Garabato and América de Cali: The curse of the Copa Libertadores
For several decades, América de Cali, one of the most important teams in Colombia, has suffered from a curse that prevents it from winning international titles.
América de Cali is considered one of the most important teams in Colombia and also in the American continent. It is a team that won the Colombian league 15 times, being the second most successful team in the country, behind Atlético Nacional. However, although this team has a glorious history in Colombia, at the South American level, the situation changes considerably. In that country, many speak of the famous Garabato curse, a curse that currently affects the club and prevents the team from winning an international cup.
América de Cali is a Colombian team founded in 1927 in the city of Cali. For 2 decades, the club competed in amateur tournaments and one of its most famous players was Benjamín Urrea, known at the time as Garabato, because of his physical appearance. This player was one of the founders of the club and because of that, he could vote in the decisions of the club. In 1948, Colombian football became professional and because of that, many clubs had to decide whether to become a professional team or remain an amateur club. Garabato was against the decision since América de Cali was obtaining many triumphs as an amateur team. But finally, the decision to professionalize the club was victorious. Garabato was very angry about the decision and declared: "I don't care if they turn the team into a professional team, do what they want with America, but I swear to my God that they will never be champions...".
At first, no one gave importance to this "curse". But after 3 decades of competing in Colombian football, América de Cali was still not the champion in Colombia. In 1979, América de Cali managed to be champion of the Colombian League. Garabato was unable to attend the stadium because many fans threatened him because of the "curse" he created. One year later, Garabato and the club's directors held a mass at the stadium and put an end to the curse.
The following years were the best in the club's history. From 1982 to 1986, América de Cali won 5 consecutive Colombian titles. Many thought that the curse had finally ended, but it was not. In addition to the achievements in the Colombian League, América de Cali also managed to reach the Copa Libertadores final for 3 consecutive years. The Copa Libertadores is the most important club tournament on the continent.
The first final was in 1985 against Argentinos Juniors from Argentina. América de Cali lost on penalties after drawing 1-1 in the defining match. The following year, they faced River Plate, one of the most important teams in the world. In that final, the Argentine team won easily and thus obtained its first Copa Libertadores. For the third consecutive year, the "Red Devils" (nickname of the team), reached the final of the tournament. On this occasion, they faced Peñarol from Uruguay. América de Cali won the first game at home but in the second leg, they were only 3 minutes away from obtaining the title but a goal in the 87th minute ruined the dream of the Colombian team. 3 days later, the tiebreaker match was played and Peñarol scored the title goal in the 120th minute of extra time. The curse had returned.
Although in the Colombian League the triumphs continued, in the Copa Libertadores the story was different. In 1996, America de Cali once again reached the Final of the tournament and again faced River Plate. They won the first leg 1-0 but then lost the second leg 2-0. 4 finals were played but also 4 finals were lost. The men's team never played a Copa Libertadores final again, but the women's team did. In 2020, América de Cali lost 2-1 to Ferroviária from Brasil and again, hopes of obtaining the Copa Libertadores were lost.
Garabato died in 2008 and all his life he felt responsible for the curse that he "created" on the team he loved the most.