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Born: Saturday 19 June 1926, Córdoba, Argentina
Died: Tuesday 30 April 1996, Lima, Peru (aged 69)
Position: Centre Forward
Argentine-born centre-forward Juan Hohberg is one of the few foreign-born players to have appeared for the Uruguyan national team, making a huge impact in the team which reached the semi-final of the 1954 World Cup as defending champions. Having started his career in his Argentina, he went on to spend a highly successful decade with Peñarol and later coached his adopted country to another World Cup semi-final appearance.
Of German descent, Juan Eduardo Hohberg was born in Córdoba in Argentina on 19 June 1926, the son of a farmer. He began his football career with local team Central Córdoba, initially playing as a back-up goalkeeper. When his team found itself short of players one day Hohberg found himself thrown into the team at centre-forward, scoring two goals in his first game in that position. Thoughts of remaining a goalkeeper were quickly forgotten and he soon developed a reputation as a strong, powerful attacking player, excellent in the air and able to use his strength to hold off opponents.
Although only playing for a mid-table second tier side, Hohberg found himself the subject of interest from bigger clubs across the country. In 1947 he moved to Rosario Central, scoring eleven goals in his first season of top flight football. He also impressed as Rosario won a friendly tournament in Montevideo and caught the eye of Peñarol, one of Uruguay's clubs. Hohberg moved to Uruguay ahead of the 1949 season, making his debut for Peñarol in a 3-2 win over fierce rivals Nacional in a reserve game.
He joined Peñarol at a time when the club had narrowly missed on on the last three league titles to Nacional, but in Hohberg's first season they turned the tables in style. Peñarol won 16 and drew the other two of their 18 league games in 1949, winning the title by six clear points. Hohberg's performances were so impressive that the Uruguayan national federation tried to arrange for him to get clearance to represent them at the World Cup in 1950, but their attempts were unsuccessful and he missed out on the team's triumph in Brazil.
Although Peñarol lost their grip on the league title in 1950, they won it straight back a year later with Hohberg finishing as top scorer in the league, with 17 goals. He did not appear in the crucial championship play-off against Nacional in 1952, which Peñarol lost 4-2, but was the league's leading scorer for a second time in 1953 as he helped his club to a third league title in five seasons. With Uruguay's defence of the World Cup approaching, his adopted country again hoped to bring Hohberg into their squad and this time were successful.
He made his international debut in a 4-1 defeat to Paraguay in one of Uruguay's warm-up matches. When the finals in Switzerland came round, Hohberg was not initially a first choice and had to sit out the group stage wins over Czechoslovakia and Scotland and the quarter-final victory over England. His chance finally came however in the semi-final against tournament favourites Hungary, which would go down as one of the greatest matches in the history of the World Cup.
Hungary took an early lead in the match and doubled their advantage shortly after half-time, but Hohberg brought them back into contention. With 15 minutes to go he got on the end of a pass from Juan Schiaffino and scored his first ever international goal, before finding a dramatic equaliser just four minutes from time. So overjoyed were Uruguay to be back on level terms that Hohberg was reported to have been knocked briefly unconscious during his team-mates' wild celebration of the goal. Unfortuantely for Uruguay, two extra-time goals from Sándor Kocsis ultimately gave Hungary a 4-2 win and Uruguay a first ever World Cup defeat.
Hohberg would go on to score again in the third place match against Austria, but Uruguay were again beaten and those three goals proved to be the only ones he ever scored at international level. As with many of the leading South American players, top European clubs took an interest in him but no move ever materialised, so Hohberg returned to Uruguay where he won a fourth league title with Peñarol in the 1954 season.
In 1958 Sporting Clube de Portugal tried to take Hohberg to Europe, but their attempts to sign him were frustrated by restrictions on foreign players and he had to return to Uruguay. After a brief time out of action following an accident, he helped Peñarol to another league title that year, after three years of missing out to Nacional. They won the league again in 1959 after a play-off with Nacional, qualifying for the first ever Copa Libertadores. Peñarol won that competition with a 2-1 aggregate win over Paraguayan side Olimpia, with Hohberg appearing as a substitute in the second leg.
Peñarol won yet another title in 1960 but that proved to be Hohberg's final season at the club, leaving after the 5-1 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in the inaugural Intercontinental Cup. After a brief spell with Racing Montevideo brought his playing career to an end in Colombia with Cúcuta Deportivo, where he scored 19 goals in a fourth place finish in the 1961 season. Retiring at the age of 35, Hohberg embarked on a moderately successful coaching career.
First managing in Colombia as player-coach at Cúcuta and then with Atlético Nacional, he was appointed coach of the Uruguayan national team in 1969. Leading the team into the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, Hohberg took Uruguay to their first semi-final since his own appearance as a player 16 years earlier, but just as in 1954 they were beaten both in the semi-final and the third place match. He later coached several clubs in Uruguay, including Peñarol, and also briefly managed in Greece with Panathinaikos.
During the late 1970s Hohberg had a less successful second spell with the national team, during which they failed to qualify for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, but his greatest successes as a manager came either side of that. Hohberg's only major honours as a manager came in Peru, where he won league titles with Universitario in 1974 and with Alianza in both 1977 and 1978. In his retirement he settled permanently in Peru and it was there that he died in 1996, shortly before his 70th birthday.
References (all accessed 2 April 2012):
- Published on Monday, 02 April 2012 17:24