It was a night of celebration in the Estadio Santa-Laura Universidad SEK as Unión Española consolidated their place in the play-off positions, – bringing them into the reckoning for the race to qualify for the Copa Libatadroes – defeating O’Higgins 3-1 in an exciting encounter, which saw Leonardo Monje score his 100th career goal and then follow it up with a second to begin his quest for the next 100.
Both teams were happy to take risks and pass from the back, but when the moment appeared explode into an attacking force with quick, sharp passing. In the end the difference between the two teams their defending. With Uruguayan Diego Scotti sitting in front of a back three that included Ecuadorian internationalist, and ex-Birmingham defender, Giovanny Espinoza, Unión Española had the necessary defensive experience and solidity to complement their attacking verve.
Española went ahead in the 12th minute after a breathless beginning to the game. A pass from Gonzalo Villargra found wing-back Braulio Leal bombing down the right-wing – a common feature of the home side’s play. His cross could not have been much better landing on Leandro Monje’s head and then into the far corner of the goal. All Monje had to do was give the ball direction and he had noticed his 100th career goal. A momentous landmark in any striker’s career.
The tempo should no signs of abating, O’Higgins looking for an immediate response and it almost came twice in a matter of moments. First Sebastián Pinto brought out the best in Española’s maverick ‘keeper Federico Elduayen from the edge of the box, having beat Espinoza with a stepover. From the corner Jose Luis Gonzalez sent a header agonizingly past the far post.
Chances squandered in the attacking third were augmented by catastrophic defending at the other end. Cristián Oviedo’s slack pass to Monje on the half way line saw O’Higgins defence caught high up the park as the ball was played into the abundance of vacant space. Raúl Estevéz ran through one on one with goalkeeper Luis Marín, but unselfishly laid the ball to Monje who had carried his run after playing the pass. Monje passed the ball into the empty net; 99 goals until the next 100 is reached.
Two minutes later and Fernando de la Fuente had out done those previously in the ‘inept defending category’ as O’Higgins fell three goals behind. An aimless ball played forward was allowed to bounce before de la Fuente, under pressure from Estevéz, attempted to bring the ball under control with his chest as he ran back towards his own goal. Suffice to say a shambles was made and Estevéz outmuscled and outpaced him, finishing with a wonderful shot across Marín into the far corner.
O’Higgins were still a threat in the Española half, especially with Esteban Carvajal in good form, using his pace to cause problems. However José Cantillana saw fit to make a double substitution at half-time in attempt to turn their goal threat in to goal(s) scored. O’Higgins played even higher up the park, pushing UE deeper.
But chances failed to materialise, Española comfortable with the situation with Scotti coming into his own, getting on the ball and distributing efficiently while holding his position and the home side’s shape.
A fourth goal could have came as the hour approached but neither Gonzalo Barriga or Monje were clinical when presented with an good opportunity; Barriga shooting straight at Marín when through 1v1 and Monje missing out on his hat-trick with a deft chip.
A consolation goal was proving troublesome for the away side, Sebastián Pinto’s one man mission to get the on the score sheet briefly interrupted by Enzo Gutiérrez’s dragged shot after working himself into a good position. Pinto himself denied again by Elduayen five minutes from time.
It was only when O’Higgins had went down to nine men that they finally got on the score sheet, and yes it was Pinto this time. Fernando de la Fuente’s miserable evening was brought to an end, picking up a second yellow card for handball and he was quickly followed by Luis Núñez, disputing the referee’s decision as frustration got the better of him.
Straight out the ‘O’Higgins ‘How Not to Defend’ manual’ Española comically gifted Pinto his 6th goal of the Clausura. Under little pressure they failed to deal with a routine cross, the ball rebounding to Pinto who collected his composure and thundered his shot into the top corner.
Man of the Match: Diego Scotti
Estadio Santa Laura – U. SEK | Referee: Enrique Osses.
U. Española (3): Federico Elduayen, Giovanny Espinoza, Leandro Delgado, Rafael Olarra, Braulio Leal, Gonzalo Villagra, Diego Scotti, Gonzalo Barriga (Óscar Hernández, 79′), Martín Ligüera, Raúl Estévez (Jean Paul Pineda, 63′), Leonado Monje (Rodrigo Gattas, 71′). DT. José Luis Sierra.
O’Higgins (1): Luis Marín, Yerson Opazo, Cristián Oviedo, Luis Casanova (Samuel Teuber, 46′), Mauricio Arias, Fernando de la Fuente, Juan Luis González, Enzo Gutiérrez, Esteban Carvajal (Guillermo Suárez, 46′), Sebastián Pinto, Boris Sagredo (Luis Núñez, 69′). DT. José Cantillana.
Goles: 1-0 Leonardo Monje (12′), 2-0 Leonardo Monje (19′), 3-0 Raúl Estévez (21′), 3-1 Sebastián Pinto (91′).
Expulsados: Fernando de la Fuente (O’Higgins, 87′), Luis Núñez (O’Higgins, 88′).