They say that our destiny is written in the stars. And if the Universidad de Chile players looked up to the sky after their resounding 4-0 victory in Brazil against Flamengo they may have just seen the Copa Sudamericana, and the club’s first ever continental trophy. The same could be said about any of the games in this record breaking Copa Sudamericana run, part of the club’s mammoth 35 game unbeaten spell. But the famous result in Brazil had people sit up and take notice, ‘wow’!
Now their ‘destiny’ has become reality . . .
Having worked so hard, especially in the defensive phase with a new 3-1-4-2 shape in Ecuador to come away with a crucial 1-0 win in the first-leg of the final La U showed no signs of nerves or apprehension, just steely determination and conviction to make sure there was no let up in the club’s biggest game in their history.
Reverting to their trusted 3-4-3 – Francisco Castro replacing Albert Acevedo – La U were in no mood to sit back defend their lead. They stuck to the principles bestowed in them by Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli, relentlessly pressing and suffocating the life out of a shell-shocked LDU from kick-off. The Ecuadorians, who do similar to teams at home, had no answer, constantly giving the ball away, panicking, dazed and confused.
The fitness of the Chileans was startling; the pint-sized quartet Charles Aránguiz, Marcelo Díaz, Eduardo Vargas, Castro as well as Gustavo Canales and the two wide-men Eugenio Mena and Matías Rodríguez scurried and scuttled around the pitch. Scenting blood they hunted in packs.
When they got the ball back, which was quite a lot, they kept it. That is exactly what they done for the goal. LDU sat off, defending their own half, allowing Díaz the time and space to pass around the defence until an opening came, the defence lofting a ball to Aránguiz who had found space. His pass did not work, LDU defence intercepting it but the first player to respond to the loose ball? Vargas. Dragging players inside he was able to exchange passes with Díaz, creating space for Rodríguez down the right. The wing-back’s deflected cross fell to none other than Vargas who, readjusting his body, sent a left-foot volley into the bottom corner for his 10th goal of the tournament, equalling Humberto Suazo’s record for the Copa Sudamericana.
There was still no let up. Los Azules showed exactly, as a unit, how to press effectively. They didn’t just press the ball but the space as well, making the pitch as small as possible for the opposition.
They make the man in possession think twice about where he’s about to pass it. And then again and again until he rushes the pass. If he manages to find a team-mate he keeps possession, but not for long as it becomes even more difficult for the team-mate to find a pass. This is exactly what happened last night, making LDU rush and think quicker. If it was a cartoon you would be able to see smoke coming from their brain as their mind works overtime evaluating the potential passes and situations. It is that ability where the comparisons with Barcelona and the nickname ‘Barcelona de las Americas’ are most fitting.
Even Los Albos goalkeeper, Alexander Domínguez, was feeling the effect of the press, not willing to take a first touch on a pass back, resorting to hitting it long every time, and almost every time conceding possession back to La U.
While effectively lining up as a 3-4-3, it could easily be 3-1-2-1-3, Díaz in a deep role in front of the defence, wide men just ahead of him and Aránguiz scurrying around supporting the three forwards and generally causing havoc; neither Fernando Hidalgo or Lucas Acosta were sure enough to drop deep and pick him up while the three defenders as their hands full with the three forwards. But La U are so fluid that it would be foolish to restrict the players to defined roles.
However the one point of reference was always Díaz who always made himself available for a pass. For most of the first-half you wouldn’t have begrudged LDU players from quoting a line from The Vaccines best song ‘Wetsuit’: “Slow it down go easy on me”. At times Díaz would, but just when LDU are settling in he would quicken the pace of the game again. Always in control.
And despite playing as the deepest midfielder he emphasised the pressure La U put on the ball in the 17th minute, joining the four attackers tackling on the edge of the Ecuadorian’s box and winning a corner.
LDU, who had replaced Claudio Bieler with Luis Bolaños from the first-leg, showed none of the intensity from previous week. Néicer Reasco and Paúl Ambrosi offered little from the wings; too preoccupied with Mena and Rodríguez. Bolaños looked most capable of creating an opportunity. But out of possession neither he nor Ezequiel González done enough to close down Díaz and shut off the midfield schemer as an option.
While the midfield pairing of Hidalgo and Acosta were impotent. Only Hidalgo showed bravery in trying to get forward. Maybe they were too wary of the counter-attack but their supporting runs would have gone unchecked in the first half with Díaz often the only midfielder back protecting.
The tie should have been, if it wasn’t already, over by half-time; Rodríguez twice going close, once of which Mena blazed over the rebound, and Castro failing to do better through on goal. Gustavo fared no better seven minutes into the second half, snatching at a presentable chance in the box.
Sampaoli changed the shape of the team ten minutes in by taking off Castro for Gustavo Lorenzetti and pushing Vargas closer to Canales and dropping Diaz deeper with Lorenzetti slipping into the middle of midfield, 3-1-4-2. Enjoying more sustained periods of possession LDU were now faced with obstacles in midfield. Díaz crowded the space wanted by González and Bolaños and Hidalgo and Acosta now had two direct opponents in Aránguiz and Lorenzetti.
Not as forceful in the press as they were in the first 40 minutes La U were now happy to regain possession and exploit spaces on the counter-attack. A ploy made easier when defender Jorge Guagua was sent off for unnecessarily leading with the arm when ‘attempting’ to win a header. The resultant free-kick saw a high class save from Domínguez, LDU’s man of the match.
A further chance (Canales) and half chance (Vargas) were wasted before it was 2-0 with ten to go. Vargas and Canales were linking up in classic ‘front two’ style, Vargas dropping off the defence into space while Canales plays off the last defender providing an attacking focal point.
Hernán Barcos – how the tie might have been different if he converted either of his two great first-leg chances – was hounded out of possession inside La U’s half by three players. Breaking quickly Mena fed Canales who exchanged passes with Vargas before a second one-two freed Vargas in the box. His shot was blocked by Domínguez but Lorenzetti was following up to fire home.
A consequence of the players hunger, numerical advantage and a rapid counter-attack.
The one blight on the night was the red card for Matías Rodríguez, stupidly picking up a second yellow card after a fantastic performance dominating the whole right wing.
But it was quickly forgotten about when the third goal came. We’re fast running out of superlatives for Eduardo Vargas. Dropping off into the acres of space in the midfield to collect the pass from Lorenzetti he was Clark Kent entering the elevator ready to do something special. Collecting the ball and turning he had exited the elevator, tossing away his glasses and ripping of his shirt and tie. Now with three defenders in front he was Superman. Running at pace and power he exploded away from the defenders into the box, all the while the ball is under close control. Then the finish was simple, it was second nature. He was the hero, the darling of the Estadio Nacional and now a record breaking goal scorer. All at the age of 22.
In the presence of one of the all time greats, Marcelo Salas, and under the stars Universidad de Chile reached their destiny. Copa Sudamericana 2011 winners. Records were broke, goals were scored and scintillating football was played.