On December 13th, 2006, 60,000 people gathered inside Chile’s Estadio Nacional to witness a thrilling Nissan Copa Sudamericana Final between Mexico’s Pachuca and Chile’s Colo Colo. The highly charged atmosphere in Ñuñoa, Santiago, was saturated with exhilaration and reverence.
The magnitude of the game was deeply tangible to everyone, not only in a football sense but in a historical one too. Three days before the game was to be played, Chile’s former army leader and dictator General Augusto Pinochet had died, so there was an extremely moving and celebratory feel to the whole occasion.
On September 11th, 1973, Pinochet led a military coup and the national stadium was used as a concentration camp for anyone who supported the ousted, democratic government of Salvador Allende, who committed suicide, after vowing not to resign.
Within Chile’s largest sporting venue, piles of corpses and piles of shoes without owners, represented the horrific interrogations, tortures and assassinations that took place under Pinochet’s dark, brutal and despicable regime.
Chile’s former president Michelle Bachelet, who was one of the tortured, along with her mother and father (who died in a prison cell), was present at the game, cheering on Colo Colo, which was a beautifully symbolic and triumphant moment of great fortitude, in the face of tragedy.
The game itself was hanging in the balance. Two weeks before, the first leg, held at Pachuca’s Estadio Hidalgo (which was strewn with blue and white ticker tape), finished 1-1, thanks to goals from Pachuca’s midfielder Andrés Chitiva, who scored with a deft header, after a perfect cross from midfielder Christian Giménez and Colo Colo’s striker Humberto Suazo, who rifled the ball into the back of the net, after being set up by Alexis Sánchez (who signed for Barcelona, for €26 million, this summer) after a glorious 25 yard marauding run.
Pachuca had managed to stifle Matías Fernández (who is now at Sporting Lisbon) all night but Sánchez was the thorn in their side, in a game that Colo Colo felt they should have won.
Colo Colo were massive favourites for the second leg and they started the game superbly, despite Fernández being on the fringes of the game. It was Sánchez who was pulling all the strings again for them that night.
Los Albos (Colo Colo) went ahead in the 35th minute, after Sánchez brilliantly beat two defenders, to put the ball on a plate for Humberto Suazo, who robustly held off his marker, to duly slot the ball into the corner of the net.
Los Tuzos equalised in the 53rd minute, after a stunning cross from midfielder Carlos Rodríguez found its way through to the far post and midfielder Gabriel Caballero (who is now the assistant coach of Pachuca) side footed home.
In the 73rd minute, Pachuca scored the winner, which resulted from a Colo Colo corner. The ball fell to midfielder Damián Álvarez and he wonderfully beat three players, to set up the blistering counter attack. Andrés Chitiva received the ball from Christian Giménez and he played a majestic pass back into the feet of Giménez, who finished the move off with aplomb to stun Colo Colo, their avid supporters and those who strongly fancied Los Albos to win.
Scenes of utter jubilation from Pachuca and their supporters took place at the final whistle. Revered Mexican manager Enrique Meza (who is the fourth most successful manager in the Mexican League and is now managing Cruz Azul) had achieved the unthinkable. After a poor start to his Pachuca tenure, he reinvigorated the team and led them to their first Copa Sudamericana championship. This made them the first Mexican club to win a CONMEBOL title.
Pachuca were founded in 1901 as Pachuca Athletic by Cornish emigrant miners, who had a desirable impact on Hidalgo cuisine in the form of their signature ‘pastes’ or as the English call them Cornish pasties. It was Alfred Crowle who first introduced the beautiful game to the miners and other clubs soon followed, including Puebla A.C., Reforma A.C., British Club, Mexico Cricket Club and Albinegros de Orizaba.
On July 19th, 1907, Pachuca became one the founding members of the newly established Primera División de México. From 1921, the side went into a hiatus for many years, as most of the squad members moved away to Mexico City. The team were to be reassembled and in 1967 they won the Segunda División but a year later they became relegated.
An anguished 19 year wait was to take place until they were reinstated in the Primera División but again, in 1993, they were to suffer relegation.
In 1999, for the first time in 30 years, the club, under Mexican manager Javier Aguirre (who is now the manager of Real Zaragoza), remained in the Primera División for two consecutive seasons and remarkably won the title in the same year, much to the surprise of everyone, including Aguirre.
Since that heady night where they beat Colo Colo, when all the odds were stacked against them, the men in white and blue have only acquired one Clausura title, which they won in 2007.
Astonishingly, a year after winning the CONCACAF Champions League, the club, under manager Efraín Flores, took the unprecedented decision to put the entire squad up for sale this summer. This has worryingly meant that star players such as striker Herculez Gomez, striker Édgar Benitez and defender Paul Aguilar have been sold. Mexico’s Under 21 wonderkid Marco Bueno has signed a pre-contract with Liverpool and if he impresses during a 10 day trial, then he will also leave the club.
However, midfielder José Torres has opted to stay, as have several others, which is positive and welcome news for their loyal following.
Los Tuzos supporters will be hoping that Flores can stabilise, as well as reignite the side, to propel them to a brighter future.
By Jonny James Eyres
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona