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Born: Thursday 28 March 1940, Paysandú, Uruguay
Winger Luis Cubilla was the first player to win the Uruguayan league championship with three different clubs, claiming titles with both Peñarol and Nacional as well as helping Defensor to break those teams' domination of the league. He later went on to enjoy a coaching career of more than 30 years which included an long on-off association with Paraguayan side Olimpia, who he led to the first international honours in their history.
Born in they city of Paysandú on 28 March 1940, Luis Alberto Cubilla Almeida began his football career as a teenager with his hometown club Colón de Paysandu. A temperamental winger with the ability to produce unexpected moments of genius, Cubilla was not the quickest of players but had fantastic skill with the ball at his feet. He soon attracted the attention of bigger clubs and joined Peñarol ahead of the 1957 season.
In Cubilla's first season the club finished second to great rivals Nacional, but soon began a great run of success which saw them become one of the finest club sides in the world. Winning back the title in 1958, Peñarol retained it every year while Cubilla remained at the club. He made his debut for Uruguay in the summer of 1959, although he missed out on the squad for the South American Championship later that year and remarkably never played in that tournament despite his long international career.
With Peñarol, Cubilla also enjoyed success at international level, reaching the final of the inaugural Copa Libertadores in 1960 and having his first encounter with Olimpia. With Peñarol having won their home leg 1-0, it was Cubilla's equaliser seven minutes from time in the return which sealed the trophy for his team. The win qualified Peñarol for the first Intercontinental Cup against Real Madrid, but after a 0-0 draw in Montevideo they were overwhelmed 5-1 in the return match.
A year later Peñarol retained the Copa Libertadores with a final win over Brazilian side Palmeiras, while going one better against the champions of Europe when they beat Benfica after a play-off to add the Intercontinental Cup. In the summer of 1962, with Peñarol heading towards a fifth consecutive league title, Cubilla was selected for the Uruguayan squad for the World Cup in Chile and there attracted attention from top European clubs.
He scored a vital equaliser as Uruguay came from behind to beat Colombia in their first match, but the tournament overall was a disappointment as defeats to Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union led to an early exit. Cubilla had however caught the eye of Barcelona's Hungarian star László Kubala, who encouraged the club to sign him. Unfortunately, having moved to Spain Cubilla struggled to establish himself in the team and missed out on the club's cup final win in 1963.
Cubilla returned to South America in 1964, joining Argentinian side River Plate, but his time there brought more frustration. River missed out on the title by a single point in 1965 and again after a play-off in 1968. Perhaps most disappointingly of all, he missed out on a trip to the 1966 World Cup in England and was also part of the team which lost that year's Copa Libertadores final to his old Peñarol side, losing a play-off 4-2 despite leading 2-0.
In 1969 he joined Peñarol's fierce rivals Nacional, and set about proving wrong those who felt he was past his best. Cubilla helped Nacional win the league title back from Peñarol in his first season, before being selected for his second World Cup in Mexico in 1970. By now being used in a deeper midfield role, rather than the outright attacking wing position of earlier in his career, he helped Uruguay to their best tournament in many years.
After winning their first match against Israel, Uruguay eventually edged through the group on goal difference before beating the Soviet Union 1-0 to reach their first semi-final since 1954. In that match against favourites Brazil, Cubilla gave Uruguay a shock first half lead which they held until just before half-time, but once Brazil drew level, the Uruguayans faded. They were beaten 3-1 and eventually finished fourth, after a third place play-off defeat to West Germany.
Back with Nacional, Cubilla enjoyed another great run of success as the club retained their title in 1970 and by 1972 had matched the four championships in a row he had won with Peñarol. They also matched the international success of Peñarol by beating Estudiantes in the final of the Copa Libertadores in 1971, before edging out Greek side Panathinaikos to win the Intercontinental Cup.
In 1974 Cubilla went to the World Cup again, but at 34 was a fading force for Uruguay. He came off the bench in the final group game against Sweden with the team needing a win to progress, but they lost 3-0 and Cubilla never played for his country again. At the end of that year, with his career seemingly in decline, he left Nacional and spent a year with Santiago Morning in Chile, before ending his career back in Uruguay with Defensor.
That 1976 season with Defensor provided a great finale to Cubilla's playing career. Between them, Peñarol and Nacional had won every league title in Uruguay since the professional era began in 1932, but with Cubilla in the team Defensor edged out Peñarol by a single point to take their first ever championship. Following that success, Cubilla retired from playing at the age of 36 and began to think about moving into coaching.
His first club was Olimpia of Paraguay, who he joined in 1979 when they were already reigning league champions. Cubilla retained the title in his first season and won it again in 1980, while in between those successes he led Olimpia to victory in the Copa Libertadores, the first team from outside Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay to win the trophy. His team also beat Malmö FF of Sweden to win the Intercontinental Cup.
After a short spell with Newell's Old Boys in Argentina, Cubilla returned to coach Peñarol in 1981, leading them to that year's league title. He coached a number of clubs throughout the rest of the 1980s but it was always with Olimpia that he enjoyed his greatest success. His second spell brought another championship in 1982 and his third, beginning in 1988, proved to be even better.
He won back-to-back league titles in his first two seasons and in 1990, led the club to a second Copa Libertadores title, as well as the 'Supercopa Sudamericana' competition for past Libertadores champions. The achievements of that season led to Cubilla being named South American coach of the year for 1990 and on the back of his success in Paraguay, Cubilla was chosen to manage the Uruguayan national team following the 1990 World Cup.
Twice he led his country in the Copa América, with a disappointing group stage exit in 1991 being followed by a quarter-final defeat to Colombia on penalties in 1993. Cubilla however left his job later that year, with Uruguay failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the USA. In 1995 he returned to Olimpia once again, where by the end of the 1999 season he had led the club to four more league championships in five seasons, taking his total with the club to eight.
Since the end of his fourth spell with Olimpia in 2002, Cubilla's involvement in football has been more infrequent with a handful of short stays at clubs all across Latin America, working as far afield as Argentina, Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru. He had a fifth spell with Olimpia in 2010, before most recenly working with another Paraguayan club, Tacuary, in 2012.
References (all accessed 1 December 2012):
- Published on Saturday, 01 December 2012 23:41