In August 1993, the Albiceleste under then coach Alfio Basile arrived in Barranquilla boasting a 33-game unbeaten run and determined to continue their fine progress in Group A of South American qualifying for the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™. However, Francisco Maturana's Cafeteros, inspired by the midfield promptings of Carlos Valderrama, had other ideas and strode to a 2-1 success. Though a painful blow to the Argentinians' morale, it was nothing compared to what would happen three weeks later.
5 September 1993, Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires (Argentina)
Argentina 0-5 Colombia
Goals: Rincon 41, 62, Asprilla 49, 64, Valencia 84.
Argentina: Sergio Goycochea; Julio Saldana, Jorge Borelli, Oscar Ruggeri, Ricardo Altamirano; Gustavo Zapata, Fernando Redondo (69, Alberto Acosta), Diego Simeone, Leonardo Rodriguez (54, Claudio Garcia); Ramon Medina Bello, Gabriel Batistuta.
Coach: Alfio Basile.
Colombia: Oscar Cordoba; Luis Herrera, Luis Perea, Alexis Mendoza, Wilson Perez; Leonel Alvarez, Gabriel Gomez, Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincon; Faustino Asprilla, Adolfo Valencia.
Coach: Francisco Maturana.
Argentinian fans had flocked to the Monumental in confident mood, though their team still needed to take all three points to move ahead of Colombia in the standings and qualify for USA 1994 without the need for a play-off. For the Cafeteros, a point in front of their hosts before the start of play, a draw would be enough to see them through.
Yet even this seemed optimistic for the visitors on the evidence of the opening exchanges, during which up-and-coming Colombian keeper Oscar Cordoba was put under severe pressure by Basile's charges, Copa America winners in 1991 and 1993. As the minutes passed, however, and Argentina's dominance failed to produce an opener, so anxiety began to set in. Disaster then struck in the minutes leading up to half-time, El Pibe Valderrama picking up the ball in midfield before sending Freddy Rincon galloping through on Sergio Goycochea. The keeper was powerless to prevent Rincon rounding him and slotting the ball into the empty net, stunning the packed home crowd - including one Diego Maradona - into shocked silence.
Argentina burst out of the blocks after the break looking for an equaliser, only to leave gaping holes at the back for Valderrama and Co to exploit. And exploit them they did, with the Cafeteros adding three further goals via Rincon and a Faustino Asprilla brace before 20 second-half minutes had expired. It was at this point that Albiceleste followers began to seek out news from the match between Paraguay and Peru. In the event Argentina, runners-up at Italy 1990, were mighty grateful to the Peruvians for holding the Albirroja to a 2-2 draw, as a win for Paraguay would have edged out Basile's side on goal difference.
The fans packing the Monumental, enraged by their national team's display, began cheering Colombia's every touch after the fourth goal. The Cafeteros subsequently put the seal on this astonishing win, Argentina's first and so far only home defeat in FIFA World Cup qualifying, in the closing minutes via Adolfo El Tren Valencia. Applauded off the pitch by the home faithful, Colombia had secured their berth at USA 1994 in style. Argentina, meanwhile, were berated by supporters and media alike who clamoured for Maradona's return in time for the qualifying play-off against Australia.
Faced with a performance of such magnitude, it would not be fair to highlight just one individual. Keeper Cordoba supplied a series of near-miraculous interventions, Valderrama dictated the tempo in midfield to perfection and Asprilla and Rincon took their chances with lethal aplomb. All of which, as well as the balance supplied by wide midfielder Leonel Alvarez, were key to the most memorable match in Colombian football history.
"That result was excellent because we showed the world that Colombia can rise to the big occasion. Not for nothing did we reach three World Cups in a row. Some say that win went to our heads but that's football. It's a vehicle for dreams and disappointments and winning never does you any harm. That result has nothing to do with what happened later on." Francisco ‘Pacho' Maturana, Colombia coach in 1993
"When we scored the third, fourth and fifth goals I looked at Pacho and said to him, 'We're in for it now.' They (the media) were going to start saying we were the best team in the world. If we'd have lost they would have said we were the world's worst, but that 5-0 scoreline worried me because there was no sense of perspective in the country." Hernan Gomez, Maturana's assistant coach at the time
"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." Alfio Basile, then Argentina coach
What happened next...
Colombia went to USA 1994 as one of the favourites, only to fall at the first hurdle after Group A defeats against Romania and the United States, 3-1 and 2-1 respectively. A 2-0 win over Switzerland failed to ease the pain, which worsened still further days later after the shooting in Medellin of defender Andres Escobar, scorer of an own goal against the host nation. In purely footballing terms, the debate still rages as to whether the win helped or hindered the Cafeteros' long-term cause. While some believe it cemented Colombia's status as a world force, others claimed the 5-0 result was excessively emphatic and affected the players' focus.
Argentina, for their part, still feel that defeat was one of their most humiliating reverses ever. Long-standing magazine El Gráfico marked the loss with a black cover emblazoned with the word "Disgraceful!", and Basile's position came under fire. The embattled coach bowed to calls to bring back Maradona for the play-off against Australia, with El Diez helping the Albiceleste through 2-1 on aggregate. Once in the United States, Argentina qualified from Group D as a best third-placed side only to crash out 3-2 against Romania in the Round of 16.