Argentinians were indomitable within their own borders in the 1970s. Guillermo Vilas overcame the mighty Bjorn Borg in 1973 to win the first of six successive ATP Buenos Aires finals; Carlos Monzon continued his surge towards boxing immortality by winning all 12 of his fights in Argentina during the decade, including a series of vicious knockouts which successfully defended his WBA and WBC world middleweight titles; and Ubaldo Fillol, Daniel Passarella, Mario Kempes and Co outgunned a genius-stacked Netherland side to conquer the FIFA World Cup™ at the Estadio Monumental.
Borussia Monchengladbach did provide a rare exception in the first leg of the Intercontinental Cup in March 1978. Goals from prolific sweeper Wilfried Hannes and bullet-unleashing midfielder Rainer Bonhof earned them a 2-2 draw with Boca Juniors in the Bombonera.
That put one West German hand on the trophy. The second was supposed to go on 35 years ago to this Thursday at the Wildparkstadion in Karlsruhe, especially since reigning Ballon d'Or holder Allan Simonsen, who missed the first leg through injury, was back in Udo Lattek’s starting XI alongside the likes of Berti Vogts, Winfried Schafer and Bonhof.
Yet within moments of kick-off, Xeneize hard man Vicente Pernia bulldozed the little Dane to the floor. It told Gladbach that they were in a dogfight. It was one they’d have to win from a deficit two minutes into proceedings, with Dario Felman capitalising on a defensive lapse to fire the Argentinians ahead.
Hugo Gatti, who didn’t play in the first leg, then made two fine saves to deny an equaliser, while Ruben Sune, Francisco Sa and Miguel Bordon followed Pernia’s lead by making crunching challenges as Boca attempted to entice Gladbach into playing them at their own game. It worked. With Christian Kulik and Carsten Nielsen visibly agitated, Ernesto Mastanngelo and Carlos Salinas scored twice in swift succession on the counter-attack to send Boca in at the break leading 3-0.
West German comebacks were traditional, but one of the most untraditional goalkeepers in football history was determined there would be no ‘Miracle of Karlsruhe’ to add to their enviable collection. Gatti, nicknamed El Loco (The Crazy One), was renowned for charging from his penalty area to function as an extra defender, making outrageous one-liners, and sporting bandanas and funky jerseys (on this occasion, while his team-mates had a sponsor on their shirts, the 34-year-old extrovert’s had ‘GATTI’ emblazoned across his).
The 33-year-old produced save after save in the second half to leave Gladbach with the unacquainted feeling of having fired a blank and inspire Boca to their first world title.
“El Loco was magnificent,” said Juan Carlos Lorenzo, who was coaching Gatti at a third club, afterwards. “Nothing fazes him. To get over the disappointment of not going to the World Cup (Gatti was somewhat surprisingly left out by Cesar Menotti) and to produce a performance like that. He’s the man for the big occasion.”
The triumph was sweet revenge for Lorenzo over Lattek. Four years earlier, the Argentinian’s Atletico Madrid side had been humiliated 4-0 by the East Prussian’s Bayern Munich in the European Cup final in Brussels.
“The Europeans had won the last two tournaments and when we only drew at home, few gave us a chance of lifting the trophy,” Lorenzo explained. “Winning it was a major achievement, but to win it in such convincing fashion was a performance of champions.”
World champions was now a title the South American nation proudly held at international and club level. And this time Lorenzo, Gatti and Co had proven that Argentinians could do it outside Argentina.