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.
Just over 12 months ago La U travelled to Brazil to put in arguably their most devastating performance under Jorge Sampaoli as they obliterated a Flamengo team including Ronaldinho 4-0; prompting headlines in Brazil comparing Los Azules to Barcelona.
On Wednesday night La U were back in Brazil in the quarter-finals of the Copa Sudamericana and in act of symmetry, if that’s the correct word, La U were handed their worst night since Sampaoli took over – if not their worst then certainly their most embarrassing.
From start to finish São Paulo, ruthless and efficient, stormed through La U to devastating effect; Jadson opening and then closing the scoring (there’s that symmetry again) as the Brazilians stuck five past Jhonny Herrera.
La U knew they had to win and Sampaoli set out his team to do just that. And then apologised after for doing so, solely taking the blame.
São Paulo’s pace and precision on the counter-attack was out of this world. Lucas, who moves to France in the new year, scored and put on a show as if to say I’m worth (the reported) £35m, while Luis Fabiano netted the goal of the game, reminiscent to the one Hernan Crespo scored against Liverpool in that Champions League final. Even centre-back Rafael Toloi got in on the act, thundering in a free-kick from 30 yards.
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.
Loss, win, draw. Not the start to the Copa Libertadores campaign Universidad de Chile expected but in a tough group and with two away games out of the way after yesterday evening’s 1-1 draw in Uruguay with Peñarol La U are in a position of strength to reach the knock-out stages.
However Jorge Sampaoli felt that their position could have been even stronger if they made the most of their pressure in the second half. The home side may have felt slightly aggrieved at going into the break level as Junior Fernándes cancelled out Nicolás Freitas’ opener. Peñarol had visibly upset El Chuncho’s rhythm in the first half, penning the Chileans midfield in their own half and causing the backline an abundance of problems with their direct play in to ex-Juventus striker Marcelo Zalayeta. Sampaoli changed the flow of the game with the introduction of Gustavo Lorenzetti at half-time and Universidad de Chile looked the more likely team to collect all three points.
Universidad de Chile v Godoy Cruz. Chile v Argentina. The match, in some quarters, was being billed as the first-leg of the ‘play-off’ for second place in Group 8 of the Copa Libertadores. With Atlético Nacional running riot in Uruguay against Peñarol the previous evening – taking their points tally to six out of six – the Colombian’s look certainties to qualify for the knock-out stages, especially with the telepathic understanding between Macnelly Torres and Dorlan Pabón.
In week one Nacional dispatched of Universidad de Chile who, missing Matías Rodríguez, fielded a lop-sided 3-4-1-2. Wednesday evening’s game saw the Argentine wing-back return to the side allowing Sampaoli to revert to a balanced 3-4-1-2 system which the squad are comfortable and accustomed to. Albert Acevedo has replaced Marcos González as the middle of the three centre-backs after the latter’s move to Flamengo. With Raúl Ruidíaz injured Junior Fernándes filled the role of Eduardo Vargas on the right of the attack but with freedom to migrate to other positions when necessary.
Other than the reinstatement of Rodríguez the most important decision was the positioning of Gustavo Lorenzetti. Similar to the role he played against Flamengo when La U won 4-0 in Brazil he started behind Castro and Fernándes. In essence Los Azules were playing without an out-and-out striker, and it suited them.
Nery Pumpido lined up Godoy Cruz Antonio Tomba – to give them their full name – in a 4-4-2. The Argentine Dirk Kuyt (more on that soon) Facundo Castillón and Rubén Ramírez led the line with Diego Villar stationed on the right.
Similar to the majority of Copa Libertadores results this week there were plenty of goals with one team, if you use the score line as a bearing, emphatically coming out on top. Although it did not look like going that way to begin with, La U found their ‘Copa Sudamericana rhythm and rhyme’, turned the screw and exploited the Argentine’s high-line and their almost non-existent pressure on the ball; a paradise for an enganche like Lorenzetti.
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.
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.