Football is one of the most popular sports in Colombia, and it has produced numerous successful clubs. It is hard to classify which have been the most all-round successful of all time, since each team has had its own share of achievements and moments of glory over different spells. However, if we take into account titles won, consistency in national and international tournaments and their impact on the country’s football culture, these are the ones we consider the five best clubs in Colombian football history.
Considered by many the best football team in Colombia, Atlético Nacional has won 32 official titles, including national and local honors.
In 1989, Atlético Nacional won its first Copa Libertadores, thus becoming the first Colombian club to do so. The team, managed by Francisco Maturana and led by players like René Higuita and Andrés Escobar, played a brand of attractive attacking football that captivated all of Latin America.
The final match against Paraguayan club Olimpia was spectacular. In the first leg, the Asunción outfit prevailed 2-0; however, in the return match at El Campín stadium in Bogotá, Atlético won by the same score, and later clinched victory in the penalty shootout, 5-4. Higuita was one of the heroes, saving three spot kicks.
After 27 years without winning the Copa Libertadores, Atlético Nacional again conquered the tournament in 2016. Under the guidance of Reinaldo Rueda, the team defeated Ecuador’s Independiente del Valle in the final, with an aggregate score of 2-1.
Other major moments in Atlético Nacional’s history were winning the Recopa Sudamericana in 2017, the two times it won the Copa Merconorte (1998 and 2000) and its Copa Interamericana successes in 1990 and 1997.
AMÉRICA DE CALI
With 15 first division titles, América de Cali is another one of the best football clubs in Colombia. Additionally, it has reached the final of the Copa Libertadores four times (1985, 1986, 1987 and 1996), thus being the Colombian club with most appearances in the competition’s showpiece; although it is yet to win it. América conquered the Copa Merconorte in 1999.
According to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, América was the best Colombian football club in the 20th century.
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This Bogotá club has won 15 league titles, as well as the Copa Merconorte in 2001 and three Copa Colombia trophies. It is one of the most popular clubs in the country and its squad has included world-class players, like Alfredo Di Stéfano.
Millonarios had its golden age in the 1950s, when it won three consecutive league titles between 1951 and 1953, and also conquered the Copa Colombia in 1952. The team was known as “El Ballet Azul” (“The Blue Ballet”) because of its eye-catching offensive play, led by players like Di Stéfano, Adolfo Pedernera and Nestor Raúl Rossi.
With 10 league titles, Deportivo Cali is another one of the best football clubs in Colombia. It has also been a constant presence in international tournaments. This team has reached the Copa Libertadores final twice, although it has also been unable to lift the trophy, losing to Boca Juniors in 1978 and to Palmeiras in 1999. It also reached the final of the defunct Copa Merconorte in 1998.
JUNIOR DE BARRANQUILLA
Junior is another one of the country’s most successful clubs, and the fifth one with more titles won in its history, holding nine first division trophies, two Copa Colombia titles and two Superliga de Colombia cups in its cabinet.
Junior de Barranquilla has also taken part in international tournaments, with a highlight being the 2018 Copa Sudamericana final, lost in the penalty shootout to Atlético Paranaense. In 1994, it reached the semifinal of the Copa Libertadores, in what has been the club’s best result in the tournament so far.