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June 14, 2021
'The Ghost of the B' -- Specter of relegation haunts South American football giant

‘The Ghost of the B’ — Specter of relegation haunts South American football giant

Chilean football club Colo-Colo, the biggest and most successful club in the country, faces relegation from the top division for the first time in its 96-year history. Though the parallels are by no means exact, it would be something similar to seeing Manchester United relegated from the Premier League or Real Madrid from La Liga.

Colo-Colo’s date with destiny is in the city of Talca, around 250 kilometers south of Santiago, where it will face Universidad de Concepcion in a single playoff match on Wednesday to determine which side will be relegated to Chile second division — or ‘Primera B.’

While the overwhelming majority of fans have stuck by the players during the lowest moments in the club’s history, one sinister sign put up outside of the club’s complex read: “Win or we kill you.”

It should be emphasized that the actions of only a handful of fans shouldn’t overshadow the unconditional support shown by the majority; indeed, forward Javier Parraguez posted a video to his Instagram account marveling at the thousands of supporters who had gathered to send the team off as it departed for Talca. Many more gathered at points along the 250km stretch of highway.

Colo-Colo is the only Chilean team to have won the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent to the Champions League, and this unprecedented downfall was unthinkable at the start of the season.

The team is onto its third different manager since then and results had certainly improved in recent weeks under Gustavo Quinteros. After spending most of the season firmly in the bottom two, Colo-Colo looked to have avoided the relegation playoff on the final day — until a 96th minute penalty from O’Higgins on Sunday condemned the club to its fate.

Colo-Colo, which boasted names such as Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Bravo earlier in their careers, won the Chilean first division as recently as 2017, taking its record tally to 32 league titles.

Colo-Colo and Chile legend Matias Fernandez returned to the club in 2020.

As is the often the case with a country’s biggest and most successful team, Colo-Colo is widely resented by supporters of other clubs and the vast majority will likely be cheering on Concepcion on Wednesday.

Fans of Colo-Colo’s bitter rival Universidad de Chile will be enjoying the downfall more than most. ‘La U’ suffered its own shock relegation back in 1988 and Colo-Colo fans have never let them forget it — it is customary in South America for gloating supporters to dress up as ‘the Ghost of the B’ whenever a rival team is relegated.

In the past, some of South America’s biggest clubs have also suffered the same fate, including Argentine giant River Plate in 2011, Brazilian club Cruzeiro in 2019 and Peru’s Alianza Lima in 2020.