Ninety minutes. That is all that stands between Universidad de Chile and eternal history; their first ever Continental trophy. Before last night LDU Quito’s home record in this year’s Copa Sudamericana read: played 5, won 5, scored 10, and conceded 1. No team had an answer to Quito’s altitude and LDU’s boundless energy. Now it reads: played 6, won 5, lost 1, scored 10, and conceded 2. This Chilean side continue to astound and amaze; 32 games unbeaten while doing it in style.
In the build-up to the game I wrote a piece on the ‘five stars’ of La U’s remarkable run to the final – the first appearance in a Continental final in their history. Jhonny Herrera, José Rojas, Charles Aránguiz, Marcelo Díaz and of course Eduardo Vargas were the chosen ones. But I made a glaring error. I missed out the true ‘star’; Los Azules’ Argentine boss Jorge Sampaoli.
A Marcelo Bielsa disciple if there ever was one. La U gave him a chance when no one else would and he has delivered. And then some. With Francisco Castro struggling for full fitness in the build-up to the game Sampaoli went into experimentation mode. 4-4-2, 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 and risk Castro? Tapes would have been watched, notes would have been scribbled and the floor would have taken a pasting from his pacing. Constant pacing. It was settled, 3-5-2.
Or was it?
Albert Acevedo was in for Castro. But he didn’t slot in beside Díaz and Aránguiz. He was stationed behind them; 3-1-4-2, matching LDU’s 3-4-1-2(ish) almost man for man in midfield. What may look like a slight difference was a big difference. A crucial difference. Acevedo would have a big part to play in the game; his positioning releasing the two central midfielders in front of him and the wing-backs on either side to be more progressive and play higher up the pitch. Eduardo Vargas, best on the right with the allowance to come inside, played centrally alongside Gustavo Canales.