European Champions Cup

The European Champions Cup was true to expectations right to the final, save for one surprise. One, but huge: in the first round the reigning cup holders were eliminated by CSKA (Sofia). The Bulgarians won both legs against Nottingham Forest – 1-0 each match. True, Nottingham Forest were never overwhelming team and already showed signs of reaching the top of their potential and losing interest. True, CSKA dethroned Ajax in 1973 and by 1980 managed to build new strong team after years of uncertainty, lead by young talented coach Asparoukh Nikodimov. But it was great surprise nevertheless: Bulgarian teams never performed well against British teams and Nothingham was the best team in the world at the moment. Reason failed, the underdogs won.

Georgy Iliev (CSKA, in white) tackles Frank Gray – determined Bulgarians won and the days of Nottingham Forest were over. Forever.

The draw was easy on the favourites all the way to the ¼ finals and CSKA was lucky too – they played against Szombierki (Bytom) in the second round. The weakest ever Polish champion was no match and lost both legs. In the ¼ finals CSKA met the second English representative – Liverpool – and this time nothing unusual happened: Liverpool, in perfect form, destroyed the mavericks 5-1 and 1-0. Only Inter (Milan) and Crvena zvezda (Belgrade) was tough pair and after the first leg the Yugoslavian champions seemingly had the edge – they managed a 1-1 tie at the inhospitable Italian ground. In Belgrade Inter won 1-0 and qualified.

No more easy games at the semi-finals: Liverpool vs Bayern and Real Madird vs Inter. All former Champions Cup winners with great ambitions. Real won 2-0 at home and lost only 0-1 away, thus reaching the final for the first time since 1966. Bayern survived in Liverpool – 0-0 – but Liverpool was not giving up: 1-1 in Munich. The away goal qualified Liverpool, may be luckily.

On May 27, 1981 Liverpool and Real Madrid met at Parc de Princes, Paris. In front of over 48 000 spectators, not the greatest crowd attending a final, the opponents had a lot at stake: Liverpool wanted their 3rd Cup – Real Madrid its 7th. Perhaps the pressure was more on the Spaniards – their fantastic dominance in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a heavy burden. The club lost a lot of its aura after 1966 and was desperate to restore its fame as a world football leader. But times changed… the battle was heavy and not very inspiring.

Laurie Cunningham in attack – an Englishman against English team made largely of Scots.

Liverpool defended well, not forgetting to attack. As a whole, they were slightly better, but the strikers were unable to put the ball behind the goalkeepers.

Near the end a goal was scored at last – Alan Kennedy, the left full back of Liverpool, gave the lead to the British in the 82nd minute. And they preserved it to the final whistle.

Final, Parc des Princes, Paris, 27 May 1981, att 48360


Liverpool (0) 1 Real Madrid (0) 0

82′ 1-0 L: A.Kennedy


Liverpool (trainer Paisley:Clemence; Neal, Thompson, Hansen, A.Kennedy; Lee, McDermott, Souness,R.Kennedy; Dalglish (Case), Johnson

Real Madrid (trainer Boskov: Agustin; Cortes (Pineda), Navajas, Sabido; Del Bosque, Angel, Camacho, Stielike; Juanito, Santillana, Cunningham

Referee: Palotai (Hungary)

Phil Thompson receives the European Champions Cup.

After that – happy winners Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish, and Alan Hansen make their lap of triumph.

Real Madrid was perhaps bitterly disappointed – no 7th Cup for them – but the truth was they did not really deserve it. Compared to Liverpool, Real was inferior team. Yes, they had Stielike, Santillana, Camacho, Del Bosque, Juanito, Cunningham, but the defense was rather ordinary. Even in the 1970s Real had stronger squads. They fought, but it was clear that winning would have been possible only with grit and cunning. Real had to wait and reshape before winning anything in Europe.

Kings of Europe for a third time. What more to say? Liverpool came even with the great teams of the early 1970s – Ajax and Bayern – thus becoming one of the greatest clubs ever. In consistency and wise policy they surpassed everybody: Real was unable to keep excellent squad after 1966, Ajax disintegrated after 1973, Bayern had 5 miserable years after their last triumph, but Liverpool kept strong squad since 1964, which seemingly was only getting better and stronger. Changes were carefully made and those gone were replaced by new excellent players. Not long ago Kevin Keegan was the bog star – and he still was arguably the best European player – but Liverpool had a new emperor, Kenny Dalglish, and better don’t ask who was the better player – he or Keegan. New boys were pushing ahead all the time: Hansen, Alan Kennedy, Johnson, Lee. A national team player – Case – was already reduced to a substitute. Liverpool was already a legend and beloved across the world. With them, the English club dominance continued: the European Champions Cup was kept in England for a straight 5th year and rightly so: European football became too tactical and physical. The English teams were the only ones playing brave attacking football – the fans liked that. It was only fair Liverpool to win and they did. Kings of Europe indeed.


Intercontinental Cup

The clash for supremacy between Europe and South America finally was back on solid track in 1981 – the Toyota Cup, which everybody still called the Intercontinental Cup, not only was stabilized by Japanese sponsorship and hosting, but was restored to the actual year: it was played in December, unlike the previous year, when it was scheduled after the end of the actual year. It was still a compromise, but there was no other convenient time in the season: European and South American tournaments run in different months, the calendar was busy. The winter was not to the liking of South American clubs, but they were not really complaining. The time, however, slightly benefited European teams – they were used to winter conditions. Flamengo and Liverpool were the contestants this time and it was hard to predict the outcome: Liverpool were the best club in Europe for some years. They were supposed to be in perfect form, for usually English teams gear to be in top form in the busy and tough December. But they were also so much involved in the domestic championship, so it was not entirely clear were they able to keep their minds on the Toyota Cup. After all, the busy December calendar often decides the championship of England. Flamengo had its own problems – they were busy with the new Brazilian championship in the difficult early stages, plus the Rio championship. English clubs were always considered to be those with most games played in a season, but Brazilians played more – who was the more tired was difficult to decide. Both opponents fielded their best, of course, and the match started in front of 62, 000, mostly Japanese, who may have been fairly ignorant of the game, but enthusiastically cheered both teams.

Neither team was prepared to give up, and seemingly the more physical British players – and also the more famous than the Brazilians – were going to run down Flamengo. But nothing like this happened:

Adilio scored.

Nunes scored twice. Flamengo won 3-0. Liverpool was destroyed – which was a surprise in Europe: not that Flamengo won, but that they won so confidently. In December… the British time.

Tokyo. Field: National Stadium.

December 13, 1981.

Referee: Vasquez (Mexico), att: 62000.


Flamengo (Brazil) 3-0 Liverpool (England)


Goals: Adilio and Nunes (2).


Flamengo: Raul – Leandro, Mozer, Junior, Marinho, Amdrade, Tita, Adilio,Zico, Lice, Nunes.


Liverpool: Grobbelaar – Neal, Thompson, Hansen, Lawrenson, R. Kennedy, Lee, McDermott (D. Johnson), Souness, C. Johnson, Dalglish.

Flamengo at the top of the world.

Liverpool before the start of the match. All smiles and confidence. But it was also all or nothing and the best team in Europe got nothing. There were a few newly added players, but to say that Liverpool was weaker than a year or two earlier would be wrong: for years the club was carefully adjusting the team, maintaining its class. Grobelaar was young and compared to Clemence, a weaker goalkeeper, but Clemence was no longer around and Grobelaar was to be constant feature of the very successful Liverpool in the 1980s. There was nothing really to blame Liverpool for – in the clash of two very different football schools, the South American one prevailed. No shame to lose to Brazilian team – even the British recognized the quality of samba football.

As for Flamengo – it was their year. Winning everything internationally and bursting with bright stars, rapidly becoming famous. Nunes was the new discovery and after scoring twice in the net of no other, but Liverpool, Nunes was expected to be the next great thing in the game – the expectations did not come true, but he had his moment of glory. The giant was Zico and there was no longer any doubt about it: he delivered. As it was the first internationally glorious year for Flamengo, the team instantly became a legend, cherished forever:

Today one can use the great winners as wallpaper for his/her computer. In real time – most of this boys became big international stars – in 1982 and 1986 – and... moved to European clubs. The legend lives, though.

South American Player Of The Year

South American Player of the Year was voted Zico, followed by Maradona and Junior. Two Flamengo players among the best, which is understandable.

Arthur Antunes Coimbra, known as Zico, was the most popular Brazilian football player for a long time and not at all newcomer to international recognition, but so far his career was kind of strange. He was noticed when he was 14-years old and advised to try Flamengo, which was Zico’s wish anyway, for he was Flamengo fan. And there he played since 1967. He debuted in the first national Brazilian championship in 1971, made big impression almost immediately, and was called the White Pele. But in 1972 he almost quit playing football – he called and played for the Olympic team of Brazil in the qualifications, but was not selected in the team going to the finals in Munich, West Germany. Zico was very frustrated and decided to quit football – he did not join Flamengo’s training camp for 10 days. This was perhaps the most telling moment of his early days: a star, adored by fans, praised by Pele, but… not a national team player and, on top of it, Flamengo did nothing memorable in the national championships. Zico eventually debuted for Brazil in 1976, yet, his career was sketchy: by the end of 1981, he made 49 appearances for Brazil, scoring 34 goals – quite impressive at the time, but… 12 matches and 10 goals belonged to 1981. At the 1978 World Cup he was not exactly memorable player and there was another misfortune: against Sweden he scored after a corner kick in the last minute, but the referee called the end of the game when the ball was still in the air and the match ended 1-1. Meantime everybody started talking of Maradona… Zico was voted South American player of the Year in 1977. Maradona easily left him behind – he was voted number one twice: 1979 and 1980. Until 1980 Zico had only 5 Rio de Janeiro State titles. Nothing bigger than that… so he had to wait until 1980 for real success: to win the Brazilian championship at first and everything internationally the next year. Arguably, his best year was 1981, when he was already 28-years old. Compared to Pele… very little and very late. Compared to Maradona… the Argentine had the future at his side. Zico managed to come equal to Maradona in 1981 – twice number one player of South America.

But he was already a big international star, one of the best players of his time, and it was great that he and his club finally started winning. Zico was wonderful this year and soared above Maradona.

Copa Libertadores

Copa Libertadores. Nacional (Montevideo) entered at the semi-final stage, all other teams depended on the luck of the draw at first as usual. Five groups of 4 teams each, only the winners qualified to the semi-finals. The Uruguayans were the luckiest, playing with the Venezuelan representatives. No fight at all in Group 5: Penarol and Bella Vista had it easy and the only question was who will be number one. As it turned out, the decisive match was the very first one in the group – Penarol beat Bella Vista 3-1 and in the long run this victory ensured them the first place, 2 points ahead of Bella Vista.

Group 1 opposed the Argentines to the Colombians. River Plate was the obvious favourite, but… the team full of reigning world champions lost both legs to Deportivo Cali and consequently finished second. Deportivo Cali lost to Atletico Junior and Rosario Central, so they had the same number of losses as River Plate. However, the Colombians won all other matches, unlike River Plate – it was the other visit to Colombia which decided their fate: Atletico Junior tied River Plate 0-0 and at the end Deportivo Cali triumphed with 1 point more than mighty River Plate.

Group 2 opposed Chilean to Peruvians, fairly equal and balanced group, where anything was possible. It remained exactly that – a duel between rival neighbours. Cobreloa and Sporting Cristal emerged as favourites and 1 point difference decided the winner. It was a surprise one: Cobreloa (Calama), debutants in the tournament. The Chilean sensation did not lose any group match and excelled in something else: along with Penarol, they finished with the best defensive record in the first stage, allowing only 3 goals in 5 matches. In the same time they shared with Flamengo the second best striking record with 14 goals – only Bella Vista (Montevideo) scored more – 16.

Group 3 was supposed to be tough one: Brazilians vs Paraguayans. Skill vs grit, in theory, for Brazilian players were quite dirty and dull in the recent years, and Paraguayans topped South America not long ago on both club and national team level. But nothing difficult this season – the Brazilian clubs were way stronger and fought between themselves. And fought they did… Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro finished with 8 points each after winning 2 matches and tying 4. Goal-difference did not count and the rivals met in a decisive play-off on neutral ground in Goiania. The play-off did not finish – the match was stopped and abandoned in the 35th minute. The result was 0-0, but Flamengo was awarded the win. It was perhaps one of the greatest curiosity in football history: in the 35th minute Atletico Mineiro had its 5th expelled player! Only 6 players remained on the pitch and the ancient rule – so rarely used, people tend to forget its existence – called the end: a team has to have at least 7 players on the pitch, so the game to be allowed.

Play-off decided the winner of Group 4 too, but it was just a normal game. Bolivian vs Ecuadorians quickly became a battle between Jorge Wilstermann (Cochabamba) and The Strongest (La Paz) – traditional Bolivian rivalry. Both teams finished with 8 points and The Strongest had better goal-difference, but a play-of had to be played and was, in Santa Cruz. Now Jorge Wilstermann destroyed The Strongest 4-1, Jairzinho scoring two goals. Jorge Wilstermann qualified, adding one more curiosity to this edition of Copa Libertadores: they qualified without having positive goal-difference.

The semi-final groups was clearly fortunate for Flamengo – their opponents were Deportivo Cali (Colombia) and Jorge Wilstermann (Ecuador). Practically, no opposition – Flamengo won every game they played. The other group was theoretically tougher – two great Uruguayan enemies, Nacional and Penarol, plus Cobreloa (Chile), which was expected to be the outsider. What a surprise! Cobreloa won 3 and tied 1 match, leaving the famous clubs back in the dust. Nacional and Penarol finished without a single victory, evidently suffering from the matches between themselves – both 1-1 draws. Cobreloa took advantage from its home games, but they surprised Nacional in Montevideo, beating them 2-1. And thus the finalists were Flamengo (Rio de Janeiro) and Cobreloa (Calama). Still practically unknown debutantes vs one of the most famous clubs in South America, which, however, not only did not win Copa Libertadores so far, but never even reached a final. One can easily imagine the level of ambition in both camps and also is good to remember that the winner of Copa Libertadores often was decided after 3 games. A decisive play-off did not happened after 1977 and given the difference in class between the finalists – at least on paper – was hardly expected this year.

In front of almost 94, 000 fans the first leg of the final started at Maracana on November 13, 1981.

Captains Soto and Zico shake hands and after that the smiles are gone.

Flamengo attacked, Cobreloa defended, and the result stayed 0-0 until the 12th minute.

Then Zico scored and a bit later scored again – in the 30th minute Flamengo was leading 2-0. Game over? Not at all – in the second half Cobreloa managed to return one goal and the match ended 2-1.

1st leg. Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro, 13-11-1981


Flamengo – Cobreloa 2-1

12′ Zico 1-0

30′ Zico 2-0

65′ Merello 2-1


Flamengo: Raúl, Leandro, Figueiredo, Mozer, Júnior, Andrade, Zico, Adilio, Lico

(Baroninho), Nunes, Tita.

Cobreloa: Wirth, Rojas, Soto, Tabilo, Escobar, Alarcón, Jiménez, Merello, Múñoz

(R. Gómez), Siviero, Puebla.


Referee: Espósito (Argentina)

Attendance: 93,985

A week later Flamengo kept Cobreloa at bay until 79th minute, when Merello scored his second goal in the finals and the only one in Santiago.

Zico down, Cobreloa in fighting mood. It was all or nothing.

Raul on his knees – Victor Merello scored and Cobreloa won.

2nd leg. Estadio Nacional, Santiago, 20-11-1981


Cobreloa – Flamengo 1-0

79′ Merello 1-0


Cobreloa: Wirth, Jiménez, Tabilo, Soto, Escobar, Merello, Alarcón, R. Gómez

(Múñoz), Puebla, Siviero, W. Olivera.

Flamengo: Raúl, Leandro, Figueiredo, Mozer, Júnior, Andrade, Adilio, Zico, Lico

(Baroninho), Nunes (Nei Dias), Tita.


Referee: Barreto (Uruguay)

Attendance: 61,721

For the first time since 1977 Copa Libertadores final had to be decided by a third match. It was played on neutral ground – in Montevideo, Uruguay, which immediately dropped the audience. Three days after Cobreloa won, it was Flamengo in full flight.

Of course, it was tough match, but eventually Flamengo was getting the upper hand.

And the Brazilians were running away from the Chileans.

Defending well, but defense can survive assaults only so far.

Zico was unstoppable and in the 18th minute he scored. 11 minutes before the final whistle, he scored again – now it was over. One of his goals was a beauty:


A magnificent free kick, making Oscar Wirth entirely helpless. It is good to recall those days: a wall was never positioned at the required distance and moved ahead before the kicker reached the ball.

Zico finished Cobreloa – he scored all the goals for Flamengo, but this one was the sweetest.

Play-off. Centenario, Montevideo, 23-11-1981


Flamengo – Cobreloa 2-0

18′ Zico 1-0

79′ Zico 2-0


Flamengo: Raúl, Nei Dias, Marinho, Mozer, Júnior, Leandro, Andrade, Zico, Tita,

Nunes (Anselmo), Adilio.

Cobreloa: Wirth, Tabilo, Páez (Múñoz), Soto, Escobar, Jiménez, Merello, Alarcón,

Puebla, Siviero, W. Olivera.


Referee: Cerullo (Uruguay)

Attendance: 30,200

And now Copa Libertadores was given to the White Pele. The rest was just happiness.

Life is much better with cup in hands.

Flamengo – campeon!

Cobreloa came close… Of course, there was regret. Yet, the boys from mine town Calama were heroes. Four years ago nobody heard of them. They were still almost unknown in 1981. They were the third Chilean club failing to win Copa Libertadores, but it was still a fantastic achievement, for Cobreloa was the least famous club of all playing at the final so far. They were underdogs in every sense: they had a number of good players, but Soto, Wirth, Merello hardly qualified as huge stars – especially compared to Brazilians, even omitting Zico. Excellent job, but no cup.

Flamengo won its first Copa Libertadores – at last! It was not an easy victory, but finally the famous club managed to put itself on equal footing with the other South American grands. One can think this was a star-studded squad, but at the time it was more potential than actual stardom: Junior, Leandro, Raul, Mozer certainly became world-famous, but not this year. Even Nunes had to wait a little until the world really heard of him. The true star was Zico, pushing 30 already – to a point, his fame was recognized as rightly deserved this year: so far, he won very little on Brazilian national level and won nothing internationally. He even did not play all that much for Brazil – only at the 1978 World Cup. At last he delivered – 4 goals, that is, all Flamengo goals at the finals. It could be said that he won Libertadores alone. And this was not the end of the fairy tale yet. As good as Cobreloa were and as much as one wants the underdog triumph, Flamengo were the classier team and deserved to win.


Brazil Taca de Ouro

The championship of Brazil, or Taca de Ouro, meandered step by step to its last stages of direct elimination. Rules should be mentioned: from the 1/8 on, if there was no winner after both legs, away goals or penalty-shoot out did not decide the winner, but the team with better record at the previous stage qualified. Strange rule. It benefited Ponte Preta against Vasco da Gama in the ¼ finals, when both matches ended 0-0. Flamengo was also eliminated at this stage, but Botafogo beat them without the help of the rule. But the semi-finals were decided only on that rule: Botafogo won their home match against Sao Paulo 1-0 and lost the second leg 2-3. Sao Paulo qualified, thanks to better ¼ final record. Ponte Preta lost at home to Gremio 2-3 and won the away match 1-0 , but Gremio had better ¼ fina; record than them. The final, deciding the 1981 champion of Brazil opposed Botafogo and Gremio.

So far, there were teams with various degrees of luck and form – the structure of the Brazilian championship hardly gave a clear picture of the real strength or weakness of many a club. In the so-called final table Londrina ended 42nd of 44 teams.

Londrina (Londrina) still won their state championship, but on national stage they finished very low – as it was expected. Similar clubs had similar fate:

River (Teresina) ended 40th.

Joinville (Joinville – 39th. But some big clubs had either terrible year or tremendously bad luck.

Palmeiras ended 31st – it was no longer the mighty team they had not long ago, but that bad? Or were they just unlucky? Palmeiras did not even reach the second stage of the long championship.

Corinthians moved ahead for awhile, but may be they were the biggest disappointment at the end.

Paulo Cesar Caju, Ze Maria, Zenon, Biro-Biro, Gomes… and the new genius, already becoming a world class superstar, Socrates. 26th at the end…

It was the other way around for some clubs – the ‘second tier’ Brazilian clubs performed well this year – no miracles and not going very far, but at least maintaining the level they were supposed to be on. Nautico, Bahia, Santa Cruz, Portugueza, even Bangu. Perhaps CSA (Maceio) were most pleasant surprise.

Like Londrina, they earned promotion to First level by reaching the final of Second level in 1980. But unlike Londrina, they played very well in 1981 – and finished 13th. Yet, they were unable to go beyond the 1/8 finals. The only other smaller clubs at this stage were Ponte Preta and Operario. Both moved ahead.

Operario (Campo Grande) did very well this year, but they face Gremio in the ¼ finals and lost both matches. No shame in it – Zico’s Flamengo was eliminated at this point too.

Gremio was the bad luck for the small teams – after eliminating Operario, they met Ponte Preta. Gremio depended on their record against Operario to eliminate Ponte Preta, but that was the rule, and the fantastic run of Ponte Preta finished at the semi-finals.

Fantastic season: they were second in the Sao Paulo championship and semi-finalists in the national championship! Standing from left: Zé Mário, Nenê, Carlos, Juninho, Odirlei, Toninho Oliveira;

Crouching: Édson, Marco Aurélio, Chicão, Dicá, Osvaldo.

Not a bad team, but let’s face it: Ponte Preta (Campinas) hardly is the name coming to mind, when one thinks of Sao Paulo football. But they did much better than the best clubs – better than Sao Paulo, Santos, Portuguesa. Corinthians, with all their great players, was eliminated long, long ago – Ponte Preta was eliminated only by the rules, not on the pitch!

Botafogo (Rio de Janeiro) also cannot be blamed – they were eliminated by the rules too. A case to be sorry, not angry. May be not even sorry, for there was a sweet moment at the ¼ finals: they eliminated Flamengo, which counts highly in Rio de Janeiro – often to beat a rival is better than winning a title.

And at last the first leg of the final was played on April 30. Gremio hosted and won 2-1 after 2 goals by Paulo Isidoro. Serginho scored for Sao Paulo and kept the dream alive – one goal difference is not much when the most important match is at home. So is the usual wisdom. Sao Paulo did not score at all on May 31, but Gremio did, thanks to Baltazar. A second victory and the title was theirs.

Sao Paulo ended with silver – which, for them, translates ‘ended empty handed’. How good or bad they were? Hard to tell, for Brazilian football – unlike the European – rarely concentrated all superstars in 2-3 teams. Typically, a strong Brazilian team had 5-6 great players – and the competition had the same number. Sao Paulo was typical – Renato, Francisco Marinho Chagas, Oscar, Valdir Peres, Serginho. Corinthians had that many – and look where they ended. Flamengo had that many, so a few other teams, including the champions.

Gremio (Porto Alegre) – champions of Brazil! What could be better? First national title – not only great by itself, but also restoring Gremio among the top clubs of the country. Porto Alegre was leading Brazilian football during the 1970s, but it was thanks to the rivals, Internacional. Now Gremio bested all and Inter was nowhere to be seen. True, the arch-enemy had more titles, but the present – and perhaps the future – belonged to Gremio. Leao, Paulo Isidoro, Baltazar, the Uruguayan star De Leon… Gremio had the usual for a Brazilian team number of stars – may be even a bit fewer and on lower scale than other clubs, but the chemistry worked and they won. And a bit of football trivia and irony: the bad boy Emerson Leao, who quarelled with everybody, and was unable to stay in one club for long because of his temper, was already twice Brazilian champion (three times, if the unofficial 1969 championship is counted) – Zico was champion only once, Socrates – not at all, Pele – plain zero. Yes, Leao was the best goalkeeper of the 1970s and early 80s, but there were much bigger stars who won nothing on national scale. Anyway, it was no Leao’s victory, but of the whole team.

Brazil Taca de Prata

The Second National Level championship – Taca de Prata – had 48 participants, divided into 6 groups of 8 teams each. Standard league championship was played in each group and the winners qualified to the semi-finals. Peculiar structure, typical for Brazil: the numbers were not suited for the familiar next stages of direct elimination, but never mind. The championship meandered eventually to the semi-finals. During the rounds some well known clubs failed:

Bahia (Salvador) was one of the failures, along with many clubs of, let us say, ‘the second stringers’: America (Rio de Janeiro), Americano (Campos), America (Belo Horizonte), Coritiba (Curitiba), Nautico (Recife).

And many of even lesser fame, like:


Atletico (Goiania),

Treze (Campina Grande),

Central (Caruaru).

Maranhao (Sao Luis)

Comercial (Ribeirao Preto)

America (Sao Jose)

Gremio (Maringa)

Leonico (Salvador)

Comercial (Campo Grande), Guarani (Campinas), Remo (Belem), and Anapolina (Anapolis) reached the semi-finals. Guarani won both legs against Comercial – 2-1 and 3-0 – and Anapolina did the same against Remo – 3-2 and 4-2. On March 21st, 1981 the first leg of the final was played in Anapolis and hosts Anapolina lost 2-4. The second leg was more or less a formality and Guarani just kept the tie at home – 1-1.

Anapolina (Anapolis) had a strong season, but lost the final. They were the underdog anyway and unable to produce a miracle. But it was not so bad – reaching the final qualified them to Level A for the next season.

The winners: second row from left: Birigui, Miranda, Edson, Almeida, Edmar, Edson Magalhães.

First row: Lúcio, Angelo, Careca, Jorge Mendonça, Capitão.

Guarani won Taca de Prata, which was great – a trophy plus going up to Level A. Where they belonged at least by name. And not just by name – Jorge Mendonça played for Brazil in the 1978 World Cup. His much younger teammate Careca was on his way of becoming world-famous striker. Even in Brazil star players belong to top level, not to the lower one.

Brazil State Championships

Brazil. The national championship celebrated its 10th season – still the messy, long, confusing championship. 44 teams participated in the top national level – Taca de Ouro. The teams were selected by record on previous state championship, depending on the berths every state had. Plus the top two teams of the 1980 second level championship or Taca de Prata. With time, the national championship gained authority, but it was still competing with the individual state championships. A lot of football, a lot of trophies, to each their own, for not every team had a chance to play in the national championships. Internationally, such teams were entirely out of sight – naturally, some clubs were unknown anyway, but some were fairly well known. Occasionally, some well known names were lost in the vast Brazilian football universe – old stars, playing in the local state leagues by now, or future stars, making their first steps in professional football. Like Walter Casagrande, playing for Caldense this year.

Casagrande was only 18 years old, playing his second professional season, but Caldense played only state level football this season. For them and many, many other clubs, the only chance of getting national exposure was winning locally. Some clubs were unheard of – like Penapolense.

No matter what, most Brazilian teams were best described by the word ‘exotic’ and Penapolense (Penapolis) is a typical example. Standing from right: Claercio, Caseli, Jonas, Piva, Romero, Quico.

First row: Ribinha, Betinho, Morangueira, Waldir, Luciano.

Some others were barely known, largely because they played now and then in the national championship.

Gama (Brasilia) is one of those – depending on how they performed locally, they had a chance of getting better known. But for that a team had to win its state championship at least and Gama did not.

Taguatinga won the Distrito Federal championship in 1981. Still, exotica…

Moto Clube, the champions of the state of Maranhao, were also one of those somewhat known clubs – the state had one berth in the national championship, so winning the state championship was very important and even in a state like Maranhao there was competition: on national level, it was represented by Sampaio Correa in 1981. A team similar to Moto Clube in terms of fame. It was easier for the ‘bigger’ clubs in the weaker states – in the centre of Brazilian football was much tougher and some quite famous clubs suffered from fierce competition.

Rio Branco was a good example of such unlucky clubs – with the changing focus from state championship to the national, the left out clubs were often losing fame.

Well, slowly Brazil was arriving to the point when the national championship mattered most. Yet, the final table at the end of the season meant absolutely nothing – there was no relegation to fear. Instead, the next year participants were to be selected again by combined criteria: something depended on their 1981 performance and something on the berths their state had. But promotion happened and the second national level had every reason to look up. Since the top football states had the most well clubs, the second level had a big number of clubs more famous than perhaps half of those playing the first level. And for those clubs – strong enough, but having no real chance to compete with, say, Vasco da Gama or Sao Paulo, winning Taca de Prata was the only chance to play top level football.

Argentina Nacional

Campeonato Nacional, structured like a cup tournament, gave chances to smaller, unheard of clubs, scattered in provincial Argentina. Like Loma Negra (Olavarria).

Standing from left: profesor Jorge Habbeger, Norberto Desanzo (DT), Carlos Casamayor, Horacio Ferrero, Luis Barbieri, Osvaldo Gutiérrez, Jorge Vázquez, Carlos Magistral, Eduardo Draghi, Giménez.

First row: Néstor Rivera, Ricardo Lazbal, Mario Husillos, Carlos Carrió, Carlos Squeo, Aldo Varales, Juan José Urrutia.

Very rarely such clubs had famous veterans in their squad – Carlos Squeo, on this occasion, who was in the1974 World cup Argentine selection. For teams like Loma Negra qualifying to the group stage of Campeonato Nacional was the big, brave achievement – they had no chances there. Others, however, were in better position – well known clubs, down on their luck for one or another reason, and not playing in 1st or 2nd Metropolitano league. Clubs like Belgrano (Cordoba).

Sometimes they played surprisingly strong football and even moved ahead – Belgrano did not this year, but Gimnasia y Esgrima (Jujuy) did: they finished 2nd in Group 1 and qualified to the quarterfinals. The other winners at this stage were:

Rosario Central, 1st in Group A – 2 points ahead of Gimnasia y Esgrima, and record scorers at this stage with 32 goals. Standing from left: Bauza, Carnevali, Sperandio, Craiyacich, Ghielmetti, Riquelme. Crouching: Iglesias, Gaitan, Marchetti, Chazarreta, Magallanes.

Ferro Carril Oeste won Group 2, followed by River Plate. Ferro Carril were confident winners, but the battle for the second place showed the peculiar logic of cup formats: River Plate qualified thanks to better goal-difference. The unlucky team was the already mentioned nobodies from Loma Negra. A whole bunch of current world champions no stronger than tiny club.

In Group 3 four points were deducted from the record of Atletico Racing (Cordoba) and that was the only reason Velez Sarsfield took the 2nd place and qualified.

Once again a big club was roughened by practically unknown small club. Standing from left: Ischia, Hugo Ismael López, Bartero, Moralejo, Osvaldo Piazza, Larraquy.

First row: Bujedo, Castro, Carlos Bianchi, Juan Domingo Cabrera, Dante Sanabria.

Osvaldo Piazza and Carlos Bianchi were back form years in France and they helped – but time changed and the headline makers were younger players. Still, Velez Sarsfield was just lucky to qualify to the next stage. Unlike Independiente – they won the group comfortably.

Standing from left: Goyén, Olguín, Clausen, Trossero, Zimmermann, Mario Killer.

Crouching: Alzamendi, Giusti, Brailovski, Bochini, Sandoval.

No longer the formidable squad of the early 1970s, even a bit shaky and not a factor transitional team – but the seeds of recovery were present: Olguin, Giusti, Clausen, Trossero – the world was going to here of them. For the moment they were young hopefuls and the big figure was Bochini – not enough for success.

Boca Juniors easily won Group 4. No problem, when Diego Maradona plays for the side, right? Back row from left: Roberto Mouzo, Hugo Alves, Abel Alves, Oscar Ruggeri, Ariel Krasouski, Carlos Alberto Rodríguez, Miguel Ángel Brindisi.

Front: Osvaldo Escudero, Diego Maradona, Hugo Perotti, Carlos Córdoba.

Behind them finished Instituto (Cordoba) thanks to a single goal – they had a tiny bit better goal-difference than Estudiantes (La Plate).

The quarterfinals had a lucky draw for Ferro Carril Oeste – their opponent was perhaps the weakest of the qualified teams: Gimnasia y Esgrima (Jujuy). Ferro won both legs 1-0. Independiente eliminated Instituto 2-1 and 0-0, and River Plate replicated the same results against Rosario Central. No miracles so far, but the last pair was something else: Velez Sarsfield vs Boca Juniors. Nothing much at first… Boca was visiting and won the opening match on the hostile stadium 2-1. Well, Maradona wins always – the second leg seemed a mere protocol. Boca scored a goal alright, but Velez scored 3! Maradona out, the old feet of Bianchi and Piazza marching ahead. But not for long…

Velez Sarsfield had the easiest opponent among the semi-finalists – Ferro Carril Oeste – and lost 1-2 and 1-1. Meantime River Plate and Independiente produced no winner – both legs ended in a tie, but River scored a goal in Avellaneda and qualified thanks to the away goal rule.

In the final River Plate won both legs, but a close look suggest pretty equal matches and tough opposition: River won twice 1-0.

Modest Ferro Carril did it again – they were the most consistent team this year, finishing second twice in two differently structured championships. This was not just luck – the boys obviously were determined, tough, and consistent. They deserved praise. They also deserved closer attention – this happened to be the best period in the history of the club and Ferro was to be really heard of yet.

When there are two championships in a single year and the club wons one, the fiasco in the other is easily forgotten – but, really! Passarella, Kempes, Fillol, Tarantini, Gallego, Alonso, Diaz, Lopez, Commisso, Olarticoechea (in this version)… Boca Juniors with Maradona pales in comparison and there is no even point of mentioning others. Yet, River Plate suffered and was not dominant winner.


Argentina Metropolitano

First Division – Campeonato Metropolitano – had one hopeless outsider and two teams competing for the title. Colon (Santa Fe) was the outsider – they finished last with 21 points. Apart from Colon, the struggle for survival was fierce – in the final table 6 points separated 7th from 17th place.

San Lorenzo de Almagro (Buenos Aires) lost the battle by a point and finished 17th with 28 points. Along with Colon, one of the strongest teams in the early 1970s was relegated.

Other clubs in bad shape were: Argentinos Juniors, which without Maradona immediately dropped from title contender to just trying to escape relegation – they finished 16th with 29 points.

Talleres (Cordoba) finished also with 29 points, but better goal-difference placed the 15th.

Estudiantes (La Plata) were 14th. Velez Sarsfield was 11th. These the clubs in bad shape this year. The opposite way took two teams.

Sarmiento (Junin) finished 13th. Nothing special, at first glance, but they were debutantes and prime candidates for relegation. But the modest newcomers fought to the end and ensured at least one more season among the best.

The second team was a pleasant surprise and, if we move the focus from Maradona, the most interesting thing in Argentine football this year. About them – in a moment.

Huracan finished 8th – nothing much, really, but they distinguished themselves in unusual way: Centurion’s goal sent San Lorenzo to Second Division. Standing from left: Turco García, Pogany, Jorge Gutiérrez, el Negro Longo, Clide Díaz, Toledo.

First row: Cheves, Agüero, Daniel Cano, Carlos Babington, Centurión.

Racing Club had a relatively good season – they finished 5th, ahead of local rivals Independiente. Not a bad squad, but just a promising one at the moment. Hugo Barbas was the veteran star, playing back in Argentina after many years in France, Van Tuyne was the current star player, and Calderon and Olarticoechea were fresh upstarts, still unknown far and wide. Standing from left: Olarticoechea, Van Tuyne, Osvaldo Pérez, Vivalda, Berta, Leroyer.

Crouching: Calderón, Barbas, Villarruel, Carrasco, Muñiz.

River Plate misfired – full of great names, including Tarantini and Kempes, they finished 4th. A point ahead of Racing, missing 3rd place on goal-difference, and… not at all running for the title. 39 points – the contenders finished with much more.

Newell’s Old Boys edged River Plate from 3rd place and, to a point, the team did surprisingly well – compared to River Plate, they were nothing as names. Killer was a star, but hardly on the level of Kempes, Alonso, Passarella, and Simon… well, the world had still to wait many years before hearing of him. Third place, but far away from the title – they finished with 39 points. The silver medalists ended with 49.

Two teams competed for the title to the very end of the championship – at the end 1 point separated them. One of the leaders was expected – Boca Juniors. The acquisition of Diego Maradona made them instant favourites. The other team was a big, but pleasant surprise – a team without stars, usually modest and hardly ever making news.

Ferro Carril Oeste, long time First Division members, but one of the smaller clubs in Buenos Aires. And still nothing special, considering the squad – perhaps Garre was their best known player, and he was not exactly first-rate star. Cuper is immediately noticed today, but this is because he became famous coach – Cuper, the player, was not a star. Yet, this largely anonymous and modest squad not only left River Plate far behind, but played as equals with Boca Juniors and Maradona. They even lost fewer matches than Boca and had much better defensive record. Unfortunately, Boca won more more matches then the boys in green and white and they lost the title by a point. Looked like one time wonder, this team, but they were not.

With Diego Maradona now, Boca Juniors must have been formidable team. They were strong before his arrival, having strong run for some time – with him, they had to be almost unbeatable. Everything looked perfect: young Diego was Boca fan and was delighted to see his dream coming true. Hugo Gatti was happy to see Diego on his side instead of scoring him humiliating goals. Diego arrived and Boca immediately won Metropolitano – predictions fulfilled… but it was not an easy victory at all. And considering the rival, Boca Juniors did not seem overwhelming at all. But a title is a title.

Champions – no matter what, one cannot argue against the fact.

Argentina II Division

Argentina. The big news for the season were Diego Maradona and Mario Kempes. Maradona joined Boca Juniors, it was expected transfer, yet, it was the biggest news. Perhaps as a counter-measure, River Plate bought Mario Kempes from Valencia (Spain). It was a dubious news: yes, River got the superstar, ‘the Matador’, the hero of 1978, but he was not fit after a heavy injury and the club had no money. The lack of money was nothing new in Argentina, but it was still reckless to spend when in heavy debt. And to spend on player who was 70% fit at the best estimate. Other things were less noticeable – for instance, Carlos Bianchi returned to Velez Sarsfield in 1979 and immediately started scoring goals. Other veterans were also returning – Daniel Carnevali was in Rosario Central and Carlos Babington back in Huracan since 1979, for instance – but the focus was largely on Maradona, who delivered, and Kempes, who did not. Apart from that, it was ‘business as usual’, which means painfully familiar scandals and troubles:

River Plate going to jail… well, may be going to jail. The rest was football.

Two championships as usual – the league-format Metropolitano and the cup-format Nacional. The champions of each were going to represent Argentina in the 1982 Copa Libertadores. Metropolitano, somewhat with more weight than Nacional, involved promotions and relegation, so let start with a brief look down: Third Division.

Lanus won Primera C. Standing from left: Acuña, Perassi, De Freitas, Cerdán, Lodico, Enrique,

First row: Héctor Enrique, Nigretti, Ramón Enrique, Crespín, Attadía.

Chacarita Juniors were runner-ups. Both teams were promoted to Second Division – well done for both clubs.

They were going to replace Almagro, directly relegated, for they finished last – 22nd – in Second Division, and Villa Dalmine, 21st. Villa Dalmine was not directly relegated – they lost the relegation play-off with El Porvenir, 20th in the final table. The play-off ended scoreless – El Porvenir won the penalty shoot-out.

Up the table nothing really important – a bunch of more or less equal clubs, some fading for years, like Los Andes.

Los Andes finished 5th with 47 points – 2 less than third placed Banfield.

Banfield finished 3rd with 49 points, but promotion was out of their reach and may be even from their dreams: they were distant third finishers. The battle for the title, if not for promotion, was between two teams.

Quilmes finished 2nd. Standing from left: Fanesi, Tocalli, Milozzi, Gáspari, Fertonani, Lupo.

First row: Pavón, Bianchini, Batalla, Úbeda, Lacava Schell. Unable to win the championship, but comfortably winning promotion – they finished 6 points ahead of Banfield. This was still the quite strong team, which was successful only a few years back, so the quick return to First Division was great and may be expected.

The winners were a bit of a surprise.

Nueva Chicago played first division before, but they were one of the smaller Buenos Aires clubs and not really a club expected to be among the best. But strong they were this year and won the Second Division championship 3 points ahead of Quilmes. Standing from right: Abdala, Pedraza, Assan, Larramendi, Traverso, Cvitkovic.

First row: Armani, Loyarte, Franceschini, Carrizo, Erba.

For a modest club like Nueva Chicago trophies are rare thing, so winning the Second Division was a big success – champions deserve one more look:

Here is the full squad of the year well remembered by the fans – it is not every day Nueva Chicago ends as champions.

Nueva Chicago and Quilmes were promoted to First Division.