It doesn’t feel that long ago I was penning the Apertura preview on the back of a wonderful year for Universidad de Chile and Chileans in general, at home and abroad. Sixteen match-days later and we find ourselves looking towards week 17; after which the play-offs between the top eight sides commence.
Of the eight play-off spots available five have been confirmed – Universidad de Chile, O’Higgins, Deportes Iquique, Universidad Católica and Unión Española – before the ‘regular’ season concludes. The remaining three spots are currently being occupied by Cobreloa, Huachipato and Colo Colo. However Unión La Calera, Santiago Wanderers, Universidad de Concepción and Audax Italiano can all, however unlikely, claim a place that will extend their season by at least two games.
Out of the seven teams who cling to the hope of prolonging their season some have been in and around the upper echelons of the Primera Divisón all year, others have drifted in and out of a play-off place, Concepción have crept into the fold unnoticed while a couple looked to have little chance four weeks ago.
So here is brief rundown of the seven teams who go into the final week with their Apertura campaign on the line:
After a superb 2011 Clausura where Cobreloa succumbed to the all-conquering Universidad de Chile over two legs in the play-off finals it has been downhill since. The season started well with three wins and a draw from their opening four games but a defeat to La U in a rearranged fixture signalled a downturn in fortune as they went on to draw and then lose six in a row costing experience manager Nelson Acosta his job.
The appointment of Javier Torrente, another coach who has worked under Marcelo Bielsa, has proved a masterstroke; winning all four under the new manager while only conceding one goal. Acosta had the team structured and organised in a 4-3-1-2 so it may take a while for Torrente to fully implement his ideas but he has rejuvenated the team at the right moment.
If there is one team currently in play-offs but likely to slip out it is Huachipato. Having spent most of the season in the top 8 a run of four with out a win has sucked them towards the chasing pack led by La Calera who defeated Huachipato in week 16. A win for the steelers – at home – would have confirmed their play-off place while eliminating La Calera from the picture.
However La Calera battled with ten men and claimed a late victory. With all their attacking talent on the pitch Huachipato struggled to create openings and now have to go to Universidad de Chile and pick up three points or keep their fingers crossed that those elsewhere slip up. They have to keep in mine La U have lost their last two league games and with a play-off spot confirmed they may rest players for the return leg of their Copa Libertadores quarter-final.
Once again it has been a time of turmoil at Colo Colo. The pre-season aim was to secure qualification to the Copa Sudamericana, putting Los Albos back into continental competition. Ivo Basay was backed by the board and allowed to invest in a host of new recruitments including Chilean international centre-back Pablo Contreras.
Yet it became patently clear that there was a balance missing within the side. At times it was left to Rodrigo Millar to almost single handily pull El Cacique to victory. A corner looked to be turned in Calama against Cobreloa when Basay switched to a back four and won 2-0. But that was followed up with a home defeat to Palestino.
Basay would not last much longer in the job and was replaced by interim coach Luis Pérez after a 4-2 defeat to Unión Española. Colo Colo failed to win their next three, including a 5-0 dismantling at the hands of fierce rivals Universidad de Chile.
But tight 1-0 wins at home to strugglers Unión San Felipe and Antofagasta meant they climbed into the last play-off spot. And a win for Unión La Calera in Friday evening’s game against Santiago Wanderers will heap the pressure on the black and white, who travel to Audax Italiano on Saturday night knowing only a win will suffice. Expect Esteban Paredes and Millar to rise to the occasion again.
Unión La Calera looks like the danger team having won their last two. They entertain fellow play-off hopefuls Santiago Wanderers on Friday evening (01.00 GMT) knowing a win will place them in the play-off spots for a few hours at least.
So far this season they have defeated both Universidad Católica and Unión Española while coming good at the right time with significant results against Huachipato and Deportes La Serena.
But they will still have to be wary of the threat the Wanderers pose. Los Porteños looked to have a play-off spot all but secured at the end of March as they wracked up three straight wins. An injury to top scorer (11 goals) Sebastián Ubilla sent the side on a downward spiral and despite only missing the one game he has not scored since Wanderers last won on the 31st of March at home to Cobresal.
Five defeats and a draw later and Wanderers sit in 9th place; Pablo Calandria or Juan Lorca failing to pick up the scoring burden.
Can they raise their game for one last attempt to further their season?
Universidad de Concepción look like they have left it too late, stringing two wins together – something which Católica haven’t done this season – and along with Audax Italiano will have to rely on results going their way and a turn around in goal difference goal difference. Their goal differences are -4 and -6 respectively.
If two teams finish on the same amount of points the team that has the most wins claims the higher place. Both are on five wins while those above them are currently on five or six but with a better goal difference (Huachipato (six wins) +1, Colo Colo (six) -1, La Calera (five) +2, Wanderers (six) -1).
It should be an exciting final weekend of the regular season in Chile with games taking place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Although a draw between Unión La Calera and Santiago Wanderers tonight and a relative weight will be lifted from those occupying the remaining play-off places.