By Leo Linden
Despite being almost a century old and playing in one of South America’s premier leagues, Godoy Cruz has just recently arrived. After years of playing lower-league football, La Tomba (the Tomb) have finally worked their way to the top flight in Argentina and are making good on their opportunity.
Despite being a relative minnow of Argentine football, Godoy Cruz are cruising since reaching the Argentine Primera Division a decade ago and have already started making headway on the continent. They’ve learned this season that it isn’t always going to be a smooth ride, but La Tomba are positioned well in the Copa Libertadores, where they could really start turning some heads.
The story of Godoy’s rise to the first division is that of a lengthy longshot that finally came to fruition a few years ago. Godoy, which is named for the city they are from, were never expected to make it this far. The city of Godoy Cruz, located in Mendoza province, has less than 200,000 residents, and the team adopted that small-town status.
Without the financial means to compete against bigger teams, Godoy had to grow naturally with local talent. After its founding in 1921, the club settled on its current name in 1930 and began play in the regional leagues. They found themselves as champions of the Mendoza province six times in their early history between 1944 and 1968, but Godoy could never muster up a run to the unified national competition.
However, while Godoy continued to battle through the lower leagues, opportunities to move up became more available, and they finally made good on one in the 1990s. After winning a few more Mendoza championships in the ‘90s, La Tomba gained entrance to the Torneo del Interior, a now-defunct competition that allowed local qualifiers a chance to move up to the national league. Finally, in 1994, the breakthrough came as Godoy won the Torneo and was placed in the Primera B Nacional, just one step away from the first division.
It was a big step in the right direction for Godoy, but navigating their new status against some already well-established clubs proved just as tricky as it sounds. Amazingly, Godoy came out of the gates hot in each of their first three years in the second league, doing well enough to reach an eight-team promotion playoff tournament. However, they fell short each time, and worse, in the following seasons, their results began to slip as Godoy fell down the table and lost their opportunity to go up.
However, Godoy did not waver and were able to maintain their place in second division, eventually
It was a great achievement for the club, but as soon as Godoy arrived, they headed back down. Again, it was their playoff impotence that bit them again the next year when they were relegated after losing to second-tier Huracan, who assumed their spot in the top flight.
Something clicked the next year, however, as they stormed through the second flight, doing enough to earn a rare automatic promotion and avoiding another nightmare playoff scenario.
Since then, La Tomba have established themselves as a top-flight contender, even finishing well enough in 2011 to qualify for the Copa Libertadores. They also qualified for the tournament again in 2012, although Godoy found success on the continent difficult, going out in the group stage both times.
Just as they had in the past, Goody continued to persevere and improve, and finally the fruit of their labors has really paid off. Last year, Godoy finished third in the Argentinian top flight, their best finish ever, and again qualified for South America’s premier club tournament.
While this year domestically has been sub par with the team currently sitting mid-table, Godoy has been fantastic on the continent. Entering as the lowest seed in pot three of four, Godoy had low expectations, but
With little to play for on the home front, Godoy can focus their resources on the continent, where they find themselves in what it unsurprisingly a Brazilian-heavy half of the draw.
In the round of 16, which begins next week, La Tomba will face No. 3 seed Gremio in what would be the start of a run through bigger clubs with tons more experience. It would be a surprise for Godoy to even make it out of the first knockout stage, but the fact that they have made it this far from their humble beginnings is a surprise all on its own.
With an almost completely Argentinian team loaded with homegrown talent, something is beginning to click at Godoy. This year might not include their first piece of major hardware, but it does not seem like a trophy is far off for a side which only made its first-league debut a decade ago.