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Born: Friday 7 June 1929, Mexico City, Mexico
Mexican goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal earned his place in the history of football when he appeared for his country in the 1966 World Cup in England. He became the first player to appear in five different editions of the tournament, and remains one of only two men to achieve that distinction. Although appearing for a team who reguarly struggled on the global stage, his longevity and success at domestic level mark him out as one of Mexico's finest ever players.
Born in Mexico City on 7 June 1929, Carbajal displayed considerable talent as a goalkeeper in his teenage years. When the chance came to turn professional he turned his back on his studies, much to the displeasure of his father who did not speak to him for several years afterwards. Carbajal hoped to play for Club América, but instead received an offer from Club España and it was there that he began his senior career in 1948.
Aged just 19, he was drafted into the Mexican squad for the 1948 Olympic Games in London but remained on the substitutes' bench for the 5-3 first round defeat to South Korea, Mexico's only match of the tournament. Over the next two years Carbajal became a first team regular with España and developed a reputation as one of the most reliable goalkeepers in Latin America, renowned for his jumping ability and safe handling of the ball.
Having helped España to a fourth place finish in 1950, Carbajal was called into the full national team for the World Cup finals in Brazil. Mexico's first match of that tournament was Carbajal's international debut and he got a real baptism of fire at that level, with the host nation cruising to a 4-0 win in the Maracanã. The summer of 1950 also brought an enforced move at club level, as España withdrew from the league due to differences with the Mexican federation. Carbajal moved to Club León, where he would stay for the remainder of his playing career.
In his second season with the club, he was ever present as León claimed the league title by a single point ahead of CD Guadalajara. He almost added another major honour in the Mexican Cup a year later, but León were disappointingly beaten by Puebla. Carbajal however remained first choice in the national team and travelled to his second World Cup in Switzerland in 1954. Mexico had qualified easily, with Carbajal conceding just one goal in four matches, but again the transition to the global stage was too much for the team. They lost both games in the finals, although Carbajal appeared just once in a 3-2 loss to France.
The second league title of Carbajal's career came in 1956, as León beat CD Oro 4-2 in a championship play-off after the clubs had finished level on points. After another final defeat in 1957, the club did finally add cup success in 1958 when they deprived league champions Zacatepec of a double with a 5-2 win after extra-time. That season also brought another comfortable qualification for the World Cup, and Carbajal's third finals brought signs of improvement for Mexico as they avoided defeat in a World Cup match for the first time, drawing 1-1 with Wales.
The 1958-59 season brought double disappointment at club level, with León finishing second in the league and reaching a cup final rematch against Zacatepec but this time finishing on the losing side. That would prove to be the closest that Carbajal would get to further domestic honours, as the 1960s brought a fall into regular mid-table finishes. He did however create a piece of football history when a 1-0 aggregate play-off win over Paraguay took Mexico to another World Cup, and in 1962 Carbajal became the first player ever to appear in four finals tournaments.
At the finals in Chile, Mexico's improvement of four years earlier was continued. He appeared in all three group games and although the first two ended in narrow defeats to Spain and holders Brazil, their final match brought a 3-1 win over eventual finalists Czechoslovakia on Carbajal's 33rd birthday. Although they conceded the then-fastest ever World Cup goal in just 15 seconds, Carbajal kept the Czechs at bay for the remainder of the match to help secure the first ever World Cup finals victory for his country.
Carbajal's career would continue for another four years, and by 1965 he had missed just fifteen games in as many seasons with León. Although he had already set the record for appearances in World Cup tournaments, he would remarkably extend that record even further in England in 1966. At the age of 37 he was no longer the first-choice goalkeeper for Mexico and was moving towards retirement, but was selected an unprecedented fifth tournament.
Carbajal did not play in Mexico's first two matches but did appear in the third, against Uruguay. Mexico were unable to gain the victory they needed to have a chance of reaching the quarter-finals, but Carbajal's point-blank save from Pedro Rocha helped to secure a 0-0 draw, the first clean sheet of both his World Cup career and Mexico's World Cup history. Following Mexico's elimination from the tournament, Carbajal retired from professional football as he did not want to continue as a back-up at either club or international level.
He moved into coaching and joined the national squad as goalkeeping coach when they hosted the World Cup in 1970. He would later feel that despite having been past 40, he may still have been good enough to appear in another tournament had he still been playing professionally. Carbajal also coached Unión de Curtidores and his old club León, as well as helping Deportivo Toluca win a league title as assistant coach in 1975, with his encouragement of more defensive 'European' tactics being key to their success.
In 1984 Carbajal was appointed coach of Atlético Morelia, a position which he would hold for a record span of ten years. In both 1987 and 1988, he led Morelia to the semi-finals of the championship play-offs but that would be the closest they came to major honours under Carbajal's leadership. He retired from coaching in his mid-60s and in 1998 finally saw his record of playing in five World Cups equalled by Germany's Lothar Matthäus, but as the first player to achieve that distinction, Carbajal remains fondly remembered in Mexico as 'El Cinco Copas' (the five cups).
References (all accessed 4 October 2012):
- Published on Thursday, 04 October 2012 10:46