It became Colombian football fans’ equivalent of “Yo Momma” whenever Argentines ask them how many World Cups they won. Nowadays neither side can say much of anything as Lady Luck has completely turned her back on them. Although there are moments when she turns around and teases them with a little wink.
That is all that is left for Colombian fans to remember now as September 5th became an unofficial holiday in that country. For a country that expected this match to be the launching pad or the stepping stone to something even greater, became the rock onto which they tripped over and fell over the precipice. Many thought it was the start of something big, little did they know it was the beginning of the end.
Earlier this month, Colombia celebrated the 18th anniversary of a match that forever changed the game in that country. That match became part of Colombian football lore. It also became part of the crutch to the past that still remains. The crutch has become so great that television stations The failures of today help accentuate the romanticism of that result, but few still remember the game itself save for the goals.
“I never want to think about that match again. It was a crime against nature, a day when I wanted to dig a hole in the ground and bury myself in it.”- Alfio Basile
Few remember that all five shots on goal went in. By no stretch of the imagination were they pure luck. There was some exquisite finishing and lethal counterattacking in place.
Despite the offensive output in that game, the man of the match should have been goalkeeper Óscar Córdoba. The young América player was baptized by fire as he would be the replacement for eccentric Nacional showman René Higuita who was in prison at that time for negotiating with narcoterrorists on his own accord. Córdoba would become the starter for the 1994 World Cup and would be victimized by a brilliant Ghorghe Hagi and then came the loss to the host nation. We all know what happened there and the after effects. On that night in Buenos Aires, Córdoba proved that he was worthy of the starting role and would capture the attention of Argentines as he slammed the door on Batistuta on several occasions as well as host of other Albiceleste attackers poised to score.
As Colombia’s lead expanded, Argentina’s nerves boiled even more. This in the process made Córdoba’s stops that much more important. Argentina outshot Colombia on that day, but it would be the goalkeeper that would eventually lead Boca Juniors back to glory just five years later that was the catalyst for that victory.
For many it was a time to truly enjoy football. Colombia were a team that had a very delightful style of play and the players in the perfect roles. The moment was among one of the most surreal and paralyzing in sports history for both countries. Colombia were always a footballing nation with a rather limited history but an immense potential that was never tapped properly. Argentina, well, anything added on this end would not be earth-shattering to say the least. So to get the same reaction for two completely different reasons show you the historical meaning of this match.
In Argentina it was obvious that there was going to be anger. It was a match that they were supposed to win. Their only loss in that qualifying stage was against Colombia in Barranquilla. The defeat snapped Alfio Basile’s 33-match unbeaten streak that saw Argentina win two Copa Américas in 2001 and 2003. This was one of the most solid sides and the promise of winning a third World Cup was there. With players like Gabriel Batistuta, Fernando Redondo, Diego Simeone, Oscar Ruggeri, Leo Rodríguez and Ramón Medina Bello the team had very solid middle and some explosive players that could make a difference at any moment. The only problem was that there was one ingredient missing. Argentina loved their national team, but they loved Diego Maradona more.
Basile might have had things go his way with El Diego stubbornly out of the lineup due mostly to his own personal baggage than anything else. On that day, there was only one direction fans looked at as the solution to the team.
When you look at the lineups, these two teams were stocked with some big time names at that time.
Argentina: Sergio Goycochea; Julio Saldaña, Jorge Borelli, Oscar Ruggeri, Ricardo Altamirano; Gustavo Zapata, Fernando Redondo (69, Alberto Acosta), Diego Simeone, Leonardo Rodríguez (54, Claudio García); Ramón Medina Bello, Gabriel Batistuta.
Colombia: Oscar Córdoba; Luis Herrera, Luis Perea, Alexis Mendoza, Wilson Pérez; Leonel Álvarez, Gabriel Gómez, Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincón; Faustino Asprilla, Adolfo Valencia.
In hindsight, the win meant exactly that- just a win for Colombian football. If you look at it now, the win that made a tangible expectation become reality- their fictitious reality. At matches during their tour prior to the World Cup in the US, there were t-shirts being sold “Colombia World Champions”. Now while many criticize the press and fans in several countries throughout Latin America of being extremist, Colombians embodied it with actions such as those.
When they arrived to Buenos Aires they hadn’t lost for over a year. That same streak would continue through 1994 and reach an unprecedented 24 matches. On paper, that sounded amazing. On the pitch, it was evident that the friendlies were padding the results, but also giving their opponents several chances to scout them against weaker opposition. That is why the match that broke that streak was the 3-1 loss to Romania in the Cup opener. The US match was the wrecking ball that brought down the house of cards.
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