America de Cali, a people’s passion

The Passion of the People - it is a nickname that perfectly sums up America de Cali, the fourth oldest club in the Colombian first division and the second most successful outfit in the country. While many great players have represented America over the years, it was not until they rid themselves of a curse that they won their first league title. takes a look at the rich, not to say unusual, history of this venerable club.

Birth of an institution
Although the official founding date of Corporacion America de Cali, as it is known today, is 13 February 1927, various historians of Colombian football have traced the club's origins back to two earlier events.

The first of them took place on 21 December 1918 when America Football Club was founded in a poor suburb of the city of Cali. The new club enjoyed only a short existence, however, leading to the second event, namely the creation in 1923 of another team called Racing Club. Set up by several members of the defunct America team, Racing Club played in sky blue and white striped shirts, like the Argentinian side they owed their name to.

Four years later the Racing Club player Alvaro Cruz joined forces with Hernan Zamorano Isaacs to propose that they readopt the name of America, and on 13 February 1927 Isaacs was appointed as the very first president of America de Cali.

Making of a legend
It was on a 1931 tour of the country that America adopted the distinctive all-red strip that they wear today. Invited to a basketball match in Barranquilla between Union Colombia and Los Diablos Rojos (Red Devils), the America players were greatly taken with the colour of the shirts worn by the Rojos, and decided there and then to adopt it as their own.

The devil even found its way onto the club's badge in the early 1940s. During his reign as coach, however, Gabriel Ochoa Uribe objected to its use for religious reasons, and it gradually played a less and less prominent role before disappearing from the club crest completely in 1992.

The Escarlatas (Scarlets) have long been associated with mysticism, however, and legend has it that when the team turned professional in 1948 club member Benjamin Urrea was so enraged that he placed the following curse on America: "If the team ever becomes professional, I swear to God that no matter what they do they will never be champions." Those who sniggered at Urrea's pronouncement that day had no idea of the hardships that lay in wait for the club. 30 years later America had still to win the league championship, prompting a group of fans and Urrea himself to exorcise the club and attempt to bring his curse to an end. Amazingly, twelve months later, America broke their trophy duck and took the title for the first time.

That long-awaited triumphed ushered in the most glorious period in America's history. Coached by Ochoa Uribe, and boasting players of the calibre of Willington Ortiz, Anthony de Avila, the Paraguayan duo of Juan Manuel Battaglia and Roberto Cabanas, and the Argentinians Julio Falcioni and Ricardo Gareca, the Diablos Rojos monopolised the Colombian football scene in the 80s, winning five straight championships between 1982 and 1986, the last one coming at the expense of eternal rivals Deportivo Cali.

The only piece of silverware that continued to elude them was the Copa Libertadores. In the mid 1980s the men in red reached the final three years in a row, losing on penalties to Argentinos Juniors in 1985, falling to River Plate the following year, and capping an unwanted hat-trick in 1987 when a Diego Aguirre goal ten seconds from the end of the play-off match ensured victory for Penarol of Uruguay.

Their domestic success continued into the following decade, thanks to talented performers such as Freddy Rincon, Jairo Castillo, Albeiro Usuriaga, Oscar Cordoba, Jorge Bermudez and Jerson Gonzalez. As well as collecting three more championship crowns, America battled their way through to another Libertadores final in 1996, only for River Plate to dash their hopes once more. That same year saw the club reach second place in the world club rankings, however, an achievement that no other Colombian team has been able to match. And in 1999 America landed their first international trophy when they won the Copa Merconorte.

The advent of the new millennium saw three consecutive league titles come America's way, making them the country's most successful side in the 21st century so far. The Escarlatas have yet to add to that 2003 success, though, leaving them stuck on 12 championships, one behind Millonarios.

The present
America have just clinched their place in the four-team Clausura championship play-off and are hopeful of ending a six-year barren run. The Diablos Rojos lost the 2008 Apertura final to Boyaca Chico and are many people's tip to go one better this time. Their other major objective is to return to the Libertadores for the first time since 2005 and have a crack at bringing home the one trophy that their fans and directors truly crave.

The stadium
Known as the Estadio Departamental when it was opened on 20 July 1937, the Estadio Olimpico Pascual Guerrero now bears the name of the poet who donated the land for its construction. The ground has a capacity of over 45,000 and is home to both America and Deportivo Cali.

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