Coach Mario Salas has had little time to prepare.
The much-anticipated South American Under-20 Championship kicks off on Wednesday. Followers of the South American leagues are afforded the chance to see if players they have earmarked for a glittering career live up to their billing, while new names can announce themselves as stars.
Many players will have already gained significant league and continental experience, with South American side courageous/desperate in throwing baby-faced talent into the heated atmospheres that the continent throws up.
The tournament is a hidden gem according to Tim Vickery, and with four teams qualifying for this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup it is a tournament looked upon seriously by all competitors.
This time last year everyone knew who Universidad de Chile were, even those who did not follow South American football. 12 months on and Universidad Católica are 90 minutes, and one fine performance, away from reaching the Copa Sudamericana final. But, unlike their Santiago rivals, they have done so under the radar.
São Paulo are all that stand in the way of Católica making the final, with all to play for after a 1-1 draw in the semi-final first-leg.
After a stay of execution afforded to him in the aftermath of the defeats to Ecuador and Argentina in the last batch of World Cup qualifiers, Claudio Borghi knew he and his Chilean side had to deliver a performance of significant improvement in the friendly with Serbia.
Ninety torrid minutes later and Borghi had departed, or has he told the media sacked. Ninety insipid minutes; the match clock not acting as a timer for the game but a countdown until La Roja were Borghi-less, something which fans up and down the Chilean peninsula were eager to see.
Uni-Uni take the plunge (img: unionsanfelipe.com)
Seasons were saved and jobs hung in the balance as the final week of the Clausura reached its conclusion before the play-offs commence. For eight teams the chance of glory continues; for two a chance of redemption; for the bottom two, Primera B hell.
To highlight the competitiveness of the short tournaments in Chile the majority of the clubs had something to play for; everything from play-off placing to relegation survival. And due to the rearranged Universidad de Chile-Universidad de Concepción the tension was creaked up another notch as five games took place at the weekend and a further five on Wednesday. If Sky was broadcasting the last five games it would have been ‘Wild Wednesday’ or some other nonsense.
Arica, a city in the far north of Chile has had a twenty-seven year wait for its football club to win promotion back to the top flight of Chilean football. I have followed San Marcos de Arica since moving here in April 2011 by attending nearly every home match in that time. Under the scorching hot midday sun on Sunday 4th November 2012 San Marcos ended their barren spell. Below is Adam Brandon‘s personal account of how the final day unfolded.
Rios sends UC skyward
Universidad Católica reached the semi-final stage of the Copa Sudamericana for the first time in seven years with a thoroughly deserved two-legged victory over the ‘King of Cups’ Independiente; a result that may just trigger a steep upturn in the fortunes of Los Cruzados.
Only two weeks ago Martín Lasarte was receiving criticism from his own fans as UC hang perilously close to dropping out of the play-off spots in the Clausura. However salvation has come in the Sudamericana, and with each positive result in the competition the more they are looking a settled and confident outfit.
Fabiano finishes exquisitely
Just over 12 months ago La U travelled to Brazil to put in arguably their most devastating performance under Jorge Sampaoli as they obliterated a Flamengo team including Ronaldinho 4-0; prompting headlines in Brazil comparing Los Azules to Barcelona.
On Wednesday night La U were back in Brazil in the quarter-finals of the Copa Sudamericana and in act of symmetry, if that’s the correct word, La U were handed their worst night since Sampaoli took over – if not their worst then certainly their most embarrassing.
From start to finish São Paulo, ruthless and efficient, stormed through La U to devastating effect; Jadson opening and then closing the scoring (there’s that symmetry again) as the Brazilians stuck five past Jhonny Herrera.
La U knew they had to win and Sampaoli set out his team to do just that. And then apologised after for doing so, solely taking the blame.
São Paulo’s pace and precision on the counter-attack was out of this world. Lucas, who moves to France in the new year, scored and put on a show as if to say I’m worth (the reported) £35m, while Luis Fabiano netted the goal of the game, reminiscent to the one Hernan Crespo scored against Liverpool in that Champions League final. Even centre-back Rafael Toloi got in on the act, thundering in a free-kick from 30 yards.