It was a result that came right out of the blue, one that not even the most passionate of Cafetero fans could ever have dreamed of. Yet as night fell on 5 September 1993, the streets of Colombia were awash with people celebrating the national team’s 5-0 defeat of Argentina in Buenos Aires, a historic result that secured their passage to the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ and left an indelible mark on the game.
Francisco Maturana’s men had shown what they were capable of just three weeks earlier when they beat Alfio Basile’s Argentina side 2-1 in Barranquilla, ending the then reigning Copa America champions’ unbeaten run of 33 games and furthering their own chances of reaching the world finals.
Yet if they were to achieve their objective and advance to the finals for the second time running, the Colombians would need a draw in the return fixture at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires, a formidable stronghold where La Albiceleste had never lost a FIFA World Cup qualifier.
The visitors put themselves on course for a famous win by taking a 1-0 lead at half-time, though there was no indication of what was about to happen next.
Taking up the story in conversation with FIFA.com, former striker Adolfo El Tren Valencia, who scored Colombia’s fifth and final goal that day, said: “When we went to Argentina we never imagined we could win 5-0. We felt we had the beating of them because we always played well against them, but what happened surprised even us.”
Valencia offers the inside view on Colombia’s stunning win: “We played an intelligent game. We were a team that never gave the ball away to anyone and liked to put 50 passes together. After all, if you’ve got the ball, your opponents lose their nerve and start making mistakes. We knew that it was up to Argentina to dictate the pace that afternoon, though, so we sat back and hit them on the break. And the plan went just about as well as it could.”
Reflecting on what the shattering defeat meant to Argentina, Valencia, who scored 14 goals in 37 appearances for his country, said: “They had an experienced side full of great players like [Abel] Balbo, [Gabriel] Batistuta and [Diego] Simeone. Simeone even said to me that it had been the most shameful game of his career. ‘It hurt us a lot’, he told me not so long back, when Atletico Madrid came to Colombia on tour.”
Put it to Valencia that the 5-0 demolition did more harm than good to Colombia, however, and he will disagree, even if the history books show that they went out in the group phase at USA 1994, a tournament they were expected to set alight.
“We’ve no cause to regret the 5-0 win,” he said in reply. “We saw it as the match that took us into the world finals, and obviously it allowed us to go to the United States feeling that bit more confident about ourselves. Who wouldn’t feel confident after thrashing Argentina in their own backyard?”
As he went on to explain, there were other reasons behind their early elimination stateside. “We had a great team, with [Carlos] Valderrama, [Faustino] Asprilla, [Freddy] Rincon and the like,” said Valencia, who is now 45.
“We knew each other inside out. We were the very best Colombia had, a bit like the team we’ve got today, and the sides we faced decided to play us the same way we played Argentina that day. I’m convinced that if we’d adopted the same approach against USA (a match Colombia lost 2-1 to exit the world finals) instead of trying to take the game to them, we would have gone further.”
Before he signed off, the man they call The Train said he loved to watch the goals every time the anniversary of one of Colombia’s finest hours comes around: “They're shown over and over on this day every year and it’s great that our children know what we achieved as players. Let’s face it, we could play that game a 100 times over and never get that result again. That 5-0 win won’t just go down in Colombia’s history; it’ll go down in the history of world football too.”