Universidad Católica 2-1 Independiente (Agg 4-3) – UC continue to improve with a simple but effective system

Rios sends UC skyward

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.

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Universidad de Chile 3-0 LDU Quito (Agg 4-0): La U suffocate LDU into submission and win the club’s biggest game

They say that our destiny is written in the stars. And if the Universidad de Chile players looked up to the sky after their resounding 4-0 victory in Brazil against Flamengo they may have just seen the Copa Sudamericana, and the club’s first ever continental trophy. The same could be said about any of the games in this record breaking Copa Sudamericana run, part of the club’s mammoth 35 game unbeaten spell. But the famous result in Brazil had people sit up and take notice, ‘wow’!

Now their ‘destiny’ has become reality . . .

Having worked so hard, especially in the defensive phase with a new 3-1-4-2 shape in Ecuador to come away with a crucial 1-0 win in the first-leg of the final La U showed no signs of nerves or apprehension, just steely determination and conviction to make sure there was no let up in the club’s biggest game in their history.

Reverting to their trusted 3-4-3 – Francisco Castro replacing Albert Acevedo – La U were in no mood to sit back defend their lead. They stuck to the principles bestowed in them by Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli, relentlessly pressing and suffocating the life out of a shell-shocked LDU from kick-off. The Ecuadorians, who do similar to teams at home, had no answer, constantly giving the ball away, panicking, dazed and confused.

The fitness of the Chileans was startling; the pint-sized quartet Charles Aránguiz, Marcelo Díaz, Eduardo Vargas, Castro as well as Gustavo Canales and the two wide-men Eugenio Mena and Matías Rodríguez scurried and scuttled around the pitch. Scenting blood they hunted in packs.

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Universidad de Chile 2-0 Vasco da Gama (Agg 3-1): History Makers

31 and counting . . . (IMG: La Tercera)

It is said that third time’s a charm. Except for Universidad de Chile, where it’s 5th time lucky. The famous Chilean team had never before competed in a Continental final, sitting in the shadow cast by their rivals Colo Colo’s 1991 Copa Liberatadores and 1992 Recopa Sudamericana successes.

However that may be about to change after defeating Brazilian’s Vasco da Gama 2-0 (agg 3-1) in the second leg of the Copa Sudamericana semi-final to their book their place in their first ever Continental final at the 5th time of asking.

Goals from Gustavo Canales and Eduardo Vargas either side of half-time eased La U into the final where they will now meet Ecuador’s LDU Quito.

There was one change from the first leg for La U, Matías Rodríguez coming in for Gustavo Lorenzetti, giving the team a balance that he provided when he came on in the first half in Brazil.

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Vasco da Gama 1-1 Universidad de Chile: Jorge Sampaoli forced into an early tactical change as Osvaldo González’s late header hands advantage to Los Azules.

Without a defeat in 28 games Universidad de Chile’s visit to Brazilians Vasco da Gama, who sit 2nd in the Brazilian Serie A, was arguably the toughest test this talent-laden La U side has come up against.

From early on it was clear that this was not going to be a stroll in the park, akin to the last time they played Brazil, defeating Flamengo 4-0. Vasco, in front of a partisan home crowd, started positively and deservedly went in front. With one first half substitution however Jorge Sampaoli was able to wing the game back in his teams favour as La U went on to control most of the game; themselves deservedly equalising late on.

Having made nine changes to the side at the weekend Sampaoli fielded the same side, in an unbalanced 3-4-3, which put three past Arsenal dí Sarandi without reply the week previous. Gustavo Canales continued up front with support from Francisco Castro and Eduardo Vargas.

Vasco lined up 4-3-3, Bernardo dropping wide left to torment Osvaldo Gonzalez while Allan and Fágner combined on the right. Ex-Lyon talisman Juninho Pernambucano took up a marauding central position.

The home side set their stall out from the beginning, happy to commit men forward; both full-backs showed no hesitation in supporting play. Although that would not last as right-footed left-back Jumar played a more conservative role, wary of the threat of Eduardo Vargas. A possible ploy from Vasco coach Cristóvão Borges playing a right-footer at the left to combat Vargas’ inside runs from a wide position.

On the other side however Fágner was forthright in his attacking surges, often popping up in and around the final third. It was a fine battle throughout the game between the right-back, linking with the explosive Allan – comfortable going on the outside or coming into central areas – and La U’s left-sided duo Eugenio Mena and Jose Rojas.

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Arsenal de Sarandí 1-2 Universidad de Chile

What is it with this Universidad de Chile side? 25 games unbeaten, a Chilean record broken for consecutive minutes without conceding in international competition, a 4-0 destruction of Flamengo in Brazil and on Sunday in the Superclásico rescuing a draw in the 101st minute despite playing the whole of the second half with not eleven, not ten but nine men. And I haven’t mentioned the talent in the team or the vibrancy in the side’s play.

Now – thanks to a hard-fought performance – the club’s first ever competitive win on Argentine soil.

Arsenal are the antithesis of their English namesake; set up in a 4-4-1-1 shape they favour a direct approach, two traditional wingers in Diego Torres and Juan Pablo Caffa supporting a front two of Emilio Zelaya and the target-man and focal point of the Arsenal attack Mauro Obolo, charged with holding the ball up. The midfield base of Jorge Ortíz and Iván Marcone play a simple game, if one goes forward to support the other stays to protect the defence; essential with the forward runs of both full-backs.

By now we all know how Universidad de Chile like to play; a fast possession based game, suiting their diminutive personnel while putting pressure on the opposition when out of possession. The starting line-up was identical to the one which started away to Flamengo. However Matías Rodríguez was pushed into a more advanced role down the left, making a 3-1-3-1-2 almost as you can see from the formation diagram.

The performance was unlike the one in Brazil the previous round; Arsenal not allowing the plethora of attacking talent – which La U possess – the space in which they can run rings around the opposition. Instead they were drawn into a battle that got feisty and niggly as the game wore on.

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Vélez Sásfield 1 v 1 Universidad Católica

Despite a valiant effort in Argentina Universidad Católica could not replicate the performance of Universidad de Chile the previous night and overturn the 2-0 deficit they suffered to Vélez Sásfield in Santiago two weeks previously to progress to the quarter-finals of the Copa Sudamericana.

A positive first half in Buenos Aires saw UC go into the break with a one goal advantage and the promise of more goals. However the second half turned into a struggle as Vélez took over proceedings and duly finished the tie with little more than 15 minutes left on the clock.

It was a tentative opening to the game at the Estadio JoséAmalfitani but for the matter of inches Católica could have taken a lead through Sunday’s hero Milovan Mirosevic. Unlike the first leg UC’s large spells of patient play, Francisco Silva knocked a long ball over the top for the perfectly timed run of Francisco Pizarro who got away from Sársfield’s high line, but his low cross was just out of the reach of the sliding Mirosevic.

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Flamengo 0-4 Universidad de Chile – Rampant La U Reduce Rotten Flamengo to Ruins

Universidad de Chile have one and a half feet in the quarter-final stage of the Copa Sudamericana  after one of the great away performances in continental football, travelling to Brazil to face Ronaldinho’s Flamengo and coming away 4-0 victors. A result they fully merited, running amok in the Estadio Olímpico Joao Havelange with a sumptuous and exhilarating performance.

Ex-Real Madrid boss Vanderlei Luxemburgo lined up his side in a 4-2-2-2 system, synonymous with Brazilian football. Full-backs Júnior César and Rafael Galhardo expected to provide width to a front four including ex-Fenerbache striker Deivid and Ronaldinho.

Jorge Sampaoli continued with the set-up and personnel which has served his side so well so far domestically and in the Copa Sudamericana where they have now gone over 400 minutes without conceding a goal, breaking Unión Española’s previous record. Eduardo Vargas returned to the side in the loose 4-3-3/4-1-2-1-2, supported by an intelligent and energetic midfield three and clever trequartista in Gustavo Lorenzetti.

A casual observer could have easily mistaken La U for the home side from their bright start. The Chilean side made the pitch as big as possible immediately settling onto the front foot. Vargas and Francisco Castro stretching the game vertically – Flamengo wary of the former’s blistering pace – and horizontally giving Lorenzetti, ably supported by Charles Aránguiz and Eugenio Mena, acres of space in the middle to work with, outnumbering Flamengo’s midfield pair, Aírton and Willians. Castro fired an early warning shot, Fla’s midfield anchoring duo too high, leaving an abundance of space in front of the defence.

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