Only a few months ago, Bolivia's Club Aurora were in danger of losing the top-flight status they had struggled so long to attain. Decisive action was deemed necessary, resulting in the appointment of Julio Cesar Baldivieso as coach. A national icon Baldivieso may well have been, but the former Bolivia captain was also taking his first steps in coaching...
Very quickly, however, the gamble began to pay rich dividends and the club hit paydirt last week by securing the 2008 Clausura Championship, the first major honour in their history.
Rebels to the core
The club has always had a defiant streak, which is no surprise given that its very foundation was the result of a revolt by a group of teenagers. It was back in 1935 when a student faction at the American Institute in Cochabamba began to discuss plans for a club of their own after the Institute's director had refused them permission to compete in a tournament under the school's name.
To this end, the youngsters gathered in the city's Plaza Colon on 26 May to formulate a plan for the new venture. Discussions dragged on into the small hours and by the time the decision had been taken, daylight was breaking over the city. To mark the moment, the group decided the nascent club should go by the name of Aurora, the Latin word for dawn, and that their strip should be sky-blue like the colour of the sky that splendid morning.
The long road to glory
In keeping with their roots, Aurora soon became known as El Equipo del Pueblo (the People's Club). The foundation of fellow Cochabamba outfit Jorge Wilsterman in 1949 gave birth to a fierce rivalry, not helped by the fact that the latter have enjoyed greater success over the years. Yet despite their dearth of silverware, the Celeste have always been the city's most popular side.
The club's first landmark achievement came in 1964, when CONMEBOL, the South American footballing confederation, invited them to compete in the Copa Libertadores de America for the first time. It should be noted, however, that the invitation was borne of sporting merit. Aurora had reached the final of the previous year's Copa Simon Bolivar, then the country's top competition, only to be denied a chance to compete in the championship decider against Deportivo Municipal for reasons unconnected to football. In their maiden appearance in the continent's premier club competition, the Celeste were grouped with regional giants Nacional of Uruguay and Cerro Porteno of Paraguay, and understandably failed to progress.
After the formation of Bolivia's Profesional League in 1977, Aurora remained in the top flight until 1988, when they were relegated a division to the Asociacion Cochabambina. There they would spend the next 14 years before finally winning promotion to the first division in 2002.
The people's champion!
And while the club had a good season in their second year back, finishing as league runners-up, they would struggle in years that followed. By early 2008, they were again at serious risk of dropping out of the top flight. However, all that changed with the appointment of Baldivieso. "At the outset, no one gave us a prayer, but we've shown that with dedication you can achieve a great many things," said the man known as El Emperador (The Emperor) after his side's title triumph.
Under Baldivieso, Aurora slowly regained their confidence and again became hard to beat at the Estadio Felix Capriles, where they have strung together a 17-match unbeaten run between this year's Apertura and Clausura championships. Yet even after their semi-final win over Real Potosi, they went into the Clausura final as underdogs against a more experienced Blooming side that had already beaten them twice this year.
Two-nil down after the home leg in Santa Cruz, El Equipo del Pueblo levelled the series with a 3-0 win in Cochabamba. A decider was duly played in neutral Sucre, where Aurora eventually took the title 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw. The team's outstanding figures that day were the same players who have been excelling all season: Argentinian goalkeeper Silvio Dulcich and Paraguayan sharpshooter Aquilino Villalba, who scored his side's two regulation-time goals as well as a penalty in that decider.
Sweet as the victory was, Baldivieso insists Aurora will not be resting on their laurels and is already talking about next year's Copa Libertadores, which the club will enter at the group stage. "Now that I've won this title, I want to win everything. We must remain humble but without being pushovers. We need to show people why we're champions of Bolivia," the coach said.