What are you doing for Semana Santa? We might have an idea for you: visit Tilcara, the place where the Albiceste got cursed forever, and the reason why they won’t win the World Cup this summer in Russia.
There’s no doubt that Argentina is a major player when it comes to football. However, they were unlucky in the last World Cup: champions in 1978 and 1986, they haven’t won the competition since despite two finales (1990 and 2014) lost to Germany 1-0. Bloody Germans.
“Why’s that,” I hear you say, “haven’t we got the best players: Messi, Higuaín, and Agüero?”
The apparent explanation for all of this is because the 1986 Argentine squad did not hold up their end of the promise made to the Virgin of Copacabana.
Let’s see what this is all about.
It’s the year 1986, in January; the Argentine squad is training in Tilcara, a small village in the northwest of Argentina, located in the Andes at 2,500 meters above sea level. It’s a perfect area to prepare for the altitude of the Mexican World Cup.
Tilcara is a tiny village: during this era, there is only a single phone in the entire town. For the inhabitants, the arrival of the Argentine squad (although the big stars such as Maradona weren’t part of the trip) is an incredible event. They have only seen their faces in the newspaper and heard their exploits on the radio; there was not a single television in the village when the selection arrived.
David Gordillo, now 65, was playing with the selection as a “sparring partner” at the time, for three weeks. As the group was full of youngsters, he had a lot of time to talk with them while they were training or resting. In passing, he mentioned the devotion that the people of the region had for the Virgin of Copacabana, located in the nearby Punta Corral sanctuary.
According to Gordillo, during one of their discussions the players had promised each other that if they ever managed to lift to trophy in 1986, they would come back to thank the Virgin. “It wasn’t something that was planned, just an informal promise that they didn’t accomplish and that they need to fulfill.” Sara Vera, who rented the pitch where the team trained in Tilcara, is categorical: she took the highly-superstitious national coach Carlos Bilardo to Tilcara’s parish and heard him say, in front of the Virgin’s photo, that he would return “on his knees to thank her” if the miracle happened. And it happened.
Since then, nor did he came back, nor did the national team win any more World Cups. For the coach, it was just a silly stratagem made by Tilcara to promote its tourism, and he always denied having made any such promise. “We don’t have any issues about going to Tilcara,” added the ex-defender Oscar Garré, “the people there treated us really well, but no one made any promise.”
Probably to calm everyone down, and maybe to get God back on their side, the Argentine Federation sent a replica of the World Cup to Tilcara in 2006, along with a commemorative plaque expressing their “sincere and eternal gratitude.”
Will it be enough for Messi to lift the trophy in July this year?
Probably not! In 2011, just before playing the Copa América at home, former World Cup players Sergio “Checho” Batista and José Luis “Tata” Brown (at the time manager and assistant of the national team) made the pilgrimage to Tilcara, to offer a jersey to the Virgin. I guess Uruguay probably offered her a full kit, as they eliminated the Albiceste in quarter-finale.
This year, the Argentine Federation unfortunately doesn’t seem to have planned any sort of offering – check out the guest list during Semana Santa though – who knows, if Messi or Mascherano show up, I might be the first one to put my money on them.