Copa Libertadores

Let the Copa commence!

The team of Peñarol that won the Intercontinental Cup against Benfica in 1961
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  • The Copa Libertadores is celebrating its 60th birthday
  • Uruguay's Penarol thrashed Jorge Wilsterman 7-1 in the first-ever match
  • The winner now features at the FIFA Club World Cup

Every triumph in football has a genesis it can be drawn back to, when seeds of success and celebration were first nurtured, and for millions of fans up and down South America the roots of one particular source of joy first germinated on 19 April 1960.

The Copa Libertadores has grown into a stunning competition that attracts viewers from every corner of the globe, and is unarguably one of the top honours in club football. But to reach that point there had to be a start to the journey, which can be found when 35,000 packed into the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo to see Uruguayan champions Penarol take on Bolivian counterparts Jorge Wilstermann.

This maiden encounter could not have been much more of a mismatch, as the hosts beat their northern guests 7-1, with Alberto Spencer notching up his first four goals of 54 in the competition – a record which remains today. Team-mate Carlos Borges put Penarol 2-0 up inside 17 minutes and set the ball rolling for thousands of goals to follow across the next half century and beyond. It is probably fair to say that number one does not go down as the prettiest of them, though.

Juan Hohberg carried the ball through midfield, picking out the 20-year-old Luis Cubilla with a fine pass, but the right winger saw his shot cannon back off the crossbar. Uruguayan daily El Diario recounted the resulting scramble, writing: “First to the rebound was Borges, who saw his powerful strike come back off [Jose] Rocabado, before dispatching it at the second attempt with a high drive past the keeper Rico.”

Cubilla added his name to the scoresheet in a result which gave Penarol the momentum to take the inaugural title (beating Argentinian champions San Lorenzo and Paraguayan title-holders Olimpia in the semis and final), a feat they would repeat a further four times, including the following year. Today only Argentinian duo Independiente and Boca Juniors have won more titles, with seven and six respectively.

The competition was a long time in the making, and in many ways it is fitting that Argentina and Uruguay hold those places at the top of the all-time rankings, as the intrigue created by the annual Copa Rio de la Plata – pitting together the countries' national champions since 1916 – was one of the key influences for the Copa Libertadores.

Despite this, the idea of a pan-continental tournament was actually most vocally backed by Chileans, with former CONMEBOL president Luis Valenzuela initially the most high-profile voice to back the idea. Then followed Colo Colo president Robinson Alvarez, who was keen to see his 1947 champions battle South America's top talent in Santiago. So, in February the following year the likes of Argentina's River Plate, Nacional of Uruguay and Ecuadorian side Emelec arrived as part of an eight team line-up.

However it was Brazil's Vasco da Gama that walked away with the one and only Campeonato Sudamericano de Campeones title, and the idea would lay dormant for 11 years before a fellow Brazilian – another CONMEBOL president in Jose Ramos de Feitas – revived it. So, at the continental congress of 1959, it was decided by a vote of eight to one – with Uruguay in opposition – the Copa Libertadores was born, with the name paying homage to those who led the fight for South American independence.

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