Clausura Play-off Semi-final Second-legs: La U lose their unbeaten run but do enough to face Cobreloa – who left it late to qualify – in the final

Vargas sees red but La U reach the final (IMG:ANFP)

Cobreloa 1-2 Colo Colo (Agg 4-4)

Attacking and defending. The good teams can do one. The great teams can do both. This present Colo Colo side fall into the former. A valiant effort in a fascinating and high-paced encounter was not enough to edge past a Cobreloa side coached by the gregarious ex-Chile manager Nelson Acosta.

Colo Colo had to win by two clear goals due to Cobreloa’s higher placed finish in the league and wasted no time racing into a two goal lead. But eventually defensive failings would re-surface even as Cobreloa went down to ten men.

Los Albos got off to a great start after 15 minutes when Esteban Paredes brought down a long ball played out of defence while turning Cobreloa defender Cristian Suárez all in one movement before slipping in Muñoz in his second movement. The striker hit into the ground and across goalkeeper Nicolás Peric, setting up a wonderful evening of football.

Paredes was the star of the opening stages, playing a captain’s role leading by example. Twisting and turning with the ball. Showing defenders one way then bamboozling them by heading off in the opposite direction. He is at his best in tight situations, wriggling free before playing incisive passes between defenders or going on his own. He was ably supported by Lucas Wilchez, offering width and direct runs from the left-wing-back position. Rangy yet skilful with a dash of unpredictability, he has more influence on games when on the front foot.

But it was back to the Muñoz Paredes double act as Colo Colo doubled their advantage and took the lead in aggregate score. Muñoz returned the favour this time, pushing a past to Paredes who cut inside the defender before nonchalantly lifted the ball over Peric.

Cobreloa seemed to be taken aback by the ferocity in Colo Colo’s play, especially their first goal. But they responded well from the second, upping their game. They looked most dangerous through or from Hugo Lusardi, not Nicólas Trecco. Lusardi tested Francisco Prieto with a long range effort but the goalkeeper was equal to it, acrobatically tipping the shot over the bar.

After some of the excellent football on show in the first half the game tired and slowed in the second.

Lucas Wilchez could have extended Colo Colo’s lead on the counter-attack but blazed over after bursting through the gaping holes in the home side’s defence. While Lusardi brought the best out of Prieto again with a curling free kick.

But the game kicked back into life with a wonderful last ten minutes after substitute Mauro Olivi failed to get the optimum weight with a chip over Peric as the goalkeeper advanced to deal with a poor pass back.

The game looked to be done and dusted when Lusardi gave the near-side linesman a piece of his mind. The referee took no time at all dishing out the red card. The Police then had to protect the linesman as missiles flew down from the stands but instead of hitting the intended target Lusardi was hit with a bottle of water.

The game had calmed down only for a short period before the ten men punished poor defending from Los Albos and scored the decisive goal to take Nelson Acosta’s men into the final. Trecco found space down the right to whip in a cross which substitute Diego Barrios threw himself at to nod in the vital goal.

Colo Colo pushed and pushed but the goal had taken the wind out of their sails, sending Cobreloa into the Clausura final.

Universidad De Chile 1-2 Universidad Católica (Agg 3-3)

It had to come to an end at some. 36 games unbeaten, a run stretching back to the middle of July. For periods of this match it looked this would be the game that it would be ended. Then with swing of a boot it was 37 games and a place in the Clausura final against Cobreloa. Only it appeared they had forgotten about injury time. Slackness in their passing from the back gave the ball away in a dangerous area and . . . GOL! Universidad de Chile would still be playing Cobreloa in the final of the Clausura but they wouldn’t be looking for their 38th and 39th unbeaten game in a row.

Católica had to win by two like Colo Colo had to two nights previous. And like Los Albos Cató started on the front foot and never relaxed. There was much pressure but little opportunities for their forwards to thrive.

Pablo Calandria dragged a shot wide before the half hour mark after Jhonny Herrera let himself down once again with poor decision making from a cross. He advanced a long way from goal and did not get enough on his punch but Calandria could not punish him.

La U were not themselves. No rhythm, no fluidity, everything was disjointed as the three forwards were cut off from the rest of the team. They seemed to be dazed by all their recent excursions. It was only until Gustavo Lorenzetti, who hadn’t played as much as his team mates, replaced the injured Matías Rodríguez that there was a link between midfield and attack, Gustavo Canales unable to link play from deep.

UC on the other hand were seeing Kevin Harbottle drive the team forward once again with a supporting cast. First Roberto Cerceda bombed inside from left-back playing the ball left to Harbottle but his left-foot shot, similar to his goal in the first-leg, was clawed away by Herrera. Two minutes later and just before half-time the goal did come, setting up an absorbing second half.

A Los Azules attack broke down, UC moving the ball quickly to Felipe Gutiérrez. Harbottle made an excellent diagonal run across and behind the home side’s defence to meet the perfect pass and roll the ball past Herrera.

It only took eight second half minutes for the game to rouse back into life. Moments earlier Eduardo Vargas had been booked after a decision did not go his way but he was then shown a straight red card. Like Lusardi in the Cobreloa game he had said something out of turn and it appears Chilean referees take no nonsense so a red card was shown. At this point it seemed it would be Vargas’ last act in a Universidad de Chile shirt. Católica were still the stronger side and now playing with a man advantage. What a horrible way to end such a positive spell in an Azul top.

But as we all know football is funny. One minute you look down and out then something special happens to turn the game on its head and Osvaldo González provided it. A throw-in was cleared to what looked like safety but the defender was lurking 35 yards from goal. The ball bounced in front of him at an awkward angle but he unleashed a technically perfect volley that flew into the top corner. GOLAZO! Wonder. Goal.

It stunned UC and they would soon even the numbers up as the pace of substitutes Pablo Magalhaes and Felipe Gallegos frightened the defence and pushed them deeper. Francisco Silva was caught the wrong side on one occasion and paid the price pulling Gallegos back and picking up his second booking.

Things were looking a lot brighter for Vargas, Jorge Sampaoli and La U. They could have even secured the win with chances from Eugenio Mena, Pablo Magalhaes and Canales on the counter-attack before looking to run down the clock in stoppage time. Herrera rolled the ball out to the ever reliable Marcelo Díaz. UC had pressed high up the pitch with nothing to lose and the midfielder looked to play a chipped pass sideways, just outside his box, not looking where or to who he was passing.

The pass was intercepted by Francisco Pizarro and finished by another substitute Jose Luis Villanueva.

They had made the final. But at a price. Vargas will miss at least the first leg and their unbeaten record, something which will unlikely be replicated for a long, had vanished. All that is left is memories of it. Memories that will look that much better with a Clausura championship to go along with the Apertura and Copa Sudamericana.

Mario Lepe can count himself unlucky. Over the two legs his side more than held their own and in Kevin Harbottle they may just have the next wunderkind to come out of Chile.

But it is now two final games for La U to finish a perfect season, even if their impeccable run has come to an end. Although I think Nelson Acosta will have something to say . . .

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