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Cartagines defeats Atlante FC of Mexico to win first major championship in 55 years
By Rodrigo A. Calvo Castro
Costa Rica's Club Sport Cartagines wrote the most brilliant and memorable chapter in its 105-year history, ending a 55-year search for a major title, when on February 5, 1995, it won the 1994 CONCACAF Champions' Cup.
That significant step was realized on the strength of an unforgettable 3-2 triumph over Mexico's Atlante CF in the final.A mostly pro-Atlante crowd of 6,276 witnessed a drama-filled match at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California (USA).
"We, the team, had it very clear that we had to fight in the psychological aspect," said the now 49-year-old Marco Tulio Hidalgo, who scored the game-winning goal."It was said back then that Cartagines wasn't Costa Rica's champion, however, it was never said it couldn't be a champion at the international level.
"We made that mentality work for us."
The last time Cartagines (founded on July 1, 1906) had lifted a trophy was in 1940, when it captured its third Costa Rican First Division championship (others 1923, 1936).Regardless of being one of the more accomplished and traditional teams in Costa Rica, it lacked that signature moment on the international stage.
With that motivation in mind, the team, led by Brazilian head coach Flavio Ortega (a nationalized Honduran, who passed away in 2007 at 61), left the past behind and bettered the runner-up spot it attained at the 1978 Torneo Centroamericano de la Fraternidad (later known as the Torneo Interclubes UNCAF).
"I remember that we had a pretty strong team in the physical aspect, but it was very solid tactically as well." commented Hidalgo."Flavio (Ortega) was a very disciplined and strict coach, who played with a sweeper, two center-backs, two offensive wingmen, one or two defensive midfielders, two offensive midfielders and one striker."
Cartagines, also known as the Fuerza Azul (Blue Force), took a surprise 2-0 first half lead, thanks to two quick goals by forward Heriberto Quirós (nicknamed 'Chime') in the 20th and 32nd minutes.
Atlante (nicknamed Potros de Hierro/Iron Colts), coached by Argentinean Ricardo La Volpe, fielded a star-studded line-up that included Hugo Sanchez, Ruben Omar Romano, Miguel Herrera, Luis Miguel Salvador and Jose Guadalupe Cruz.The fact that it fell behind so unexpectedly was a shock.
"It was really exciting to face Hugo (Sanchez), who I followed and admired because of his bicycle goals," highlighted Hidalgo, a native of San Ignacio de Acosta in San José."He was a star who came from Real Madrid, with five scoring titles in Spain.
"My teammate Dager (Villalobos) said that we had to stop him and we surprised them."
The Potros de Hierro launched an uncompromising offensive in the second half and leveled the match with goals by Jose Garcia and Gaston Obledo in the 51st and 56th minutes, respectively.
Cartagines' joy from the first half dissolved. The pressure became so immense that it could not get out of its own end for 20 minutes.Despite conceding possession, the Fuerza Azul players kept their heads and composure.
In response, Ortega inserted Norman Gómez as a 61st minute substitution and that tactical decision proved to be prophetic.Less than 10 minutes later, the forward was fouled inside the box and referee Brian Hall pointed to the penalty spot.
Hidalgo took the ensuing kick, which left Atlante goalkeeper Felix Fernandez rooted to the Spartan Stadium grass, giving Cartagines its margin of victory and the CONCACAF championship.
"I was in charge of shooting the penalties in the team, but it is always hard to shoot in a final," recalled Hidalgo."Nobody wants to take them, so I made my decision and when I put the ball down on the pitch I said to myself 'in Costa Rica the goalkeepers know me, but the one from Atlante doesn't.'
"I took the shot and I hit it with precision and strength, high on the left side, which left him (Fernandez) standing."
Once the match was completed, in an emotional ceremony, CONCACAF officials presented the trophy and medals to the winners.
"It was incredible, something very nice that we celebrated along with the Costa Rican fans that were in the stands," expressed Hidalgo, who is now a high school soccer coach and physical trainer in the Costa Rican Ministry of Education.
One of the happiest players was goalkeeper Marvin Solorzano, then 26-years-old, who received the tournament's Most Valuable Player award.Solorzano, a native of Quepos in the Costa Rican province of Puntarenas, displayed impressive poise, serenity and catlike reflexes throughout the competition.He made several sensational saves, especially in the semifinals against US Robert of Martinique, as Cartagines prevailed 5-4 on penalty kicks after a scoreless draw.
The city of Cartago, located 24 km east of the capital San José, "exploded" in an unforgettable party as soon as news of the result made its way south.
Upon the team's return to Costa Rica, the streets were filled with supporters, welcoming home their champions.A religious celebration in honor of the players, delegates and coaches, was held in the church of Virgen de los Angeles, patroness of the nation.
The excitement, saluting Cartagines' first international CONCACAF championship and the third by a team from the Central American country, gripped all of Costa Rica.LD Alajuelense and Deportivo Saprissa previously won titles in 1986 and 1993, respectively.(Saprissa would go on to win the 1995 and 2005 crowns, while Alajuelense did the same in 2004).
Having qualified for the 1994 Champions' Cup as runner-up in the 1992-93 Costa Rican League, Cartagines eliminated CSD Comunicaciones of Guatemala (second round), Honduras' CD Petrotela (third round) and US Robert in the semifinals on its way to the showdown against Atlante.
With the historic victory, Cartagines went on to compete for the Interamerican Cup against CA Vélez Sarsfield of Argentina (CONMEBOL's Copa Libertadores champion), where they played to a scoreless draw in the first-leg in Cartago before losing the return match 2-0 in Buenos Aires.
CS Cartaginés Roster - 1994 CONCACAF Champions' Cup
GOALKEEPERS: César Chacón, Francisco Rojas, Marvin Solórzano
DEFENDERS: Juan Alvarado, Martín Estrada, Alexánder Gómez, Alexánder Madrigal, Rolando Marchena, Cristian Mena, Juan Luis Parra, Enrique Smith, Dáger Villalobos
MIDFIELDERS: Humberto Brenes, Luiz Claudio Dos Santos, Carlos Mario Hidalgo, Marco Tulio Hidalgo, Alejandro Loría
FORWARDS: Francisco Acuña, Ciro Paulino Castillo, Norman Gómez, Bernald Mullins, Érick Rodríguez, Heriberto Quirós.
TD: Flavio ORTEGA
05.02.1995: San Jose, California USA; Spartan Stadium (A: 6276)
CS CARTAGINES (CRC) - ATLANTE FC (MEX) 3:2 (2:0)
Heriberto QUIROS 20', 32'; Marco Tulio HIDALGO 69' pen - Jose GARCIA 51'; Gaston OBLEDO 56'
CS Cartagines: Marvin Solorzano - Juan Alvarado, Luiz Claudio Dos Santos, Dager Villalobos, Marco Tulio Hidalgo, Martin Estrada, Heriberto Quiros, Ciro Paulino Castillo (61: Norman Gomez), Alexander Madrigal, Humberto Brenes, Bernal Mullins (76: Alejandro Loria).Booked: Mullins 55', Madrigal 67', Solorzano 80', Sent offs: Quiros 34'
Atlante FC: Felix Fernandez - Jose Guadalupe Cruz (77: Carlos Elizalde), Miguel Herrera, Wilson Graniolati, Jose Garcia, Hugo Sanchez (46: Jorge Salas), Ruben Omar Romano, Roberto Andrade, Mario Garcia, Gaston Obledo, Luis Miguel Salvador.Booked: Sanchez 7', Romano 57', Sent offs: Herrera 34'
R: Brian HALL (USA)
Rodrigo A. Calvo Castro writes for La Nación, a newspaper in Costa Rica, and is a distinguished Costa Rican football historian.
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