As Julio César Falcioni turned to embrace his coaching staff and Juan Román Riquelme stretched his arms heavenwards in joy the players of Universidad de Chile and their passionate support shared a moment. But it wasn’t the feeling joy that they had come accustomed to in the 98 games since January 2011. Instead the feeling was disappointment. The chance to add a Copa Libertadores to the 2011 Apertura, Clausura and Copa Sudamericana titles had disappeared; once again at the semi-final stage – the second time in three years.
La U needed to overturn a 2-0 first-leg defeat against an imperious Boca Juniors side. Fatigue had began to perturb ‘El Chuncho’ in recent weeks and despite one last valiant effort La U were – deservedly – prevented from making history.
Chances did materialise but Boca were in control throughout and should have wrapped the game up as a contest before Darío Ubríaco blew for half-time.
Both teams made two changes apiece to the sides that lined up for the first-leg. For Boca Clemente Rodríguez returned from injury to replace one of the goal scorers from last week, Juan Sánchez Miño, while Juan Insaurralde’s injury meant a start for Matías Caruzzo alongside Rolando Schiavi at the heart of the defence. Falconi kept his side in their 4-3-1-2 that has worked so well for them throughout the duration of the tournament.
Jorge Sampaoli not only changed personnel but he changed the formation of the side. Out went Albert Acevedo and Gustavo Lorenzetti with Guillermo Marino and Francisco Castro coming into the team as the Argentine coach switched to a 4-3-3 to counter the threat of Juan Román Riquelme. Sampaoli felt that the playmaker was afforded too much space and time when he moved out to the left flank as pinpointed in the analysis of the game last week.
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.
The shape of the Clausura continues to alter – with the exception of the top spot which Universidad de Chile have all but sewn up – after another tumultuous and enthralling weekend in the Chilean Primera Division.
There were 27 goals scored in the nine games which kicked off on Thursday (01:00 GMT) due to La U’s impending involvement in the Copa Sudamericana. They travel to Brazil to face Ronaldinho’s Flamengo in good spirits having secured their place in the play-offs defeating Union La Calera late on to end their run of draws and increase their lead at the top to 10 points. La Calera, like Unión Española who were beaten 2-1 by Huachipato, fell out the play-offs to be replaced by Universidad Católica (more about them soon) and Ñublense while Deportes La Serena, Audax Italiano and Cobreloa all strengthened their positions in the play-offs with wins. Palestino moved off the bottom of the Clausura table with a 3-1 win victory in Iquique and Santiago Morning hit bottom of the general table with a 1-1 draw at home to Unión San Felipe.
Nelly Furtado was right when she ‘sang’ All Good Things Come to an End. Barely three days after making history by winning nine consecutive league matches Universidad de Chile’s run had come to an end, just when it was looking like they would be unstoppable.
Travelling to joint bottom of the league Santiago Wanderers, a tenth consecutive win was almost a given. But it wasn’t to be and could have been much worse after the home side took the lead early on and then Universidad were reduced to 10 men when Marcos González was sent-off in the second half after Francisco Castro had equalised in injury time of half-time. But neither team threatened to take all three points while Santiago goal scorer Orué saw red late on.
There was only four minutes on the clock when Santiago Wanderers took the lead. A free-kick was won just inside La U’s half; Sebastián Rusculleda’s inswinging left-footed delivery caused Los Azules defence to drop deep into their box and La U midfielder Albert Acevedo glanced a header against his own post with Herrera scrambling across to keep it out. The ball fell invitingly for Ángel Orué to knock home the rebound into the empty net from inside the six yard box as Herrera lay helpless on the ground.
Universidad de Chile rounded off a splendid week with a comprehensive 3-0 home win against O’Higgins to continue their indomitable Clausura form, creating Chilean football history in the process. Sunday evening’s win saw La U set a new record, winning nine consecutive games; beating the previous record of eight wins in a row, achieved by Cobreloa back in 1978 and more recently Colo-Cole in 2007.
During the week La U had made the trip to Uruguay to play Nacional in the Copa Sudamericana where a confident first half performance led to a two goal half-time lead – 3-0 on aggregate – before an item thrown from the home crowd, striking a linesman, saw the game suspended and tie handed to the Chilean side; a tie with Ronaldinho’s Flamengo awaits in the last 16 of the tournament.