Seasons were saved and jobs hung in the balance as the final week of the Clausura reached its conclusion before the play-offs commence. For eight teams the chance of glory continues; for two a chance of redemption; for the bottom two, Primera B hell.
To highlight the competitiveness of the short tournaments in Chile the majority of the clubs had something to play for; everything from play-off placing to relegation survival. And due to the rearranged Universidad de Chile-Universidad de Concepción the tension was creaked up another notch as five games took place at the weekend and a further five on Wednesday. If Sky was broadcasting the last five games it would have been ‘Wild Wednesday’ or some other nonsense.
So instead of spoiling what happens in the introduction we’ll just jump right in, starting with the weekend’s action . . .
While the football got underway on Saturday the first moments of real drama came on the Sunday. Universidad Católica returned from qualifying for the Copa Sudamericana semi-final to league business where they essentially knew they had to win at home to Universidad de Concepción to reach the play-offs. Concepción themselves were looking for salvation at the bottom end of the annual table.
There has been consternation that Primera games still kick-off so early (12pm) in the Chilean summer with temperatures not conducive to running about at high tempo for 90 minutes. It is a ‘rule’ that is likely to change but in the baking heat in Santiago Concecpión took the lead through ex-Universidad de Chile striker Gabriel Vargas, chipping over Cristopher Toselli after ‘springing’ the offside trap and running through on goal. The goal came after a break in play where the players could refuel and get liquid on board.
Martín Lasarte had made changes to the team that played Independiente and it clearly didn’t work; UC looked disjointed. Two changes were made at half-time and Nicolás Castillo had Católica level two minutes after the interval.
Twenty minutes later UC were ahead; Castillo running onto a Roberto Ovelar cross from the left and powering a header into the net unopposed.
Los Cruzados were heading for one of the best weeks under Lasarte, only for disaster to strike in the remaining minutes as Vargas pounced to grab his second of the game and of the Clausura season.
While not getting the required three points that would seem them move out of the bottom four places they moved a point closer to survival with a game against a weakened Universidad de Chile side to come.
UC’s inability to qualify for the play-offs has been labelled an embarrassment by many around the club. Lasarte admitted that perhaps the team is not strong enough to play in continental competition and do well in the league. He also confessed that he has made mistakes. It is not unrealistic to suggest that the run to the Copa Sudamericana semi-finals has saved the Uruguayan his job. But if he is still in charge for the 2013 Apertura significant improvements are expected.
UC were still in with a slim chance of making the final play-off spot, but had to wait for results elsewhere, starting with Cobreloa’s trip to the Estadio Santa Laura to face Unión Española; a win for either team would take them into the play-offs at the expense of Católica.
La Furia Roja started positively and controlled possession . . . and the game. But a familiar problem emerged: turning that possession into regular clear cut chances. Emiliano Vecchio produced the best chance in the first half, rounding José Acevedo on one of his infamous ‘mazy runs’ but hitting the post.
The sucker punch was dealt by Cobreloa’s Cristian Suarez, heading in from a corner. Some Española fans headed for the exit, but they were about to miss football’s ability to surprise. Cristian Canío snuck in behind Eduardo Lobos but could only shoot straight at Nicolas Berardo who was standing on the goal line when a second goal would have taken Javier Torrente’s side into the last-eight.
Substitute Patricio Rubio netted an equaliser two minutes from time before, amazingly, youngster Rodrigo Gattas, who has scored 13 goals in 23 matches for Unión Española II this season, slid in Berardo’s centre, provoking wild scenes of jubilation in the terraces.
Cobreloa lost the head – Sebastián Roco was red carded for being overly angry – while Española headed into the play-offs.
Javier Torrente has already stated that he’ll be surprised if he keeps his job after failing to reach the required target of the play-offs.
Going back 24 hours . . .
Not only did Universidad de Chile get back to scoring ways in the first of their two Primera División games , they chucked in a comprehensive win at Huachipato to boot. All three of the goals were scored in the first half. Jhonny Herrera made a smart reflex save to keep out Claudio Muñoz early on but from then on in it was all La U. Juan Ignacio Duma found the bottom corner having been set-up by some smart play from Gustavo Lorenzetti. Sebastián Ubilla added a quick second – Charles Aránguiz proving he has the capability to split defences with his passing – and Muñoz put through his own net to finish the game 10 minutes from half-time.
Colo Colo topped the Clausura to qualify for the Copa Sudamericana; the first time they have reached continental football since 2011’s Copa Libertadores.
They ended their regular season in thrilling fashion, beating Audax Italiano 5-1. They lead 4-0 at half-time with Felipe Flores, who was called up to the recent Chile squad with the friendly against Serbia, netting twice.
Worryingly for Audax Italiano, if results go their way for them to reach the play-offs they’ll face Colo Colo . . .
Deportes La Serena completed their woeful Clausura campaign with a respectable draw Primera with a respectable draw with third-place Palestino.
Now for a quick-fire round-up of five games that swung this way and that as teams hovered, dropped and moved out and back in to the relegation and relegation play-off places. The permutations can be read here.
Chile is similar to Scotland in that the live matches are dominated by a select group of teams. In Chile’s case it is three teams: Colo Colo, Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica.
With one and three not playing it meant La U’s game with Universidad de Concepción was the chosen match. And La U did not fail to put on a show as Gustavo Lorenzetti, backed up by the incisive passing from deep of Ezequiel Videla, inspired La U to a comprehensive 3-1 victory over Universidad de Concepción; Concepción never looking likely to record anything other than a defeat.
Sampaoli’s side finished second but the defeat for Concepción – Lorenzetti’s former club – meant they would definitely be in the relegation play-offs.
Unión San Felipe were the most interesting team on the last day. A win could not only save Uni-Uni Primera B purgatory but also propel them into the Clausura play-offs, with victory against Deportes Iquique – already qualified for the play-offs.
Michael López’s red card just before the half hour mark made it an uphill struggle for San Felipe. And that hill got even steeper still as Rodrigo Díaz converted the resultant penalty. Uni-Uni’s star man of late, Miguel Ángel González, had them back on level terms before the referee blew for half-time. But Cristian Bogado scored what proved to be a decisive goal, not just in the complex of the game but the relegation picture as a whole.
From possible Championship contenders in the play-offs to at least a year in Primera B, San Felipe were consigned to the second tier as Cobresal defeated a strong O’Higgins side.
Patricio Gutierrez and Juan Galeano were the heroes, scoring either side of Boris Sagredo’s strike for O’Higgins, as the Mineros live to fight another day in the relegation play-offs.
Antofagasta joined Rangers for another season in the Primera as the two teams shared four goals. Rangers can be especially proud of their efforts with a fifth-place finish in the Clausura and eight in the annual table.
Santiago Wanderers made sure that they weren’t dragged into any relegation issues with a straight forward win over Unión La Calera, who could only end up in the bottom four places with a miracle induced set of results.
Under Ivo Basay El Decano finished the Clausura with a five game unbeaten record. But in the aftermath everyone was talking about La Calera’s Gaston Cellerino’s moment of madness. Actually that doesn’t do the incident justice. Replace ‘madness’ with ‘sheer insanity’.
Mauricio Prieto and Luis Salmerón’s first half goals ended the match as a contest but approaching the end of the game Cellerino was shown a second yellow card. As the Argentine striker made his way off the pitch something happened with Wanderers’ goalkeeper, Mauricio Viana. Before you knew it Viana was lying prone on the ground. Replays showed there was a confrontation between the pair and as Cellerino was ushered away he broke free and flew at Viana with a flying, kung-fu kick to the ‘keeper’s chest. The ‘number one super guy’, Hong Kong Phooey, would have been proud of the technique.
But in all seriousness Cellerino was arrested the following day and could face up to three years in prison, highlighting the seriousness of the matter.
He told the media that Viana had insulted his wife and mother, but apologised to anyone who was offended.
A crazy way to end a crazy Clausura. But don’t worry there is still more to come.
The play-offs to decide the Clausura champion commence on Tuesday 20th November with the first-leg encounters. The four ties are:
Audax Italiano v Colo Colo
Unión Española v Universidad de Chile
Huachipato v Palestino
Rangers v Deportes Iquique.
Relegation play-off matches (the winners of each match play in the Primera next season):
Barnechea v Cobresal
Everton v Universidad de Concepción
There will be a preview likely to go up on the site over the weekend previewing Clausura play-offs.
You can find the final standings at the ANFP website.
The goals can be found at La Tercera.