Universidad Católica reached the semi-final stage of the Copa Sudamericana for the first time in seven years with a thoroughly deserved two-legged victory over the ‘King of Cups’ Independiente; a result that may just trigger a steep upturn in the fortunes of Los Cruzados.
Only two weeks ago Martín Lasarte was receiving criticism from his own fans as UC hang perilously close to dropping out of the play-off spots in the Clausura. However salvation has come in the Sudamericana, and with each positive result in the competition the more they are looking a settled and confident outfit.
Católica were unfortunate that they only brought a 2-2 draw back to Santiago from the first-leg after outplaying the Argentines in Avellaneda, especially in a first half where they could have scored four goals.
Knowing a 0-0 draw would take them through Católica stuck to a game plan which has served them well of late – a game plan that the players seem comfortable with. They went ahead through a Michael Ríos penalty and should have doubled their lead when Fernando Cordero had time and space in the box. Independiente equalised but before the game could settle UC were back in front through another Ríos penalty – in fact his third after he was re-ordered to take it for encroachment.
Católica now await the outcome of the Gremio-Millonarios match to find out their semi-final opposition. If Gremio qualify UC will play Tigre of Argentina. If the Colombians are the victors then UC will have the daunting task of trying to succeed where La U failed, beating São Paulo.
Game plan – I mentioned in the report on the ‘Clásico Universitario’ that it was proactive v reactive. Católica set up in a similar way against Independiente. They didn’t look to control possession. The Argentines had five in midfield against UC’s four so were always likely to edge the midfield battle.
But in winning possession they would move the ball quickly up field through quick combinations and look to play passes in behind Independiente’s high (and slow) defensive line.
Both of Católica’s goals came from the penalty spot with little tactical intrigue surrounding them. It was their best chances in open play that were created by played the ball behind the defence quickly. Firstly, Tomás Costa, who was superb throughout, drove forward from midfield exchanged passes with Francisco Pizarro on the half-way and was set through on goal. By seeing the finish you could see Costa was uncomfortable in that position, sliding the ball wide of the far post.
The second chance was even more simplistic: Hans Martínez flung a long ball down the right channel for Nicolás Castillo to chase and then cut back for Fernando Cordero. The ex-Unión Española player should have scored with the time and space he had inside the box but was denied by Diego Rodríguez.
Meanwhile Independiente’s goal came through the movement of their midfield three stationed behind the lone striker. Paulo Rosales was the central player of the three but moved wide to create overloads down each side or triangles with the advancing full-backs. Rosales shifted left and created space to curl in a cross which was eventually converted by Jonathan Santana.
On the right of the midfield attacking three was Lucas Villafáñez; the Argentine’s outside to in movement caused problems for Alfonso Parot.
Cato antithesis of La U – Both teams looks to move the ball quickly but in contrasting ways. Católica are quite British in the way they play – well before British sides tried to modernise their style. Lasarte has them lined up in a basic 4-4-2 shape.
There is no building from the back and they don’t ‘value’ sideway passes like many do. If under pressure in the defensive third the ball goes long while passes through midfield are direct.
There is nothing flashy about the two central midfielders; they’re there to provide energy and protection to the defence. The creativity comes from the wide positions. On the right there is the hard-working Ríos who is disciplined but a smart attacker shown by the number of goals he has scored in supporting the attack. Fernando Cordero is on the left. He is not winger but a creative number 10 playing wide. He provides variety by being able to go down the line and whip delicious crosses into the box or drift inside and try and find space to create.
In attack it’s the old strike partnership where one drops and one stretches the game. They have a promising and talented striker in Nicolás Castillo but Lasarte seems unsure on his ideal partner. Francisco Pizarro has been used of late to decent effect.
The simplicity of the formation is beginning to provide results for UC and at times they play it to perfection; opposition teams struggling to get a around a well drilled and disciplined side. But other times they look distinctly average in that they struggle to hold onto the ball at time, lacking that bit of star dust that takes teams onto another level.
Red card – The second half saw one of the most bizarre red card decisions you are likely to see. Fernando Cordero jumped for a header but bumped into an opponent. Said opponent feigned injury and Cordero was shown a straight red card. Not only wasn’t it a red card it wasn’t even a foul.
Lasarte tried to be brave as he kept two forwards in attack, moved Ríos over to the left and left UC’s right-hand side unprotected. But it was instantly noticeable that UC were playing with fire and Sixto Peralta was brought on with Francisco Silva moving to the right. Silva is a central midfielder, that’s it. He drifted narrow and when the ball was shifted to Independiente’s left he was too slow to get out and offer Claudio Sepúlveda protection.
Rosales, Villafáñez, Federico Mancuello and Osmar Ferreyra all had opportunities to send in cross from the left. Thankfully for Católica Toselli was only forced into the one save.
Credit to Lasarte for recognising the danger and used his third sub to bring on Enzo Andía which allowed the excellent Cristián Álvarez to move to right-back.
Defensive Spirit – Continuing with the British theme Lasarte praised his side’s determination and spirit; qualities that are cherished in the British Isles.
There is now a toughness and doggedness around the Católica defence that has been missing of late. The return of captain Cristián Álvarez from a testicular injury is boost that can not be quantified. Bypassing the ‘leadership’ and ‘experience’ he brings to the defence he is a good defender, whether at right or centre back. Then there is Hans Martínez who, despite wearing the number 11, has been a stand-out performer of late. Like his captain Martínez is a committed defender who can play football. There should also be a mention for Enzo Andía. The youngster came under criticism earlier on in the year – I include myself – when he was making basic errors. But he is beginning to show why he is held in high regard by Claudio Borghi.