Ecuador had only nine years of international football behind them when the South American Championship – a precursor to the Copa America – headed to its shores in 1947. And though Brazil declined to participate, the continent’s two most experienced and successful sides were there.
Argentina and Uruguay played the first official international outside the British Isles in 1902, and the rivalry that had been brewed that day had since exploded into a fierce one. On each of the eight occasions La Celeste had won the South American Championship, La Albiceleste had finished as their runners-up, while the Uruguayans had also emerged triumphant in the fixture in the Finals of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Amsterdam 1928 and the FIFA World Cup™ two years later.
The Rio de la Plata rivals went into the competition gunning to become the outright record nine-time champions, and when they met in their concluding game, 65 years ago to this Friday, both knew victory would achieve this feat.
Uruguay had won five and lost one of their six matches. Encouragingly, they had kept four clean sheets and boasted the tournament’s leading marksman, eight-goal Nicolas Falero. Argentina had five victories and one draw to show, wiith magnificent attackers Mario Boye, Alfredo Di Stefano, Feliz Loustau, Norberto Mendez, Jose Manuel Moreno and Rene Pontoni helping them thrash Paraguay 6-0, Bolivia 7-0 and Colombia 6-0. So spoilt for choice was Guillermo Stabile, in fact, that the Argentina coach left Di Stefano out of his starting XI, despite the fact the 21-year-old had netted six times in his five appearances.
Mendez, who had excelled as Argentina won the previous two editions of the South American Championship, broke the deadlock on the half-hour after great work from Moreno. Mendez – who later reflected on his career by saying “Huracan was my girlfriend, Racing was my wife and La Selección was my passion” – then made it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time following another flowing move.
A pulsating game roared from end to end in the second half, and it was Uruguay who got its third goal, with Julio Cesar Britos halving the deficit on 74 minutes. However, that lifeline was extinguished with five minutes remaining as the impressive Loustau fired home to make it 3-1 on the day and 9-8 on South American Championship trophies.