1. Chile 4 5 2 1 1 10-2

2. Colombia 4 5 2 1 1 5-2

3. Venezuela 4 2 0 2 2 1-12

Chile won the group phase.

Group 2 – Uruguay, Paraguay, and Ecuador. With Uruguay in bad shape, there was a chance for Paraguay, Ecuador been the outsider. So, similar situation to Group 1. Ecuador hosted the opening matches. The similarities with Group 1 ended right here: Paraguay clinched 2-1 victory in Quito. Uruguay had the slight advantage, knowing the result, and, therefore, knowing what to play for – a victory. It was 2-0 before the 10th minute of the match… but not for Uruguay. They eventually scored from a penalty – in the 79th minute – but Ecuador missed a penalty meantime. Clearly, Uruguay were in bad shape – it was not just unfortunate day. They needed to win all following matches after such start – Paraguay already had a 2-point lead. And they increased it to 4 points after easy 2-0 victory at home against Ecuador. Then Uruguay hosted Ecuador – and won, but with difficulties: 2-1. The direct clash between the neighbours was to decide everything… Uruguay had a bit of advantage: the first match was in Asuncion. It went well… Paraguay played with 10 men since the 35th minute, when Ovelar was sent off. No team managed to score, but the tie favoured Uruguay – they needed a home win. But Paraguay had their own ambitions, they scored first in Montevideo and the hosts struggled for a long time. The last ten minutes were dramatic – Uruguay finally got the lead. They equalized from a penalty in the 53rd minute, and in the 83rd Paz scored a second goal. 2-1 and only seven minutes in front of home crowd – the chances of Paraguay were slim. If any… In the 88th minute Morel equalized, turning the wheel again and this time Uruguay had only a tiny chance: 2 minutes to go and they had to score. They did not. Eugenio Morel was the hero – he scored both goals for his country and qualified Paraguay.

1. Paraguay 4 6 2 2 0 6-3

2. Uruguay 4 4 1 2 1 5-5

3. Ecuador 4 2 1 0 3 4-7

Paraguay to the ½ finals.

Group 2 was to be the big clash and drama, perhaps the final before the final, for the battle between Brazil and Argentina most likely would have precluded the championship. And a drama it was… Bolivia hosted Argentina and won 2-1. It was strange Argentina… only Passarella, Diaz, and Lopez were from the team winning the World Cup a year earlier. Most players were entirely unknown – Vidalle, Saporiti, Gaspari, Larraquy, Fortunato, Castro, Gaitan, Coscia… looked like Menotti gave a break not only to his champions, but to their reserves too. Did not appear as trying some new players as a part of developing the winning squad – it looked like sheer arrogance, a victory so certain, there was no need even to field half-good players. Brazil visited La Paz next – the approach of Claudio Coutinho was very different from Menotti’s: Brazil had some new players, but it was not rag-tag squad. Zico was not in the team, but Paulo Cesar Carpeggiani was back. The new – and unknown – names were only three: Pedrinho, Nilton Santos, and Juan. The rest of the team were either well established stars like Leao and Roberto Dinamite, or rising stars like Ze Sergio, blended with regulars from 1978. Like Argentina, they scored first. And like the match against Argentina, Bolivia did not give up, equalized, and then scored second and winning goal.

Turning point: Aragones beats Leao from a penalty in the 36th minute – 6 minutes after Roberto Dinamite gave the lead to Brazil also from a penalty. Not only a big upset, but complete destruction of the expected: suddenly modest Bolivia was leading with 4 points. Entirely unknown Bolivian player beat the reigning world champions and the team with most world titles in history. Perhaps the best known name of the Bolivian team was the coach – Ramiro Blacutt. Back in the early 1960s, he had successful playing career, including a season with Bayern (Munich). A historic name – if not the first South American to play in West Germany, certainly he was the first Bolivian to play there. But there was more, much more – he was a regular of the Bolivian squad which won Copa America in 1963! They disturbed the eternal status quo of South America for the first time since 1953. Five countries won the championship until then, but Bolivia was the only pariah to ever win it – so far. It looked like a second miracle happening again with Blacutt in the centre of it. Bolivia had good schedule too – the next match was between Argentina and Brazil, then they played their two away matches, and the last match of the group was the 2nd meeting of arch-enemies. One thing was sure: scheming was impossible between Argentina and Brazil – even if one of them was already gone and the other needed points to prevail over Bolivia, there would be no favours. Brazil vs Argentina at Maracana – time for revenge! Brazil fielded stronger team – Zico was back, but the troubles of the attacking line were easy to see. Coutinho chamged all strikers from the ill-fated visit to La Paz. Instead of Renato, Roberto Dinamite, and Ze Sergio – Tita, Zico, and Palinha. Menotti made only one significant change – Maradona was on the field. The team was still very weird, but jumping ahead, it was the team Menotti chose to use for this tournament. Hard to tell why – the world champions of 1978 were not only far from old, but most of them were the key players at the next world finals in 1982. It did not look like building a new squad – almost none of those used in 1979 became a long-lasting Argentine national team player. Actually, these boys left no trace. Yet, even if they were third-rate, Brazil is enough motivation for an Argentine , and the team fought – Brazil scored first, then Coscia equalized. But that was all… Tita scored a second goal early in the 2nd half and Brazil won 2-1. Only if every remaining match ended with victory of the host country Argentina had a chance to win the group on goal-difference. Most likely the world champions were already eliminated…

Argentina won easy 3-0 over Bolivia, Passarella scoring in the 1st minute, and Maradona scoring the last goal. Brazil had to win too, but not by much – they did: 2-0. It was just perfect for Argentina 1-0 until the last minute, when Zico scored the second goal. No miracle – Bolivia finished their campaign with 2 wins and 2 losses and negative goal-difference. Brazil was leading the group before the last match, but Argentina still had a chance – they hosted direct clash and needed a victory. Any victory… There was no Maradona among the starters, but this time a current star – the biggest Argentine star at the time perhaps – was included: Bochini. Brazil responded in kind – Socrates, the rapidly rising genius was on the field for the first time in this championship. Falcao, another new talent, came out as a substitute. The new Brazlian attacking line – Zico, Socrates, Ze Sergio – proved to be really dangerous at last: Brazil got the lead twice, Socrates scoring both goals. Argentina managed only to equalize – Passarella restored the equilibrium in the 38th minute, and Diaz equalized again in the 71st. The world champions were not able for anything else… 2-2. They were out, Brazil went ahead.

1. Brazil 4 5 2 1 1 7-5

2. Bolivia 4 4 2 0 2 4-7

3. Argentina 4 3 1 1 2 7-6



Venezuela had two big news in 1979: new champion and second level championship. Eight clubs participated in the first second level tournament, but there was no promotion yet. Just for the record, the participants: Aragua FC, Atlético Portuguesa, Endeca-Lara, Falcón FC, Industriales de Oriente, Petroleros del Zulia, Polisport-Lara, Unión Deportiva Valera. The first division remained closed league, so it hardly mattered who won the second level.

The professional first division had the typical for South America tw0stage formula: standard league championship at first, and then the top 6 clubs proceeded to the second stage mini-league. Nothing was carried over from the first stage, not even bonus points – there was third stage: a play-off between the champions of the first two championships. The only surprise to outsiders was Portuguesa FC, the champions of the previous 4 years: they barely qualified for the second round, having just a point more than Deportivo Italia, which finished 7th. The the reason for the sudden decline became clear: Portuguesa FC had financial difficulties and owed money to the Venezuelan Football Federation. Unable to pay its due, the club was disqualified and Deportivo Italia went to play the final stage instead of Portuguesa FC. The league was more or less equal – at least 8 of the members. After them was Deportivo Portugues, neither here, nor there – they fell behind the top 8, yet, were much stronger the bottom three, leaving Valencia FC 5 points behind. Three outsiders – Valencia FC , 10th with 16 points, the forgotten by now Miranda-Canarias (Los Teques) – 11th with 11 points, and the absolute outsider Atletico Falcon (Coro) last with only 8 points. So much for the bottom of the league, which finished the season early.

On the top single point divided positions and Deportivo Tachira clinched the first place with 29 points. ULA Merida was 2nd with 28, Deportivo Galicia – 3rd with 27 points. Deportivo Tachira was a surprise, but first stage meant only qualification for the final, so they were not expected to play very hard in the second phase.

The battle in the second stage went between the above mentioned three teams, Deportivo Italia, replacing Portuguesa FC, Atletico Zamora , and Estudiantes (Merida). Most likely, Deportivo Tachira and Deportivo Italia were expected to be the weaker teams at the final, but it was not so: Estudiantes (Merida) were.

Estudiantes did not win even a match in the second stage: they lost five games and tied the other five, thus finishing last with 5 points. Atletico Zamora were barely better than Estudiantes – and also entirely out of the race for first place: they earned 6 points, but won 2 matches.

The rest of the final group were pretty much equal in strength – 2 points divided 1st from 4th at the end, and head-to-head record determined the winner. Deportivo Italia competed well, but finished 4th with 11 points. ULA Merida was 3rd with 12 points. Deportivo Tachira and Deportivo Galicia finished with 13 points.

Deportivo Galicia, with the help of Peruvian imports, had the best goal-difference in the mini-league: 17-7. Yet, they finished 2nd… head-to-head record benefited Deportivo Tachira. Both clubs had exactly the same records otherwise: 6 wins, 1 tie, 3 losses. Tachira had 15-7 goal-difference and elsewhere would be 2nd placed team, but local rule made them winners. Since they won both stages, there was no final play-off – Deportivo Tachira won the title.

The champions were not overwhelming victors: they won the first stage by a point and only head-to-head record gave them 1st place over Deportivo Galicia in the second stage. One can say the boys just fought well and wit ha bit of luck came on top by tiny margin. Mat be not great winners, but instant legends, for this was the very first title the club won.

At the time, their log had no 5 stars included, of course – they just got their first. They also continued the dominance of young clubs in the national championship – since 1975, the Venezuelan champions were very, very young clubs. Deportivo Tachira was founded in 1974 – a bit later than Portuguesa FC, who won 4 titles in a row, starting in 1975. It took only 5 years of existence for the club from San Cristobal to triumph. The credit goes to their founder: in 1970 Italian immigrant Gaetano Greco founded amateur club in San Cristobal – Juventus, named after the famous club from Turin. The original colours followed the name – black and white. Greco noticed that not only the city, but the whole province had no professional team and swiftly changed things by founding a new club in January 1974– Deportivo Tachira. It was new club, yet… not entirely new, for it was based on Juventus – players were moved to the new club, named at first Deportivo San Cristobal. The colours were blue and white – the colours of Italy. This did not last long – in January 1975 the club was renamed Deportivo Tachira – so to represent not just the city, but the whole province, and the colours changed to yellow and black. The new colours also represented the province, but additionally they were preferred by the Uruguayan coach Jose ‘Pocho’ Gil – a Penarol (Montevideo) fan. The changes proved to be final – name and colours remain. The beginning was on grand and ambitious scale and only few years after foundation the young club won its first title. Thus, they got – and deserved it too – the nickname El equipo que nació grande ( the club which was born big). As a final note, this was their only second season playing oficially under the name Deportivo Tachira – the club was renamed in 1975, but played in first division as Deportivo San Cristobal until 1978.



Ecuador had the smallest league in South America – 10 teams. Yet, they played more games than the members of the West German Bundesliga: 36 vs 34. Like everywhere else, the championship had two separate stages, with a twist: both stages were played as standard league championship and the top 3 teams of each tournament went to play a final mini-league stage deciding the champion. But the bottom 2 clubs of each stage were relegated immediately, so the last 2 of the first stage were replaced by 2 promoted clubs for the second stage. The teams on the top got bonus points, with which they entered the last decisive tournament – the stage winners – 3 points, the 2nd placed – 2, and the 3rd placed – 1 point. This formula made more sense than any other variation used in South America. Half of the league members were from Quito – exactly 5 clubs. After 18 rounds, the final table of the first stage was may be curious for Ecuadorians, but foreign observers were hardly able to make much sense of it – Ecuadorian football was unknown outside South America.

Bonita Banana (Machala) finished last and was relegated – the club does not exist for so long, it hardly left even traces of information about itself. People perhaps are familiar with the name just because they bye bananas – the fruits still carry little stickers with this very name of the producing company and very likely the club represented this very company, but did not last long. Down they went to oblivion, along with a stronger club – El Nacional (Quito) finished 9th. Two better known to foreigners clubs – Emelec and Barcelona – had weak first stage, finishing 5th and 7th. The top three places were occupied by Universidad Catolica (Quito) – 3rd, LDU (Quito) – 2nd, and Deportivo Cuenca (Cuenca) – 1st, and perhaps surprise winners. The trio qualified for the final stage and the second stage was not very appealing to them: the only question was one of relegation – the three clubs had only to play good enough to avoid the relegation spots.

Manta (Manta) and Aucas (Quito) were promoted and played in the second stage. Evidently, Quito was the big football center of the country and no matter what, half of the league consisted of Quito clubs – one went down, but immediately another went up. Newcomers usually are not expected to shake a league, but there was a bit of surprise this year: Aucas was the more famous of the two promoted, but it was not them changing the status quo. In fact, Aucas were what was expected a newcomer to be: weak. They tried their best, but finished 9th – and down they went as soon as they joined first division. Last in the second stage was Deportivo Quito – this was a surprise, for Deportivo had strong first stage, missing qualification spot only on worse goal-difference. They were 4th and expected to be strong again and try to go to the final. But they simply collapsed in the second stage, earning just 9 points – the worst team performance this year.

Deportivo Quito – instead of trying to win the title, they were relegated.

Up the table, the winners of the first stage predictably played only to stay above relegation zone – they took 6th, 7th, and 8th places, saving strength for the final stage. It was not good year for Barcelona – once again they finished in mid-table. The little known newcomers Manta were the big surprise of the stage – they finished 3rd. Brave performance and sudden chance to win even the title. It was also the only club going tot he final stage with negative goal-difference – a mere curiosity, for the finalist carried only bonus points to the final. Tecnico Universitario (Ambato) finished 2nd and Emelec waa very strong this time – they were first, with record 25 points: the best record of both preliminary stages.

The final mini-league had awards for two teams – the title, of course, was most important, but 2nd place was too, for whoever took it represented Ecuador in Copa Libertadores. Deportivo Cuenca apparently exhausted itself in the first stage of the championship – they were weak in the second stage and even weaker at the finals: dead last, 2 points behind the 5th team, even with their 3 bonus points. Actually, only two clubs competed for the title.

LDU finished 5th. 10 points was really nothing.

Tecnico Universitario finshed 4th, also with 10 points, but better goal-difference than LDU.

Manta was great – they finished 3rd, with 3rd best performance at the final stage – they earned 10 points, 2 more than LDU and Tecnico Universitario. Their bonus point moved them above the rivals, entering the stage with 2 bonus points. Manta was not a title contender at all, but still it was fantastic season – they were not even in the league when the opening stage of the championship started, and finished with bronze.

The battle for the title was Quito rivalry: Emelec vs Universidad Catolica. Seemingly, both clubs played careful strategy so far – Universidad Catolica was satisfied with qualifying for the finals in the first stage, which Emelec practically missed, concentrating on the second stage. Both teams gave their best at the final stage and Universidad Catolica was a bit better than Emelec – they won 15 points to the 14 of their rivals. But… bonus points were favoring Emelec and Universidad Catolica finished 2nd.

Heavy price paid for careful overture: Universidad Catolica perhaps saved their strength for the final stage, but not excelling earlier cost them the title.

Emelec triumphed thanks to winning the second stage – the 3 bonus points gave the title, but it was not undeserved. Emelec had strong second and final stage, a bit different approach than the minimal one of Universidad Catolica.

5th title for Emelec and their first since 1972. Great year for one of the most popular Ecuadorian clubs. Once upon a time workers from Ecuador Electric Company – Empresa Electrica del Ecuador – formed a little club of heir own. They named it after their employer – EmElec. Nothing much at first, but soon things changed, not without help from the company. The club became popular and professional, one of the strongest in the country. But they had difficulties winning – they routinely came close, yuet, losing at the end, earning the nickname ‘Los Eternos Vicecampeones’ – eternally second. Which naturally irritates fans. Winning a championship perhaps meant more for the club and the fans than to others – and 5th title was great success, coming after long wait.


Bolivia final


The ½ finals were even better geographically – both were local derbies: in Santa Cruz Oriente Petrolero seemingly overcome their city rivals Blooming 4-2 and 1-2. Goal-difference did not count at this stage, though. In La Paz The Strongest and Bolivar were entirely tied – both matches ended 1-1. The finalists had to be decided in one more meeting. This time Oriente Petrolero won 2-1 and The Strongest prevailed at last – 3-1.

No luck for Bolivar – the first two matches against The Strongest did not prove they were weaker. Standing, from left: Carlos Conrado Jiménez, Ricardo Troncoso, Waldino Palacios, Jesús Reynaldo, Ramiro Vargas, Edwin Céspedes.

First row: Carlos Espínola, Carlos Aragonés, Luis Gregorio Gallo, Carlos Borja, Miguel Aguilar.

Blooming tried their best, but they were a bit weaker than Oriente Petrolero during the whole season.

Championship final at last. Two-leg final. At home, The Strongest won 2-0. Oriente Petrolero took revenge when they hosted the second leg – also 2-0. Drama to the end – like the semi-finals, two matches were not enough. Decisive play-off was played on neutral ground – in Cochabamba – and Oriente Petrolero extracted minimal victory: 2-1.

Strong, but not the strongest this year. The Strongest finished second.

Excellent season for Oriente Petrolero – they won their 2nd title. It was not an easy victory, but at the end they prevailed. For a young club – they were founded in 1955 – not bad at all. Originally, they were just a workers club, named after their neighbourhood – Oriente – and their prime employment – The Bolivian oil company (YPFB). Clubs with such modest beginnings rarely go up, but this guys did, evolving into professional club. Counting titles is difficult in the Bolivian case, for there were different championships – at first, the championship of La Paz, itself moving from amateur to semi-professional status; then championship including three provinces (Torneo Integrado, including La Paz, Cochabamba, and Oruro); then national semi-professional league – and the first title in 1971 was in this tournament. Because of the many changes, even the club counts 1979 as their first national title. Yet, Bolivia lists championships – and winners – since 1914 and no matter what qualifications are given, the list is steady. According to it, Oriente Petrolero was Bolivian champion once before and this was there second title. Complicated story, but one thing was sure: Oriente Petrolero established itself among the top Bolivian clubs – and remains among them to this very day.