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.
As good as they are at playing high-intensity, exciting football, Chile are just as adept at shooting themselves in the foot; well the players certainly are. Once again Claudio ‘Bichi’ Borghi has had to contend with off-field problems only days before a crucial World Cup qualifying double-header against Uruguay and Paraguay.
The squad that will be looking to add to the three points gained from the first pair of fixtures is much changed from the one that was announced at the end of October after five players were excluded from selection.
Jorge Valdivia, Arturo Vidal, Jean Beausejour, Carlos Carmona and Gonzalo Jara were sent away from La Roja squad having arrived back 45 minutes late from the christening of one of Valdivia’s sons. There were rumours that some had alcohol on their breath but ‘Bichi’ only announced that the players were ‘not in a proper state’.
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.