“Argentine sports magazine El Gráfico, a classic that ceased publications in January 2018 after almost a century in print, ran with the headline Vergüenza – disgrace. Unusually for a magazine cover, there were no images; instead, the text was laid to rest over a black background, a colour typically related to mourning. The cover posed questions such as “Should Basile resign?” and “Maradona: guilty or innocent?” The September 1993 issue was an in-depth, no-holds-barred autopsy of the corpse that was Argentine football”

 

These Football Times

The final whistle blew at the Monumental Stadium, Buenos Aires. The men in yellow shirts, not Brazil but Colombia, celebrated like never before, while at the other end, shock waves devoured the local players and fans. The white tunnel leading to the changing rooms was already being pulled on to the pitch. The tunnel was ready to preserve the evidence of a match, which was equivalent to a crime for the fans in Argentina. Gabriel Batistuta, Diego Simeone, Oscar Ruggeri, Sergio Goycochea and Redondo – devastated, shocked, disgraced, speechless and paralyzed – walked slowly towards the tunnel with their heads down in shame.

Even a follower who does not like the Argentine Football Team would never believe that Colombia could thrash them by 5-0 at their own den.

September 5, 1993.

It was a night of shame for Argentina.

A tough qualifying round

The South American Qualifying Round for the 15th FIFA World Cup had been a stifling one. Two four-team groups, contested over a six-week period, in which the winners would qualify automatically and second place would face an inter-confederation play-off.

Brazil were at bay. The champions of Copa America, Argentina were looking good if not brilliant, while Colombia and Bolivia were stealing the shows with some brilliant displays.

Colombia were placed at the top of the group with 8 points, a product of 2 draws and 3 wins (in that time, for a win were given 2 points to the winner). Argentina were in second place, with 7 points, a product of 3 wins, 1 draw, and 1 defeat.

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Both teams had met in the first leg on August 15, 1993, in Barranquilla with a 2-1 victory for Colombia.

Three weeks earlier than this fateful game, Argentina had arrived in Barranquilla on a 33-game unbeaten run, only to come unstuck.

An Argentinian victory was hugely expected before the start of the match.

Surely, Argentina can’t lose against Colombia in Buenos Aires.

In Argentina, it was exaggerated to think about going to the playoffs against the winner of Oceania’s qualifying.

The match begins – Argentina dominate

Before the start of the match, Diego Maradona came up with one of his over-confident remarks. In an interview, he said, “You can’t change history, history shouldn’t be changed: Argentina up, Colombia down”.

The match started with insults and slanders towards the Colombian team from the Argentine fans. As the Guardian stated, “The crowd was lapping it up, on the one hand expecting their team to take the lead, on the other cheering Maradona in the stands with booming chants of ‘Maradoooooooo Maradoooooo’. Maradona was loving it”.

While These Football Times stated, “The Colombian contingent received a traditionally intimidating welcome, harassed the minute the plane touched down at Ezeiza Airport, during their hotel stay, and even en route to the stadium on the evening of the match. Once out on the pitch, the players were forced to wait as ticker-tape and vitriol emanated from the stands. It was exactly the same tactic used, with great success, against the Netherlands 15 years earlier as Argentina won the World Cup in the very same venue”.

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Alfio Basile’s team, who started off with a 4-4-2 formation, dominated the game from the start. His midfield and backline were creative and solid respectively whereas none could doubt the abilities of Goycochea as a keeper. Redondo and Simeone not only played as a pivot but provided the creative spark from the deep to Batistuta as well. Zapata and Rodriguez had been robust on the wider sides. Their collective efforts split-opened the Colombian defence more often as Batistuta gave Oscar Cordoba, the Colombian keeper, a tough time.

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In the course of time, Cordoba, the youngest Colombian on the pitch at just 23, would go on to have the game of his life and years later would be back in Buenos Aires, starring for Boca during their golden spell under Carlos Bianchi.

He was standing in for Rene Higuita, the architect of the Scorpion Kick against England in a 1995 Wembley friendly, who was in prison for becoming embroiled in the Pablo Escobar maelstrom.

Colombia fightback

Francisco Maturana, the Colombian coach, built his team in a bold 4-4-2 formation, with the explicit instruction to get the ball to the influential Colombian number 10, Carlos Valderrama. It was a Colombian team where everything flew through the man with the golden hair – Valderrama. He was the commander in chief in the middle of the pitch – dictated play with a vision and sharp brain. His partners in the midfield – Freddy Rincon, Gomez and Alvarez provided him the compactness so that Valderrama could act freely.

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The hostility of the Argentine crowd got underneath the skin of Colombian number 10.

He was adamant to give a fitting reply to Maradona’s big mouth and the volatile fans.

In the 41st minute, Colombia launched a long throw deep into the Argentine territory, and the cleared defensive header was picked up by Valderrama, who used his body shape to befuddle three opposing defenders, which opened up space for him to slide the ball into the path of Freddy Rincon, who caressed the ball with a perfect first touch, and his blistering pace allowed him to pull clear of the defence before he rounded the goalkeeper at full speed and rolled the ball into the net.

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Colombia were leading by 1-0 in the first-half to the astonishment of Maradona and local fans.

The night of shame for Argentina

In the second-half, there was no respite.

The floodgates opened as Argentina continued to digest goals after goals.

Four minutes into the second-half, Faustino Asprilla scored his first goal of the night.

A quick toe-poke to control the long-range cross from Rincon; then a sprint, a dummy and strike while falling to the floor. It was a matter of wonderful skill and beauty. One of the best strikes you would expect from number 9.

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According to These Football Times, “Colombia once again won the second ball following a defensive header, and Rincón lofted a long diagonal pass accurately into the path of the over-indulged and often wayward Asprilla, who found himself one-on-one with Jorge Borelli. A drop of the shoulder, and a shimmy from his seemingly elasticated legs, freed the future Newcastle hero from his marker, allowing him to slide the ball under the onrushing Goycochea and produce the flamboyant cartwheel celebration that became synonymous with his spell on Tyneside”.

The Colombian attacking display. Image Courtesy: The Hard tackle
The Colombian attacking display. Image Courtesy: The Hard tackle

Now, Argentina were gully stunned and went in an all-out-attack to come back into the game, which left spaces and the Colombian frontline did not make any mistakes to exploit it fully.

After 72 minutes Rincon took full advantage, scruffily hitting a volley into the ground. The wrong-footed Goycochea could only watch as the ball bobbled past him.

Freddy Rincon scores a goal against Argentina. Image Courtesy: Wikipedia
Freddy Rincon scores a goal against Argentina. Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

Two minutes later, a lazy Borelli pass was intercepted by Asprilla who joined his teammate Rincón on two goals apiece, notching the goal of the night. Asprilla opened his body just-inside-the-18-yard-box on the left side to curl the ball over the head of a puzzled Goycochea.

In the 84th minute, Valderrama was at the center of the action again. He produced ana audacious outside left-footed pass down the left-wing into the path of Asprilla, who baffled three Argentine defenders with a well-disguised pass – Valencia inked the ball over Goycochea to make it 5-0.

Colombia could have scored more and fully stain the sky blue shirt with thick and red blood, but the referee blew the final whistle and the Colombian carnage stopped.

Things could have been worse for Argentina as The Guardian wrote, “By the 88th minute, when Simeone elbowed Valencia, drawing blood in the process, it took a couple of Colombians, Luis Carlos Perea, and Wilson Pérez, to plead the Argentinian’s case. “Please don’t send him off,” they allegedly told the man in black, “they’ll say we only beat them because they were down to 10 men.” The Uruguayan referee seemed to listen and according to one newspaper report told the Colombians: “You’re right, but make sure you score another goal against the sons of bitches.”

A fitting reply to Argentina’s arrogance

The Colombian celebrations were wilder. They have slapped Maradona’s arrogance and the misbehaviours of the Argentine fans.  The whole staff joined the party. The gleeful photographers gathered around the Colombian players and staff, whose joy knew no bound. Their flash bulbs were capturing a monumental moment in the history of Colombian football. The Colombian flag was seen flying proudly in Buenos Aires.

While Asprilla and Rincon were in a savage mood,  Peru and Paraguay were involved in another fiesty contest where Paraguay were just a goal away to risk Argentina’s qualification chances in the USA – the whole qualifying group was on a knife-edge. In the end, the match ended in a draw as Argentina could breathe a sigh of relief.

A shocked Argentine players leaving the field after the catastrophe. Image Courtesy: Wikipedia
A shocked Argentine players leaving the field after the catastrophe. Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

In the end, the Argentine supporters, shocked and stunned, gave the Colombian team a standing ovation – a stark contrast to the attitude at the start of the match.

The headline of El Pais after the Colombian victory. Image Courtesy: The Hard Tackle
The headline of El Pais after the Colombian victory. Image Courtesy: The Hard Tackle

After the match, Basile said, “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.”

While Eduardo Galeano wrote, “Colombia’s incredible style, a feast of legs, a joy for the eyes, an ever-changing dance that invented its own music”.

Even the great Diego Maradona applauded the fantastic display by the Colombians later on.

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