South America is a haven for football scouts from all across Europe and further afield. Cast your gaze across European football’s landscape and most clubs posses a South American playing a prominent role in their team. Barcelona and Lionel Messi, Manchester City and Sergio Agüero, Napoli and Edison Cavani AC Milan and Thiago Silva to name but a few.
And one South American nation, more than most, are making extra room for scouts as interest in their players increase. But it is not the traditional giants of Brazil and Argentina or even Uruguay who have achieved so much with such a sparse population. It is Chile. The land of Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamarano, the Andes and Atacama, Colo Colo and Universidad de Chile.
It is a breeding ground of talented – and temperamental – footballers. The success of the Chilean national team in the last few years and more recently Universidad de Chile has brought attention to the world’s longest country. And within it there are a number of talented footballers waiting to break-out and join Mauricio Isla, Mauricio Pinilla, Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal, Jean Beausejour, Sebastián Pinto and more in the epicentre of football.
Chile has three participants in this years Copa Libertadores. Everyone’s eyes will be on Jorge Sampaoli’s Universidad de Chile who are looking to make it a Copa Libertadores/Copa Sudamericana double but must do so without the brilliance of Eduardo Vargas. However they have retained Jorge Sampaoli and the bulk of the squad which won the Sudamericana before the new year, as well as the 2011 Apertura and Clausura, while adding even more promise to the squad.
Chile’s other contenders are Universidad Católica and Unión Española who occupy the same group and it is hoped, and expected, that at least one of the two qualify. They may not have the quality throughout the squad La U possess but both have talented youngsters that could light up the Libertadores.
Hopefully the gifted youngsters from each team are allowed to illuminate the knock-out stages:
Kevin Harbottle. Remember the name (I'll make sure you will). (IMG: deportes.terra.cl)
1. Despite not playing Universidad de Chile still Chile’s top dogs
When Eduardo Vargas left for Napoli it was expected he would be the first of many from Universidad de Chile’s Copa Sudamericana squad to depart for Argentina, Brazil and Europe. In the end he was followed through the departure door by central defender Marcos González plus a handful of squad players as a number of new and exciting players arrived. With Universidad de Chile and fellow play-off finalists Cobreloa not playing this weekend it meant that the pretenders, namely Universidad Católica and Colo Colo, had the chance to show that 2012 is not going to be another dominated by Los Azules juggernaut.
Universidad Católica were first up but produced a limp first half ‘at’ Palestino (the game was played at the Estadio Nacional) despite the presence of sufficient attacking quality. The midfield lacking Francisco Silva’s passing range and authority struggled to locate a good tempo. The second half was much improved as Kevin Harbottle saw more of the ball as Nicolás Trecco was introduced and Felipe Gutiérrez pushed further forward. The question will be if the squad can handle both the Apertura and Copa Liberatadores.
With the Clausura’s top two – Universidad de Chile and Cobreloa – not in action there was a chance for one of the contenders to lay down an early marker as Santiago inhabitants looked to escape the baking heat which had swept the capital.
However Colo Colo were booed off at home to Deportes Iquique – who had new signing Edson Puch impressing on his debut – while Universidad Católica recovered from an insipid first half performance to collect three points. There was better news for Union Española who added to their first round first-leg Coap Libertadores win with maximum points.
The two promoted teams enjoyed mix fortunes back in the Primera.
Vargas sees red but La U reach the final (IMG:ANFP)
Cobreloa 1-2 Colo Colo (Agg 4-4)
Attacking and defending. The good teams can do one. The great teams can do both. This present Colo Colo side fall into the former. A valiant effort in a fascinating and high-paced encounter was not enough to edge past a Cobreloa side coached by the gregarious ex-Chile manager Nelson Acosta.
Colo Colo had to win by two clear goals due to Cobreloa’s higher placed finish in the league and wasted no time racing into a two goal lead. But eventually defensive failings would re-surface even as Cobreloa went down to ten men.
Los Albos got off to a great start after 15 minutes when Esteban Paredes brought down a long ball played out of defence while turning Cobreloa defender Cristian Suárez all in one movement before slipping in Muñoz in his second movement. The striker hit into the ground and across goalkeeper Nicolás Peric, setting up a wonderful evening of football.
Two tight semi-final affairs, with goals aplenty, see the two sides who finished first and second in the Clausura table take one goal leads (effectively two due to Clausura positioning) into the second-legs to be played midweek.
Colo Colo 2 v 3 Cobreloa
In the first of the semi-finals Colo Colo entertained Cobreloa in what was a topsy turvy encounter full of incident as Ivo Basay’s Los Albos struggle to achieve the consistency required to challenge rivals Universidad de Chile and make a case for winning the Clausura and a place in next years Copa Liberatadores. Cobreloa on the other hand showed, with players of the quality of Nicolás Trecco in tow, why they finished second, behind La U in the Clausura table.
Clausura defender Sebastián Rocco had a goal rightly chalked off before Colo Colo took the lead just shy of the 20th minute mark. Quick thinking from Jose Pedro Fuenzalida from a corner saw the midfielder exchange passes on the edge of the box before curling the return beautifully into the far top corner.
The closing stages of the Primera División are well and truly underway as four teams were eliminated over the weekend, setting up a Clásico Universitario semi-final and potential ‘El Clásico’ final, while Cobreloa – the only non-Santiago team in the last four – will be happy to just be there after an almighty scare at home to Unión La Calera, leaving it late to confirm their place.
Universidad de Chile won. Again. Colo Colo took care of an elementary second-leg and Audax Italiano floundered when it mattered.