The La Bombonera Massacre – the 1969 Intercontinental Cup

For years, European clubs that were going to South America for the Intercontinental Cup were beaten down, either on the scoreboard or on the field. There was a match in 1967 where Racing of Argentina beat up Celtic so viciously, that Jock Stein swore to never take his club to the continent again.

A year later, Manchester United a year later suffered the same treatment against Estudiantes. In 1969, for the third year running, an Argentinian club would be South America’s representatives, this time against European giants AC Milan.

Estudiantes had won the year before against Manchester United, thanks to a 1-1 draw in the second leg at Old Trafford after winning 1-0 at the iconic La Bombonera in Buenos Aries.

What happened in Buenos Aires in 1969, changed the cup for the rest of its existence. The Argentinians tried to live up to their reputation of the 1966 World Cup, where they were labelled as the most physical nation in world football.

By the mid-1960s, Brazilian club sides had pulled out of the competition which had lowered the prestige of the event on the continent. Pele’s Santos had won the competition back to back against Benfica and AC Milan respectively before the nation’s withdrawal.

The Cup was a two-legged series, with the first match being held on 8th October of 1969 in the San Siro. This match was a complete disaster for the Argentinian side, as the Milan side which had won the European Cup earlier in the year, put three goals in the back of the net.

One of the goals came via Argentina-born, French international Nestor Combin who scored a goal in the 45th minute of the game to put the Italians 2-0 up against his countrymen. An Angelo Sormani brace meant that the first leg ended 3-0 to the Milan club, which would be an almost insurmountable score line to protect in the return leg in South America.

Combin scores for Milan against Estudiantes at the San Siro.

It was the return match that really put this tie into the history books. On October 22nd, the two clubs met in Boca Juniors home stadium, the La Bombonera for the deciding match. Estudiantes was already down by three goals, and it would be a massive ask for them to turn over the tie. All of that must have played in the mind of the players when they went out onto the field.

The police did nothing to quell the fans, or the opposing club from bending the rules, or harassing the players. While Milan was in the tunnel, hot coffee was being poured all over them. Fans threw things on the field at the Italian giants, and while Milan was warming up, Estudiantes kicked balls at them.

What has always been obvious is that South American referees are known to turn a blind eye to a lot of things. The Chilean referee Massaro had a shocking match. None of the Milan players received any preferential treatment – they all had their fair share of fouls and hard play. In the early moments of the match, Pierino Prati was taken down very harshly by an Estudiantes player, which gave Prati concussion.

Milan Captain Gianni Riviera was abused by goalkeeper Alberto Poletti, in retaliation for scoring the opener in the 4-0 aggregate score line. Nestor Combin took so much heavy treatment that he was left bloodied and needed medical treatment after a Ramon Suarez elbow. While he was getting medical attention, the Argentine police arrested him for dodging military service when he moved to Europe to play football.

Nestor Combin receiving treatment following an elbow.

While Estudiantes won the match 2-1 with goals from Marcos Coniglaro and Suarez in the dying moments of the first half, they lost the tie 4-2 on aggregate.

The media lost its mind and rightfully so after the match. Both the Italian and Argentine press called the Estudiantes, players a national embarrassment, calling the match a 90 minute witch hunt with the press wanting action taken against Estudiantes. Even the Argentine government got involved – Military dictator Juan Ongania demanded that punishments be handed out.

As a result, the Argentinian FA gave Ramon Saurez and Eduardo Manero bans upwards of 30 matches, and the goalkeeper Poletti was banned for life.

This match ruined the competition – over the next ten years most of the European clubs boycotted the Cup. Estudiantes would go on to the next edition to face Dutch team Feynoord, losing again this time, in a much closer 3-2 aggregate defeat. It would be the final time Estudiantes would take part in the cup.

Ajax would win the European Cup in 1971, but declined which meant that Greek club Panathinaikos went to play Nacional of Uruguay.  By the 1990’s Toyota had influenced the decision makers of the sport, to make it a one off match, and in Japan. That gave us the World Club Cup which the European clubs have continued to dominate.

And what became of Nestor Combin? He was released from jail after two days and returned to Italy before playing out his career in France with Metz and Red Star.

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