Universidad de Chile became one of the first teams to confirm their place in the last-16 of the Copa Libertadores with a fine away performance in Mendoza, completing a double over Argentine’s Godoy Cruz.
Chances came thick and fast in the first 45 minutes, which had to be extended to 56 due to floodlight failure mid-way through the half, but it was Ángelo Henríquez’s strike that was the difference. Despite their precarious position in the group Godoy Cruz struggled to threaten La U’s three-man backline often in what was a solid rearguard action, minus one or two blemishes, notably from the long ball.
Nery Pumpido, Godoy’s coach, switched to a back three in a 3-4-1-2 from their usual 4-4-2 used in the first leg. However the back three played more like a back five with the wing-backs being forced deep by La U’s; Matías Rodríguez and Eugenio Mena forceful and aggressive in their wing-play as the Chileans fluid 3-4-3 dominated the game.
Within the first 25 minutes La U could have been four up, three of which could have been scored by Junior Fernándes. First the lively Henríquez fired a centre across of the six yard but it agonizingly missed the sliding Fernándes who would have scored with even the lightest of touches.
Then, reading a Lucas Ceballos back-pass, Henríquez intercepted but as he ran through one on one with Sebastián Torrico he could only prod his shit into the mid-drift of the goalkeeper.
A feature of La U’s play is the efficient distribution from goalkeeper Jhonny Herrera. From by-kicks he looks to play short to one of the defenders. But with the ball in his hands he tries to get La U attacking quickly and found Fernándes in behind Godoy’s defence with a long kick. The rangy forward bustled his way through but curled a shot wide of the far post. It was soon followed by a header, again from Fernándes, which never looked like troubling Torrico’s goal.
Then darkness descended on the Estadio Malvinas as the lights went out. But it brought about a wonderful sight as hundreds of flairs gave the ground a modicum of light, adding to an already intense and passionate atmosphere with supporters arms were pushed back and forth in the air along to their songs as they jumped in unison.
As we saw in the first leg the Argentine’s attempted to take advantage of La U’s struggles in dealing with long balls and this again was their best route to success. Unable to play through Universidad de Chile the Argentines went over them. Leandro Caruso offered an early warning getting in behind the defence but his lob lacked the necessary elevation as he spotted Herrera advancing from his line.
Then came the best chance of the match. Rubén Ramírez won a header from a long Torrico kick, flicking it to the left where a cross was lifted to the back past for the lurking Diego Villar waiting to open the scoring. However the bearded captain contrived to skew his shot wide of the far post.
The miss would prove pivotal. Two minutes into the 11 scheduled for stoppages Henríquez pounced to grab the goal that sent Universidad de Chile into the Copa Libertadores knock-out stages. As in the first leg Godoy stood of Gustavo Lorenzetti, playing in his false 9 position. The diminutive Argentine flicked a glorious ball inside Godoy’s right-sided defenders where Mena was primed to meet the pass but the number 3’s shot was saved by Torrico but only as far as Henríquez; the 17-year-old reacting quickest to pulse the net with a fierce follow up.
Henríquez was entrusted by Jorge Sampaoli who had run out of patience with Francisco Castro and Pedro Morales. The teenager did not let his coach down, proving adept at running the channels, stretching the Godoy defence both laterally and vertically, combining with Fernándes and importantly offering a real goal threat.
The home side would have one more chance to draw level before the interval as Ramírez steered Ceballos’ cross wide of the far post having been found in a very promising position.
Godoy made a half-time change as they reverted to a back four but it was La U who created the first opening with a carbon copy of the chance at the beginning of the match; only the roles were reversed. Fernándes burst down the flank firing in a low cross but Henríquez could not reach the ball with a despairing dive.
The game became more tentative in the second 45 both teams making chances, La U happy to defend slightly deeper and hit on the counter-attack. Their attacking dynamism took a hit when Fernándes went off injured.
It was Godoy who looked more likely to score, the closest being when Ramírez rose highest in the box to meet a cross but his header came back off the base of the post.
Goals were expected and could easily have materialised in the first half. But Sampaoli will be proud of his team’s resistance as Godoy stepped up their efforts in the second half knowing they needed a goal to have any chance of qualifying.
Now they have qualified, and are in a very strong position in the Apertura, La U will go from strength to strength as teams, even the best in the continent, look to avoid the Chileans in the draw.
Atlético Junior 3-0 Universidad Católica
While their Santiago rivals secured qualification from their group Universidad Católica are in a more delicate situation after a 3-0 defeat in Colombia to Atlético Junior.
Unbeaten going into the game at the Estadio Metropolitano, the first half was going well for Cató until conceding in stoppage time. They were still in the game for the majority of the second half but two late Junior goals gave the score line a comprehensive look.
Sherman Cárdenas was proving a handful off the right flank and his pass set Luis Ruiz behind the Católica defence. Ruiz’s wild effort was blocked, spinning fortuitously into the path of Iván Vélez, the number 13 proving unlucky for UC as he beat Cristopher Toselli at his front post.
Los Cruzados offered little in the way of attacking intent and fell two behind five minutes from the end as Vélez sprang forward on the right and crossed for Luis Páez; the Colombian forward turning and finishing smartly in one swift movement.
Católica’s evening was compounded in the 90th minute as more gaps opened at the back, Ruiz collecting his second assist of the evening although this one was more deliberate, feeding Vladimir Hernández as he ran in behind the defence to roll a shot past Toselli.
The result leaves Universidad Católica in an uncertain position, a point outside the top tow positions with Unión Española and Bolívar, the teams which occupy the positions, still to play each other next week in the outstanding game from game five of the Libertadores.
Católica will have to win in Bolívar in two weeks time to secure qualification.