Though in existence for a mere 35 years and based in the northern city of Calama, Club de Deportes Cobreloa have established themselves as one of the biggest sides in Chilean football and a threat to the domination and popularity enjoyed by the Santiago triumvirate of Colo Colo, Universidad de Chile and Universidad Catolica. tells the short but successful story of a humble provincial club that has dared to challenge Chile’s big three.

Birth of an institution 
Located fully 1,700 kilometres north of the Chilean capital of Santiago, Calama is a mining city through and through. It was there in 1915 that Chuquicamata, the world’s largest open-cast mine and the country’s largest copper-producing mine, opened for business.

It was at the start of the 1950s that the first attempt to found a football club was made in the city, though it would not be until 1976 that the project finally began to take shape, when a sizeable group of politicians, businessmen and sports personalities joined forces under the slogan “Now or never”.

The initiative came to fruition on 7 January 1977 with the founding of Club Cobreloa, which took the place of amateur outfit Deportes Loa when their 28-year existence came to an end. The name of the new institution was an amalgam of the word cobre, which is Spanish for copper – the commodity for which the area is famous – and Loa, the name of the river that runs through Calama and also gives its name to the province in which it is situated.

The making of a legend
Cobreloa played their first games in red shirts and white shorts, though it was not long before they switched to the all coppery orange kit they still wear today. Nor was it long before they found their way into the top flight, winning promotion from the second division in the very year they were founded and staying put ever since.

Achieved under coach Andres Prieto, that early success was just a pointer to what El Zorro del Desierto would achieve in the first division, where they finished runners-up in 1978 and 1979. A year later, this time with the Argentinian Vicente Cantatore in the dugout, they went one better, winning the first of four league titles in the 80s, a decade in which they also came second twice, in 1981 and 1983.

We are the champions of Chile and we demand respect!
Cobreloa coach Vicente Cantatore during the 1981 Copa Libertadores

They followed up that maiden championship win by making their name on the international scene, reaching the first of two consecutive Copa Libertadores finals in 1981. In that year’s semi-final phase they faced Uruguayan giants Penarol and Nacional, the defending champions and their first opponents in the three-team group in Montevideo.

“We’re going to play our game no matter what happens,” cried an impassioned Cantatore before the game. “We are the champions of Chile and we demand respect!”

After seeing off El Bolso 2-1 in that game and becoming the first Chilean side ever to win in Uruguay, Cobreloa went on to beat Penarol home and away and win the group unbeaten. Waiting for them in the final were the mighty Flamengo of Brazil, a side boasting the likes of Junior and Zico, who scored both Fla’s goals in their 2-1 win in the first leg. And after the Chileans had forced a play-off with a 1-0 victory in the return leg in Calama, Zico did for them again with another brace in the decider.

That talented Cobreloa line-up featured players of the calibre of Mario Soto, Hugo Tabilo, Armando Alarcon, Victor Merello, Ruben Gomez and Hector Puebla, who were joined the following season by Juan Carlos Letelier and Washington Olivera as the men from Calama once again made the Libertadores final.

Their executioner on this occasion was Penarol. Following a goalless draw in the Uruguayan capital, El Naranja lost the home leg in agonising circumstances, conceding the only goal of the tie in the very last minute.

The 1988 title, achieved thanks in no small part to the exquisite skills of Argentinian midfielder Marcelo Trobbiani, gave way to a period as barren as the Atacama desert in which Calama is located. Aside from winning the 1992 title, their fifth in all, and finishing runners-up the following season, the 90s proved to be wilderness years for Cobreloa.

A total of 11 years separated Cobreloa’s fifth and sixth championship wins, the drought finally being broken in the 2003 Apertura, when they thrashed Colo Colo – their bitterest rivals despite the geographical distance between them – 4-0 in the second leg of the play-off final, the second time they had snatched the title from El Cacique. Such is the rivalry between the two clubs that Naranja fans are intensely proud of the fact that Colo Colo have never won a title in Calama, the only ground in inland Chile where they have failed to do so.

The present 
Clausura champions in 2003 and 2004, Cobreloa became a public limited sports company in March 2006. Since then it has produced a succession of talented youngsters, among them Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas and Junior Fernandes, now with Barcelona, Napoli and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. They enjoyed their best season of late in 2011, when they took second place in the Clausura.

The stadium 
Opened in 1952, the Estadio Municipal de Calama was originally built to stage amateur matches and has been refurbished on many occasions since Cobreloa took up residence there. Now boasting a capacity of 20,000, the stadium has provided the setting for six of the club’s championship wins. Situated nearly 2,400 metres above sea level, it is also used by the Chilean national team, mainly in their preparations for matches at high altitude.