Hunting in pairs: Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas, Chile

Zamorano Salas

Time to go back to the 90’s again for some HOT FRONT TWO action, this time courtesy of Chile’s finest, Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas (AKA ‘El Matador’).

Chile has a reasonably well established football history; the national team participated in the first ever World Cup in 1930, and in the 1962 tournament they finished in third place. Even so, you’re always up against it if you’re a South American nation that isn’t Brazil or Argentina. What gave Chile a fighting chance was that in Zamorano and Salas they had  a strike force who were unfairly good at scoring goals. This was strictly an international partnership – they never partnered each other at club level – but, to put their quality into context you need to reflect on their domestic exploits.


I was watching quite a bit of Serie A football during the mid to late 90’s (we didn’t have Sky, so it was that or the Endsleigh League – Roberto Baggio or Ricky Otto – your move). Inter featured regularly, and although Ronaldo was the main attraction, Zamorano also stood out due to a remarkable display of pragmatism on his part. When Inter signed Ronaldo they gave him the number nine shirt, which had been Zamorano’s. A more fragile ego would have kicked up a fuss, but Zamorano decided to wear eighteen, with a plus sign inserted in between the numbers, like this: ‘1+8’ . There was no sulking, he worked tirelessly for Inter and scored some wonderful goals. Oh, and before Inter he spent four years at Real Madrid, which included a La Liga title. Not bad, eh? Over to, you Marcelo.

I first heard about Salas (career total: 248 goals in 453 appearances) when he was making a name for himself at River Plate (probably courtesy of some brief highlights on legendary 90’s programme, Trans World Sport). He was easy to remember due to his fetching nickname, El Matador – which sounded quite exotic, certainly not the kind of nickname you came across in England. Here, he’d have been called Salasy. His exploits for Chile and River Plate earned a move to Lazio in 1998, which was a pretty big deal at the time – this was the era of Nedved, Nesta, Veron, Vieri, and Crespo (it was, of course, followed by the era of bankruptcy). Salas definitely joined at the right time, before the money tap was turned off Lazio enjoyed the most successful period in their history, capped by a league and cup double in 1999-2000. Then he was off to Juventus, which should have been another memorable chapter, but was ultimately forgettable as injuries and poor from restricted his opportunities.

But, never mind that, this piece is about them as a pair, not as individuals. Zamorano was captain and leader of the national team, winning 69 caps and scoring 34 goals. And Salas was their lethal hit man threat, scoring 37 goals in 71 appearances. It was the 1998 World Cup that presented Chile with an opportunity to test their goal scorers on the biggest stage. The national team had been banned from qualifying for the 1994 tournament – apparently for trying to get a crucial qualifier for the 1990 tournament abandoned. So, the tournament in France must have been a long time coming, especially for Zamorano, who made his debut for Chile in 1987 (Salas is seven years younger and debuted in 1994).

Chile entered the qualification round for the 1998 tournament with Salas and Zamorano leading the line, and the pair didn’t disappoint. They qualified ahead of Peru on goal difference, but it wasn’t marginal – Chile finished with a difference of +14, the best of all the South American sides, while Peru’s was -1. That was the difference these two made to their team. In the space of a couple of games Salas scored a hat-trick against Columbia, and Zamorano hit five against Venezuela.

They warmed up for the World Cup proper with a visit to Wembley in May, 1998, and left with a ‘shock’ 2-0 win over England at Wembley. Salas scored both goals, one was a penalty, but the other was sensational. He beautifully controlled a long pass, taking the ball perfectly in his stride, then smashed a low volley into the corner, all in one movement. Check this out and watch the replays – hilariously good:

Salas continued his good form at the tournament in France, firing his side into a 2-1 lead against Italy in their opening group game, but a late penalty from Roberto Baggio salvaged a point for the Azzuri. It set the tone for their tournament – three games and three draws saw them scrape through in second place to face Brazil in the last sixteen. That didn’t work out so well (a 4-1 defeat), but Salas had netted four goals in four games, winning the Bronze Shoe (I didn’t know such a thing existed).

Zamorano Salas celebrateSo, they weren’t good enough to take Chile into fantasy land, but these two still had something magical about them.

I’ll be honest, I have no idea what other talented Chilean players were around at the time, but the reason I watched Chile games in 98 was to see these two. The best thing about this partnership is that they both loved scoring goals – none of that Theirry Henry too cool to smile celebration for them. They celebrated goals like they mattered. They were the identity of their team and massively raised the profile of Chilean football.

Zamorano finished at Colo Colo, the club he supported as a boy, retiring in 2003.  Salas finished his career at Universidad de Chile, his first club and the main rival of Zamorano’s Colo Colo; he retired in 2008.  Never united at club level, but devastatingly prolific when partnered for Chile. They were as good a pair as you will see in international football.

So, here are some video highlights to showcase the magnificence of these two goal machines. I did find a video with goals from both strikers, but the creator had inexplicably chosen to use Scatman John as the soundtrack. I should warn you that the Zamorano video features a tedious Italian ballad, but for some reason I don’t mind that as a compliment to some football highlights, so maybe I’m the problem here? You can always hit mute. Enjoy.




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27 Responses to Hunting in pairs: Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas, Chile

  1. Dermot says:

    Zamorano was my favourite player growing up as a kid (well, behind Denis Bergkamp). Channel 4’s Italian footie coverage (Saturday’s Football Italia with James Richardson and Sunday’s live game) was my weekend religion. I remember buying my brand new Inter home jersey in Arnott’s Department Store in Dublin (back in 99) and taking it straight to the printing counter. God love the girl working there as I tried repeatedly to explain to her how I wanted the “+” in the middle of the 18. She eventually got the message and I wore it out of the shop and then non-stop for about 496 days straight (I was 13 at the time). I even took it on a family holiday to Mexico, being incapable of having it further than 2cm from my skin at any given moment, and the locals all loved it, celebrating Zamorano as if he was one of their own. It just shows the guy’s appeal in Central/South America in general. Legend of a player, legend of a blog post!!

    • Michael says:

      Respect to you, Dermot, the perseverance was worth it. That was a seriously good shirt to have. You were a football hipster before football hipsters existed.

    • carlos says:

      I thought it was only an American thing. Please do not refer to Mexico as “Central/South America”. Great comment otherwise. I was too young then to understand how cool it was that 1 + 8 thing. I just started following football in those days, and Ronaldo was the about the only player I cared for. Anyway, it’s always great to read about players with character, even if I never saw them or was too young to appreciate them.

    • Alex says:

      What a great story!!

  2. Jim Harcourt says:

    Marcelo Salas was seriously good in his prime, its a shame that because of his injuries he has become something of a forgotten man, and never quite achieved what he should have done- at his peak he was better than the likes of Crespo, Forlan, and then Suarez, Aguero, Falcao and Cavani, that we currently rave about. I only rate Ronaldo, Romario and Batistuta ahead of him of the South American strikers I’ve seen in the past 20 years.

    • Jim Harcourt says:

      I’m not counting Messi as an out-and-out striker/centre forward type before anyone jumps on me for that omission! 😉

  3. Nick says:

    “They celebrated goals like they mattered”…and sang the national anthem like they were about to be shot by a fascist general’s firing squad:

    • Michael says:

      Jesus, HOW long is that anthem? It’d had be fear of death to make you learn all the words to that. You can see why Zamorano was captain though.

      • Dave says:

        Now that is an anthem. Makes me remember how much I hate national anthems being sung by some unknown and broadcast over the tannoy at 200db. Leave it to the fans and players please.

  4. Steve says:

    I was at that 1998 Wembley match – Jose Luis Sierra was the best player on the pitch and Javier Margas, later of West Ham, also stood out. Salas absolutely ruined Sol Campbell that night, murdered him. Fantastic player.

  5. TC says:

    Both fantastic strikers. I recall Salas being heavily linked with Manchester United and felt mightily relieved when he eventually left for Juve.

    On reflection it would have been interesting to see how he might have fared in the Premier League (and in that particular United team). Rather well, I should imagine.

  6. Laurie says:

    I watched Salas in his final few seasons with Universidad de Chile. He was fat, unfit and often injured, and looked much older than his years (still only early thirties), but when he was on the pitch he produced moments of class that instantly set him apart from the rest of the players on the pitch. The type of player it’s a privilege to watch simply bringing down a ball and turning with it.

    His form even won him a recall to the Chile national team and his goals in the qualifiers were crucial in claiming a spot in the 2010 World Cup.

    • Michael says:

      “He was fat, unfit and often injured, and looked much older than his years” for a moment there I thought you were describing me.

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  8. D says:

    Great memories. Like others, I grew up with Channel 4’s Football Italia, and remember being absolutely flabbergasted when Lazio spent around £85m on players in the summer of 98: at the time it seemed an unreal amount, impossible to match. If I remember, the key signings were Salas, Vieri, Mihaijlovic, Stankovic, de la Pena, Sergio Conceicao and Fernando Couto. Almost bizarre to think that Stankovic is still playing—seems like an age ago, in a different world. And what a shame de la Pena didn’t work out in Italy, what an unbelievable player he was, like a mixture of Xavi and Iniesta in one.

  9. James says:

    Brilliant article, I remember there being a big thing about Salas in the papers because of Man Utd looking at him and passively following his exploits from that point on. I’ll never forget that goal against England (wasn’t that the game that Michael Owen made his England debut?).

  10. Giakimo says:

    That’s childhood memories for me.
    I remember Chile-Italy (Baggio shooting a penalty four years after Italy-Brazil!) and I remember very well Salas and Zamorano. At Juve Salas was terrible, he became famous for two things: first, he missed a penalty of the possibly 4-0 derby against Torino (the penalty itself was controversial for a Toro player digged the shooting spot before Salas shot). It wouldn’t have been a problem if only Torino didn’t went on to equalize and the match ended 3-3…
    The second was a reported transfer market legend as Salas was sold to Sporting Lisboa for money and a good prospect player from the Portuguese. Salas refused the move, remaining a bench warmer for Juve, and the player went on to Manchester United and then Real Madrid. Yes, it was Cristiano Ronaldo…

  11. Dom says:

    Bloody brilliant bit of nostalgia. I seem to remember some massive passion from Zamorano (possibly Salas as well) during the Chilean national anthem at the World Cup. The camera panned down the line as it does and he basically shouted the last few words down the lens. Immense.

    No1+8 – what a man.

  12. lopez says:

    Zamorano and Salas are legend in Chile along with Elias Figueroa !!! it was a honour to see them play together for the Chilean national team, i still have Zamoranos shirt !!

  13. Enzo says:

    Remember living in Rome from 1995 until 2003 , this years made a big football fan. Salas to me was only second to Ronaldo at his time at Lazio. He was the reason I went to see a few Lazio games at the time when his team was huge in Europe. Ronaldo was the best I have seen ever

  14. Alex says:

    Firstly may I say what a great page and thank you for taking thetime to make it. I really enjoyed. I am actually anglo-chilean. born in London in 75 after my parents escape from the coup to come to Briatin in the 70’s cause the NHS was world renowned and they were doctors. They didn’t go to the USA. So for me my cultural identity is a love of the UK as my home in terms of culture, humour and education and history, but having been to Chile many many times it was so good to see Za-Sa. I was in my Uni room with mates trying to tell them how good he was at River, cause I knew those amazing goals and he’s a god for river. When salas basically owned England single handedly and what a goal. I went mad!!! ALL my uni mates at the end were ‘bloody hate football’. I think it was dishourable to Salas, to not give him the man of the match that day. Then I graduated and we went to the world cup in France 98 in Nice and people who knew would come up me and hug me wearing the chile top… “ZA-Sa!” Classic. The Italians got lucky and Baggio was a phenominal player back them and I adored Baggio. Wanted to able to play like him! Anyway, I wanted him to sign for Chelsea. When I heard he might be goingt to United my heart sank. His demise when I saw finally him at Chelsea in Europe he was bought on and subbed off in one half. I never been so dissapointed. His leaving ceromony was moving. Chileans utterly lovc ‘La Roja’. They are a very proud nation as are the English . The current footbal team attack always, their defence is crap, will never win anything unless they toughen up, but they play so quick and attack minded with short intricate passes that they are so much fun to watch. Its a shame England cant play that way. Looking forward to the World Cup!!! Great page again. Gonna watch it again 😉

  15. Alex says:

    Michael, just so you know, that the Zamarona song is a Chilean song with lyrics like “Bam Bam Bam Bam, the pride of chile, the capitan!” Catchy number eh! Bam-Bam-Zamorano (i.e. Bang Bang) and El Matador – Spanish for the bull fighter.

  16. Mariano says:

    Great article!

    Just a few remarks:

    -Chile was banned for the 1994 qualifying games due to the Cóndor Rojas affaire (too long to explain right now, you can do some research by googling Roberto Rojas).

    -During the last stage of his career, when he returned to River Plate, Salas was way out of shape and got injured frequently… many argued this was because he (supposedly) used to party a lot with Argentine supermodels (there are some really bizarre urban legends circulating about this in Argentina). Still a legend, El Matador.

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