This time last year everyone knew who Universidad de Chile were, even those who did not follow South American football. 12 months on and Universidad Católica are 90 minutes, and one fine performance, away from reaching the Copa Sudamericana final. But, unlike their Santiago rivals, they have done so under the radar.
São Paulo are all that stand in the way of Católica making the final, with all to play for after a 1-1 draw in the semi-final first-leg.
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.
La U and UC look to set up a Clasico Universitario semi-final
The Copa Sudamericana quarter-final second-leg’s kick-off tonight as Universidad de Chile travel to Brazil in an attempt to overturn a 2-0 first-leg loss to Sao Paulo. So what exactly happened in the first-leg’s? Better late than never, I will quickly run through some of the taking points with the addition of highlights of each match and a brief preview on this week’s games.
Santiago is the only city in South America with two representatives in the quarter-finals of the Copa Sudamericana after Universidad Católica and Universidad de Chile both came through tight two-legged affairs.
Both teams’ progression means that there is still the possibility of the clubs meeting in the semi-final. But before then they need to come through tough ties against illustrious clubs from Argentina and Brazil.
UC and La U went into their games on the back of disappointments in the league; UC were beaten 2-0 at home to Huachipato while Los Azules lost el superclásico to arch-rivals Colo Colo.
While the Copa Sudamericana began back in late August Universidad de Chile had to wait until Tuesday evening (CLST) before they could begin the defence of the title they won in thrilling fashion last year. In that time three Chilean sides – Cobreloa, Deportes Iquique and O’Higgins – fell by the way side which left Universidad Católica as the sole Chilean survivor of the first two rounds (La U entering at the last-16 stage as holders).
Universidad de Chile had not won on the continental or international stage since their obliteration of Deportivo Quito at the quarter-final stage of the Copa Libertadores in May. Since that 6-0 thrashing of the Ecuadorians La U have played 7 games, drawn 4 and lost 3 – one of which was on penalties.
And it was Ecuadorian opposition again for Los Azules in the shape of Emelec from the city of Guayaquil. But if you were looking for symmetry as La U ended their winless run then you will be disappointed.
La U lacked the fluidity, tempo and aggression that brought them success in last year’s edition of the Copa Sudamericana, falling behind to a fine Luciano Figueroa finish before Enzo Gutiérrez equalised. Marlon de Jesús put Emelec back in front as the game headed for the recess but Sebastián Ubilla restored parity moments after the break. La U could not kick on and find the winner which would have given them a slender advantage going into the return leg.
Munoz continued his fine goal scoring form (not a picture from Sunday)
Any passer-by, with a semblance of world football knowledge, looking at the Clausura table would be surprised to see the traditional trio of Chilean giants placed 4th, 5th and 6th.
And as the old adage goes ‘the league table never lies’; in first place we have Deportes Iquique, followed by Rangers and then Palestino. Collectively they have won 21 games of the 36 they’ve played in the Clausura compared to the 17 victories Colo Colo, Universidad Católica and Universidad de Chile have amassed in the same number of games.
But they will have to continue their fine form to hold off the challenge of Colo Colo who currently rampant as they look to Continental competition for the first time in two years.
Down at the bottom the fight continues to avoid the bottom four places in the annual table; bottom two are automatically relegated while 3rd and 4th bottom contest a play-off with sides from the Primera B.
However on paper there was only one contender for game of the week, the Clausura’s first el clásico as Universidad Católica entertained Colo Colo at the Estadio San Carlos. And that is the focus of this week’s round-up:
The Red One finally returns after a six week hiatus. And what a weekend to return to!
Flores celebrates his goal
There were goals aplenty on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; two 2-2s, a 3-2 and a 4-3 as only two of the 18 teams failed to score.
Deportes Iquique made it six wins from six to lead the Clausura ahead of Rangers and Universidad de Chile – both teams recovering from two goals down to record draws late on.
The Sunday game between Cobreloa and Universidad Católica can only be described as manic with the return of horrendous defending led by Enzo Andía. Cato faces an in-form Colo Colo this weekend in the first clásico of the Clausura. Los Albos swept past Unión Española in the final game of week 11.