It was billed as one of the games of the year. Argentine champions versus all-conquering Chilean champions. Pragmatism versus exciting fluidity. Defensive organisation versus exhilarating attacks. But what transpired was Boca Juniors showing world football that there is more to their game than organisation and counter-attacks.
And once more Universidad de Chile is left with it all to do in the second-leg of their Copa Libertadores semi-final tie. In the previous round they scraped past Paraguay’s Libertad on penalties while the tie before that saw El Chuncho overturn a 4-1 first-leg deficit with a 6-0 victory in Santiago.
But this time it is different. This time they trail 2-0 to Boca. A Boca side who have conceded just 20 goals in their previous 36 league matches. A Boca team who give off the aura of perennial winners.
It was expected that Boca would defend deep and attack the spaces La U left behind with swift counter-attacks. Yet Julio César Falconi and his side took a risk – with Juan Román Riquelme in tow – pressing La U high which led to both goals; scored by Santiago ‘El Tanque’ Silva and Juan Sánchez Miño. Counter-attacking weapon Clemente Rodríguez missed out at left-back and was replaced by Sánchez Miño while Pablo Mouche started up front . . . and had the game of his live.
La U, lining up in their usual 3-4-3 variant, was visibly shaken to the point they failed to emerge from their slumber, constantly losing possession and lacking in any defensive organisation. The latter a problem that is becoming all too frequent for Jorge Sampaoli.
Marcelo Diaz: La U’s heartbeat (image: El Grafico)
In Europe’s Champions League overturning a three goal deficit in the knock-out stages is seen as unlikely. But in South America’s equivalent, the Copa Libertadores, things are little crazier, a little more hectic and a little more manic. Due to the vast distances teams have to travel and the differing altitudes games are played at the home teams are often handed an advantage. Overturning a three goal difference in South America is seen as entirely possible.
Universidad de Chile travelled to Ecuador two weeks ago this Thursday to play Deportivo Quito in a city – second to La Paz – infamous for its altitude; some 9,200ft above sea level.
La U had dealt with Quito’s altitude before. Only in December past did they win against LDU Quito. And then you factor in their young, fit, dynamic and talented squad as well as Chilean teams adaptability at playing at altitude.
Henriquez celebrates the winner (image: taringa.net)
Universidad de Chile became one of the first teams to confirm their place in the last-16 of the Copa Libertadores with a fine away performance in Mendoza, completing a double over Argentine’s Godoy Cruz.
Chances came thick and fast in the first 45 minutes, which had to be extended to 56 due to floodlight failure mid-way through the half, but it was Ángelo Henríquez’s strike that was the difference. Despite their precarious position in the group Godoy Cruz struggled to threaten La U’s three-man backline often in what was a solid rearguard action, minus one or two blemishes, notably from the long ball.
Nery Pumpido, Godoy’s coach, switched to a back three in a 3-4-1-2 from their usual 4-4-2 used in the first leg. However the back three played more like a back five with the wing-backs being forced deep by La U’s; Matías Rodríguez and Eugenio Mena forceful and aggressive in their wing-play as the Chileans fluid 3-4-3 dominated the game.
Universidad de Chile left it late to jump back into second place in Group 8 of the Copa Libertadores, overcoming Peñarol 2-1 and ending the 2011 finalists’ campaign in the process.
La U went ahead early in the first half and looked in a confident position even when José Rojas squandered a penalty. However it appeared as if the missed chance from 12 yards would cost them as the Uruguayans equalised after the break but Matías Rodríguez popped up in injury time to score another crucial goal which leaves Los Azules only one point behind group leaders Atlético Nacional.
With little under three minutes on the clock Junior Fernándes powered down the cross and fired a low cross which was spilled by Fabián Carini and bundled in by Rodríguez.
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.
Goals were more forthcoming in week 2 as Clausura finalists Universidad de Chile and Cobreloa kicked off their Apertura seasons with wins. But both are left looking upwards at Unión Española who continue their thrilling start to the season. A fine individual performance from Mauro Díaz was part of a fabulous team performance as they pummelled Cobresal.
La U struggled to break down La Serena on Saturday evening until the introduction of new boy Raúl Ruidíaz at half-time. Colo Colo also collected their first win of the season while Universidad Católica endure their poor away form which blighted their Clausura campaign.
Santiago Wanderers, Palestino, Audax Italiano and Antofagasta all got of the mark.