ATLETICO NACIONAL WIN COPA LIBERTADORES

Colombians win competition against Ecuador's Independiente del Valle.

SCOUTING REPORT

What makes the two young Rosario Central players Franco Cervi and Giovani Lo Celso the players they are?

CLÁSICO URUGUAYO

An interview with Uruguayan sports journalist Nicolás Difiori ahead of Sunday's Clásico.

MATÍAS KRANEVITTER

Taking a look at the next great Argentinian #5, the next Javier Mascherano.

CHAMPION SANTA FE

Colombians win the Copa Sudamericana after penalty thriller against Huracán.

Monday, February 29, 2016

South America's Top Clubs - March 2016


After 3 straight months with the same leader Huracán, they have been stopped during the month of February. New leader in March 2016 is Colo Colo from Chile.

In particular their most recent triumph in the Copa Libertadores helped them out to reach top position this month. It was a close decision, by just one point ahead of Corinthians who also won their first game in the international competition.

Additionally, a total of seven fresh teams made it in for March. Highest positioned of them: Argentina's Racing Club.

The rules if you missed them previously:
For this table, we look at the last 15 results from each team in South America’s leagues and Copa Libertadores/Sudamericana. A win in the league gets you 3 points, a draw 1. Internationally those numbers are doubled to 6 and 2. 

Pos.
Last
Club
Country
Points
1 11 Colo Colo Chile 37
2 13 Corinthians Brazil 36
3 10 Rosario Central Argentina 35
4 9 CS Emelec Ecuador 34
5 5 Atlético Nacional Colombia 34
6 15 Palestino Chile 34
7 - Racing Club Argentina 33
8 - Atlético Mineiro Brazil 32
9 - Atlético Junior Colombia 32
10 - CA Cerro Uruguay 32
11 16 Santa Fe Colombia 32
12 4 Zamora FC Venezuela 32
13 12 Peñarol Uruguay 32
14 2 Deportivo La Guaira Venezuela 31
15 - Deportivo Táchira Venezuela 31
16 8 CA Lanús Argentina 31
17 - Independiente Medellín Colombia 31
18 1 Huracán Argentina 31
19 - Independiente del Valle Ecuador 30
20 17 Estudiantes Argentina 29

Plaza Colonia beat poor Nacional


Back to the Uruguayan Primera División it was for Nacional tonight after their successful visit to Rosario Central in the Copa Libertadores. Their opponent: Plaza Colonia, unbeaten in 10 games.

Coach Gustavo Munúa did not choose to make things easy for himself by any means. Compared to Thursday's 1-1 draw, he made 10 changes to his starting XI. The only one "surviving" was centre-back Mauricio Victorino. How would those circumstances work out for the champions who wanted to profit off Peñarol slipping against Fénix last night (0-2)?

Not very well it seemed. The first half turned out to be an absolute snoozefest, basically from start to finish. Two pretty decent chances, one for each team: A shot from distance for Plaza early on that just flew over the bar and Mascia's header that did not find the top corner either.

Best part of the first 45 minutes was probably a scene of Cristian Tabó. His skill and trickery made at least three opposing defenders look silly, before he got mowed down from behind. Yellow card for Matias Caseras. Talking of mowing down: Sébastian Eguren waved bye to this match before the halftime whistle. He caught his opponent with an awful looking foul, which looked by no means on purpose. Still a clear red card. Ok, enough and let's quickly forget about this and get to the second half.

Red card: Eguren was sent off for this bad looking tackle.
The best news for the restart? Nacional finally had Nico López on the pitch who dominated throughout his first weeks at the club. Instead of storming forward, second goalkeeper Luis Mejía had to save the day with the biggest save of his young Nacional career.

Plaza and Nacional continued to fight an endless midfield battle up between their respective penalty areas and Nico López managed his first good shot 20 minutes into the half. The sad thing is that I am actually writing about all the chances and there were just none more. Another López chance was survived five minutes later when the Uruguayan striker could not direct his attempt on target while falling on the pitch.

It was another Nico who got a goal that turned out decisive then. Plaza Colonia's Dibble was brought into play on the right side during a counter attack. He pulled inside into the penalty area and left Mejía no chance with a shot into the far bottom corner. 1-0 for the outsiders.

Attention now for the scene that summed it all up: Plaza was through on the left again, their shot hit the post and from there fell onto Olivera's leg and into his own net. 2-0 in the 90th minute and game over.

What was good, what was not

Goalkeeper Luis Mejía showed one can trust him with his alertness and a great save when called upon. Could do nothing about the goals against. Youth product Alejandro Cavanna had a pretty decent game at right-back, Tabó looked like the only one alive offensively all game long (aside from López).

Ultimate team rotation was clearly not the right idea against a Plaza team that was on a good run and showed they can stop an uninspired Nacional from scoring. It was easily the worst game of the season from the visitors, being down to 10 men for half of it didn't exactly help either.

Friday, February 26, 2016

River wins big, Emelec wins first - Copa Libertadores

River Plate's title defense campaign is off to an outstanding start. Last night, Argentina's best international team of the recent years won 0-4 away to Trujillanos. 
 
Iván Alonso was in form last night. (Photo: @RiverPlatePho)
All four goals came in the second half that was thoroughly dominated by River. Leonardo Pisculichi via direct freekick (55'), Lucho González (63') and Iván Alonso twice (80' & 90'+1) scored the goals for the favourite. Back home in the Primera División, River Plate had a so-so start, but once more Marcelo Gallardo's men show they are seemingly born for international cup competitions. 

In fairness, Trujillanos did not have much to bring up against the Argentines. Venezuela's vice champion was out-possessed, outshot and simply outclassed in the second 45 minutes. Gallardo had even left players like Alario, Mora or Pity Martínez on the bench for a more experienced lineup with the likes of Lucho or Alonso. His XI worked and will go up against Sao Paulo next in March. 

River are top of the table, ahead of The Strongest, both with three points.

Victorious Emelec.
Emelec scored two late goals to get their first win of the 2016 Copa Libertadores against Deportivo Táchira. Emanuel Herrera (81', penalty) and Denis Stracqualursi (87') got the decisive goals for Ecuador's champion. In a game that was pretty even for the most part, the Venezuelans also suffered a sending-off for Carlos Lujano after 87 minutes.

Group 7 is being led by UNAM Pumas ahead of Emelec and Táchira, all with three points. Paraguay's Olimpia sits last with no points yet. Interesting side fact: So far, all 3 games that were played included red cards.

Jonathan Santana after his goal. (Photo: Studio Futbol)
Another Paraguayan team did a better job last night. Cerro Porteño were able to get a highly deserved 2-1 win over Cobresal. The Chileans never really set a foot into this game and still made things somewhat interesting. After Jonathan Santana (50') and Luís Leal (52') gave Cerro a two-goal lead with a quick double strike, Lino Maldonado cut it in half only 10 minutes later. 

Cerro Porteño now leads Group 8 with 4 points, one ahaed of Corinthians. They are followed by Santa Fe with 1 and Cobresal with 0.

Nacional get point in Rosario - Copa Libertadores

Nico López scores and scores and scores. (Photo: Conmebol)
Estadio Gigante de Arroyito was the stage, Rosario Central and Nacional the opponents. Copa Libertadores action was back in the city of Argentina's league third and runners-up in the cup. Both teams started into the season tremendously, a great recipe for an exciting match!

Nacional were enjoying a brave start to the match and threatened for the first time inside the first five minutes, but a freekick from the right side of the field did not find any takers in the area. Sebastián Fernández, after scoring the winning goal in Uruguay last weekend, got the trust from Múnua to play in the starting XI. He had the first real shot of the match, but went far wide. 

Slowly but surely, the favourite took control of possession afterwards. Central's Aguirre had his attempt saved by Conde and shortly after they had the biggest chance of the match. A mess inside Nacional's area after Espino deflected the ball to an opposing player with Conde unable to clear, but captain Polenta did after all. 

Still, a lot of the game was played in the centre of the field now and fouls disrupted the chance to get much of a flow into this game. About half an hour in, Nacional had their biggest chance themselves. A great counter attack ended with a poor last pass as Nico López played it out to the right, the clearly inferior option. 

As all other opportunities were also nullified by the respective goalkeepers Conde and Sosa, the game went to halftime tied 0-0, definitely a scoreline that Nacional could live with away in Argentina.
Great away support in Argentina tonight.
At the start of the second half, we suddenly had a different image in front of us. Nacional seemed to have an answer for everything Central tried to throw at them and did well offensively now as well. A Barcia shot produced a good save from Sosa, followed up by a diving header hitting the post. So close and yet so far.

In the 56th minute, Uruguay's champion did it better. Nico López, who else, was quickest to react to a low free kick on the edge of the box, turned around and fired it into the bottom corner. All of a sudden, the outsiders had the lead in Argentina.

This goal sparked Rosario Central's last half hour of attacking football. Particularly Marcelo Larrondo's entrance from the bench had a positive impact on their game. Nacional got lucky several times, Espino's clearance that went just over the top of the crossbar (61'), two great low shots (75'+86'). All was topped by an incredible couple of saves on the goalline from goalkeeper Conde and midfielder Porras (78').

Just as we thought the goal was closed for the rest of the night, Larrondo won a penalty in the last minute of the match. Brought down by Victorino after a long cross from the right, he was the one that also stepped up and converted. It was deserved, but a little heartbreaking for Nacional's supporters who thought they had the three points in their bags. In addition, Mauricio Victorino got himself sent off for complaining about his yellow card and the penalty decision.

Yet the away draw remains a great result considering the decent performance on top of it. At home, Nacional can beat anybody. Everyone in Group 2 has one point after respective draws.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Racing find form, Colo Colo win - Copa Libertadores

De Paul scores for Racing. (Photo: Conmebol)
Four games were scheduled in the Copa Libertadores last night and compared to previous games, there were no surprises. Still, they are worth talking about. 

Argentina's Racing Club started in the season in dreadful fashion. Despite making it through the first Libertadores qualifying round, they stand at two points from four Primera División matches. Last night, Bolívar was welcome prey and found themselves at the back end of a 4-1. 

The Bolivian champions of Apertura and Clausura were down 0-3 in about half an hour after goals from Lisandro López, Roger Martínez and Rodrigo de Paul decided the game early. Particularly the first one from López is worth taking a look as he controlled the ball nicely before lobbing it over goalkeeper Romel Quiñónez. 

Martínez followed that strike up with an outstanding solo run that will probably also go into the books as one of the best goals in 2016. Bolívar did not defend too well and were ripped open by Óscar Romero's passes over and over.

Racing did not seem to be willing to stop in the second half either and continued to find their form tonight. Chance after chance and finally Lisandro López low ball found Marcos Acuña who just had to tap it in. Bolívar scored a late consolation goal through Juan Arce, but they will need to improve to have any sort of chance to make it into the round of 16. Here are the match highlights:


Carlos Tévez in a battle with Miguel Godoy. (Photo: Conmebol)
In their Group 3, Argentinian rivals and double winners Boca Juniors entered the competition a few hours after as well. All they managed was a goalless draw away to Deportivo Cali. Early on, star striker Carlos Tévez was extremely lucky to not be sent off for a clear kick in the direction of an opposing player.

Harold Preciado had the biggest chance of the first half, when he hit the post with a shot from the edge of the area for the Colombians. Just overall, also in the second half, Cali were not precise enough and failed to hit the target on multiple glorious occasions. Tonight, they could have beaten Boca who were not good and they know it. It is still a performance to build on considering the strong group they are in.

Esteban Paredes celebrates his decisive goal. (Photo: El Gráfico Chile)
In Chile, Colo Colo had their first home game of the 2016 Copa Libertadores campaign. Following last week's draw with Independiente del Valle, they showed themselves much improved and dominated Melgar from start to finish. The bottom line was a 1-0 victory. 

The strike that turned out golden was Esteban Paredes'. In the 65th minute, he was first to a rebound from about 6m out. Beausejour had found Martín Rodríguez whose shot Daniel Ferreyra could only clear into the middle. Not a good idea when a man like Paredes is standing there waiting for it. He scored his 16th Copa Libertadores goal in just 21 matches. An unbelievable rate, even for a striker.

One more game was played in Colo Colo's Group 5, between Atlético Mineiro and the already mentioned Independiente del Valle. Lucas Pratto scored the only goal of the game only four minutes in. He turned a cross from the right into the back of the net, making goalkeeper Librado Azcona look really bad, as he should have made that save. 

Overall, it was a deserved win for the Brazilians who had more of the game and the larger amount of clear cut chances. Additionally, Robinho made his Copa Libertadores comeback in the 56th minute, coming on as a substitute. Atlético Mineiro now lead the group with 6 points, followed by Colo Colo (4), Independiente del Valle (1) and Melgar (0).

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

LDU Quito surprise San Lorenzo; Huracán lose - Copa Libertadores

South American football is wonderful and full of surprises. Yesterday evening, we saw just that unfold again. It was no good night for Argentine teams. 

Diego Morales, scorer of two goals against San Lorenzo. (Photo: Twitter Conmebol)
San Lorenzo, winners of the 2014 Copa Libertadores, had travelled to Ecuador's capital to take on LDU Quito. They went home empty-handed after a surprising outsider win. 2-0 was the final result, with both goals being scored by Diego Morales. Of course, you could say, he's from Argentina himself. 

If you saw the game, you were not particularly surprised anymore though. LDU Quito were heavily superior to their opponents, reflected by the final shot statistic. 19-5 home team. 

The reason it ended 2-0 in the only statistic that matters were two fantastic goals from offensive midfielder Morales. In the 50th minute, he curved around half of San Lorenzo's defense, or what they call defense anyway, to finish into the top right corner. An absolute beauty from him, but not the only one.

In added time, he would outmuscle the whole defense yet again and finally buried it into the bottom left this time around. It was Diego Morales first Copa Libertadores game aged 29. Certainly, he could not have imagined it to go any better for himself and his team.

San Lorenzo had their best phase when Pablo Barrientos and Nicolás Blandi came on after 68 minutes, but could not make it count. In fairness, Quito were back in control quickly. In Group 6, LDU Quito have taken the lead along with Toluca after their respective 2-0 victories. Grêmio and San Lorenzo find themselves at the back with zero points.

Reason to celebrate: Atlético Nacional got their first 3 points. (Photo: Twitter Conmebol)
For the first time since their tragic bus accident on their way back from Venezuela, Huracán were playing a competitive match. Back in the Copa Libertadores, El Globo lost at home against Colombia's Atlético Nacional.

There was no potential nervousness to be seen from the home team early on. Huracán had the only few chances during the first half, but could not threaten Franco Armani's goal decisively. In the 44th minute that came back to bite them. Marlos Moreno received the ball from Andrés Ibarguen, had some trouble controlling it, but eventually had an open shot lane. He made the most out of it and gave the Colombians the lead.

People often talk about a psychologically important time to score a goal and apparently this was one of those cases. When they came back out onto the pitch for the second half, Huracán seemed to have completely lost it. They generated zero pressure and were pressed into their own half as attack after attack rolled over their defense.

Atlético Nacional scored their highly deserved second goal in the 82nd minute, when Orlando Berrío used his speed advantage against the goalkeeper, went around him and tapped the ball into the empty net.

Ten minutes earlier, Huracán were down to ten men after your typical (and needless) South American red card tackle. Federico Mancinelli was the "lucky one" today.

In this form, Atlético Nacional are a team to be reckoned with moving forward. Their group, which includes Peñarol and Sporting Cristal (they drew last week), seems absolutely manageable. Let's see if a Colombian team can write some history this season.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Nacional get third win - 2:1 over Wanderers

Another 3 points: Nacional players celebrate.
Last night, Nacional returned to their very own Gran Parque Central for the first time in 2016. Their opponent were the Montevideo Wanderers, who started into the season with a win and a loss. 

In the beginning stages, the visitors were excellent. They pressed the home team very early and back in their own half. This led to many losses of possession from Nacional and eventually the opening goal for Wanderers after 24 minutes. Captain Diego Polenta was pressured and completely messed up a back pass to goalkeeper Conde. Gastón Rodriguez was on it and silenced the home crowd. 

In general, it was not a good game from Polenta. Holding the back four together during the first two wins of the season, he was responsible for a lot of defensive errors tonight. It nearly seems like one centre-back has to take that role on this team. Against Villa Teresa and River Plate, it was Mauricio Victorino, today the captain himself. Victorino found himself on the bench, where he started the season, as Cabaco returned from injury to fill the second centre-back position. 

Six minutes after the first goal of the game, Leandro Barcia was sent on a deep run into the penalty area, a ball he reached with tremendous pace, not only surprising me, but Wanderers' defenders. Gastón Bueno could only stop Barcia with a foul and Nacional was rightfully awarded a penalty. Nico López converted calmly for his fifth goal of the season in just three matches. 

Nico López scores again, this time via penalty.
Anything but calm was the right description for an enthusiastic stadium now, which was nearly sold out for the home premiere. A pretty even game went to the halftime break tied 1-1. Barcia had another big chance after he made use of his speed again, only shot it into the side netting. Today, he was the best of the front 3. Over on the right side of the field, he was supported decently by fullback Jorge Fucile, who is having a nice season so far. 

Alfonso Espino returned on the left in place of Olivera and was solid, but nothing more. Coach Gustavo Munúa substituted for the win in the 65th minute. He brought on Sebastián Fernández for Nacho González and the former Uruguayan international did not disappoint. After a big scramble in the penalty area following a corner, Seba banged it home from a short distance. 2-1 Nacional after 75 minutes.

Seba Fernández (right) scores the winner.
That's how it stayed. The only action of importance was probably the sending off of Bueno for his second yellow card when time was nearly up. After being the better team in the second half, Nacional deserve their third victory of the season in as many games. However, it is doubtful this performance will be enough to get something out of Rosario Central in Argentina on Thursday evening in the Copa Libertadores. One thing is for sure: This team will be on fire to do well in that exact moment.

Player ratings (0-10):

Conde  7
Fucile  8
Cabaco  7
Polenta  3
Espino  5
Romero  6
Porras  5
Barcia  8
González  6
Ramírez  5
López  7

Fernández  8
Tabó  6
Barbaro  -

Friday, February 19, 2016

Surprises and convincing Mexicans - Copa Libertadores Week 1

Convincing, but ineffective: Sporting Cristal. (photo: globedia.com)
Week 1 of this year's Copa Libertadores group stage is in the books. Here is my opinion on how things went, who surprised and who convinced.

The biggest shock of them all clearly came in São Paulo, where visiting The Strongest stole a 1-0 away win. Their chances of reaching the round of 16 are as bright as ever, considering their magnificent home strength in La Paz' mountains. But at the same time, this would lead to one of São Paulo or title holders River Plate going out. After seeing River's recent Argentine league defeats, I don't feel good about their defense. Will it be enough to get by the Brazilians? 

The other Brazilian teams don't exactly seem ready for the big title yet either. Corinthians with their late lucky win, Palmeiras inexplicably drawing against first time participant River Plate de Uruguay, despite leading twice. Neither of them will go very far as of today, unless they significantly improve. Grêmio will need to do just that as well. Their poor showing against Mexico's Toluca led to their first loss in a group that includes San Lorenzo and LDU Quito. 

Only Brazilians up to par seem to be Atlético Mineiro. After boosting their squad with the addition of former Real Madrid striker Robinho, they're one to watch when it comes to the later stages, assuming they can find the form at the right time. Coming from behind to win in Peru was a good sign of the team's morale and fighting spirit. 

In general, both Mexican teams did well and won with a numerical disadvantage. Pumas and Toluca look good in their respective groups and might well find themselves in the round of 16 as well. After Tigres' success and final appearance in the past edition of the Copa Libertadores, maybe one of these two can go far too.

Paraguay's clubs disappointed. Olimpia was poor in their loss to Venezuelan Deportivo Táchira, Cerro Porteño incredibly lucky to get a point out of Santa Fe. Lastly, one of the more positive surprises was Sporting Cristal. We knew they did well in Peru, but dominating Peñarol the way they did is another cup of coffee. More of this please from a great football nation that sadly declined through the last years!

Pumas chase Emelec home - Copa Libertadores

Quick strike: Isamel Sosa from Pumas. (photo: elcomercio.com)
The second Mexican club in this year's Copa Libertadores has followed the example of the first one and won their opening match with 10 men. Pumas UNAM have beaten CS Emelec at home in a goalfest, 4-2.

It only took the iconic side from up north 17 seconds to get the first goal against their Ecuadorian visitors. Ismael Sosa was at the end of a cross to the far post and gave Pumas the lead before the last supporters had entered the stadium. Defender Nazareno had somehow missed his clearing header.

Despite being on the backfoot early on, Emelec found a way to equalise 18 minutes in. Angel Mena, just having scored for his team in the league last weekend, was quicker to the ball than Pumas' goalkeeper Alejandro Palacios on a defensive breakdown and chipped it into the back of the net. 

A draw, that should hold for about 5 minutes. The 7-time Mexican champion struck off a freekick from the left sideline. Luis Fuentes delivered into the middle and noone picked up the run of defender Darío Verón, who headed it home without too many problems. 

Emelec, after suffering the loss of their star striker Miler Bolaños to Grêmio, surprisingly did fine generating chances offensively. Sadly for the Ecuadorians, Palacios was up to the task and had a fine game. 

The second half was started by strong attacks from Pumas, who again and again were stopped by magnificent saves from Esteban Dreer. Until they were weakened by a red card in the 65th minute. Substitute David Cabrera was sent off after sliding into his opposing player, maybe a little bit harsh to give straight red though. Only two minutes afterwards, Emelec found the equaliser through another goal from Angel Mena, who displayed excellent control on two touches before finishing. 

10-men Pumas, instead of playing for the single point now, went for it themselves and got rewarded. Another set piece led to the fifth goal of the match. Quiñónez' corner was met by a textbook header from Gerardo Alcoba and the Mexicans had the lead back. A lead, which was doubled right after for the final score of 4-2. Byron Mina deflected the ball into his own net, with Quiñónez close by.

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Elsewhere, Colo Colo got an away draw at Independiente del Valle. Esteban Paredes gave the Chileans a 63rd minute lead, which was equalised shortly after by Jefferson Orejuela. Atlético Minero lead Group 5 with three points, ahead of Colo Colo and Ind. del Valle with one each. In last place, Melgar from Peru after their loss to the Brazilians

Peñarol started their quest for a sixth Libertadores title in weak fashion. In Peru, the Uruguayans were being dominated by Sporting Cristal and got lucky with a 1-1 draw. Luís Aguiar got the side from Montevideo on the scoreboard first (40th), levelled by Alberto Rodríguez after 75 minutes.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Corinthians lucky late win, Toluca only need 10 - Copa Libertadores

Enrique Triverio, man of the match for Toluca. (photo: espn.cl)
Following The Strongest' sensational win over São Paulo yesterday evening, three other Brazilian sides entered the competition, with mixed success. 

Corinthians played in the Chilean desert, visiting Cobresal, champions of the 14/15 Clausura in their country. The whole affair was less than unspectacular, ending in heartbreak for Cobresal. After the regular 90 minutes were up already, Miguel Escalona deflected a cross from the right unluckily into his own goal. 

During the winter, the Brazilian champion had suffered a player exodus and it was quite uncertain, how they could perform this year. It looks like these worries were justified, as Cobresal was the better team in a weak game. Corinthians managed a total of one shot on target, even when you're in a desert, that's not good enough. 

Talking of desert, the scene of the match was probably when electricity failed the stadium in Chile and it went dark for several minutes.

Darkness: The game between Cobresal and Corinthians lacked floodlights.
Over in Peru, Atlético Mineiro survived an early shock and beat Melgar 1-2. The Peruvians took a 14th minute lead Omar Fernández, who banged home a rebound from right in front of the goalline. Mineiro, in their ninth Copa Libertadores season, needed just seven minutes to get even. Rafael Carioca equalised with a beautiful strike into the top corner. 

The fact that Patric added another one just before halftime was a bummer for the brave team from Peru, that went into the game as big outsiders. They tried everything to make it 2-2, were the better team in the last quarter of an hour, but could not find a way to make it count.

Despite Atlético Mineiro's win, they will need to improve, if they want to have a chance to compete for the title. Maybe newly signed Robinho will give them just that edge. 



Mexico celebrated the first success for Toluca. Despite playing with 10 men for nearly an hour due to Moisés Velasco's stupid punch into an opposing player's face, they managed to beat Grêmio 2-0 at home.  Enrique Triverio turned into the home crowd's hero, scoring both goals for his club. 

Firstly, in the 46th minute, he headed home a long cross from the left into the far post. Afterwards, the Mexican converted a penalty after 77 minutes to give his squad the victory. 

Throughout the game, Grêmio disappointed and were the worse team, even with a man advantage. Like this, they will have no chance to get out of the group that also includes San Lorenzo and LDU Quito.

Bolivian tiger is roaring - The Strongest beat São Paulo

One of the many battles in the game between São Paulo and The Strongest.
It couldn't be better than to have the Copa Libertadores back to start the month of February. An early evening game over in São Paulo makes it possible to watch, even for Europeans that like their sleep. But let's face it, you can still sleep when you're dead.

Before you're dead, you had to watch São Paulo against The Strongest though. 

The game did not start off too bright and was very hectic in the opening stages. Surprisingly, The Strongest caught their opponents on the back-foot during the first few minutes. Rodrigo Ramallo's shot inside the first 5 minutes hit the post and silenced the Morumbi for a short time. 

Over and over, the Brazilian's back line could only stop the surging runs with illegal means leading to yellow cards for Kardec and Caio early on. About 20 minutes in, São Paulo finally gained control on their home ground and the game immediately improved in its attractiveness. 

In fairness, the only team that had real chances now was the home one. A ton of them after a corner produced a lot of confusion inside the Bolivian penalty area, a good shot from Mendes that was just saved and a Ganso attempt right after, just to name a few. Goalkeeper Daniel Vaca made some nice saves, but disappointly had the lowest point of the first half as well. The 37-year old walked into the shoulder of Ganso during a set piece and threw himself to the pitch like he was hit with lightning. No need for playacting, my man!

São Paulo made a smart substitution to start the second half, bringing on Jonathan Calleri, who for some odd reason started this game on the bench. Hudson made way for the Argentine striker. A quest for the - likely decisive - goal had begun again.

This time around, the Brazilians, that already played in the first round of the Libertadores this season, went on the front foot right away, yet failed to create any clear cut chances. An hour into the game, Edgardo Bauza's team had to find new ways to break down a decent Bolivian defense. 

What had to happen happened. When you don't score on one side, you often concede on the other. The Strongest worked a corner perfectly with some nice passing play and found the head of Matías Alonso. The Uruguayan (brother of River's Iván Alonso) made no mistake and gave the visitors a shocking 0-1 lead. Considering the Bolivian's home strength up in the mountains of La Paz, any away point can be counted as huge success towards a possible round of 16 participation. Additionally, their recent away record is absolutely dreadful and packed with losses.

15 minutes from the end, the outstanding performance at the back continued, giving the three-time Copa Libertadores winner absolutely nothing in their own stadium. São Paulo tried their luck from distance, but even from there they did not come much closer anymore. Meanwhile, The Strongest did all they could to waste as much time as possible. An approach, that proved successful at the end, because substitute Kieza wasted the last chance for the Brazilians, wide open in front of the goal, but slotting the ball wide.

The Strongest have come up with a huge upset during the first matchweek and beaten towering favourites São Paulo away by a goal to nil. Congratulations to Bolivia on this fantastic showing!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Palmeiras are too cute in Uruguay - Copa Libertadores

Jean, scorer of the first Copa Libertadores goal in 2016. (photo: Dante Fernandez/AFP)
The Copa Libertadores 2016 has finally started and last night, the group stage began with three matchups. River Plate de Uruguay were visited by Palmeiras, Deportivo Táchira hosted Olimpia and Copa Sudamericana winner Santa Fe met Cerro Porteño.

At the end of the night, Brazilian cup winners Palmeiras were left disappointed in Uruguay. A 2-2 draw was not enough for the clearly superior visitors against River Plate in Maldonado. 

Throughout the game, the Brazilians were simply too cute to come away with the victory, despite going into halftime with a lead. A beautiful pass from Dudu found the run of midfielder Jean, who made no mistake and buried it into the bottom corner. It was not really undeserved, as Palmeiras dominated especially on the technical part of the game. 

That fancy does not get you anywhere in football was quickly noticed in the second half though. River equalised quickly through Michael Santos' penalty in the 51st minute and continued to be the better team early on. Still, Palmeiras found a way to get back and retook the lead seven minutes later. A nice combination from Zé Roberto to Alecsandro to Gabriel and the ball was in the back of the net. Definitely worth a watch (see video below). 

The fact that six minutes later it was tied again was mainly due to poor set piece defending. One of River's best men, Bruno Montelongo was left all alone on the edge of the goalkeeper's box and headed it in unbothered. Palmeiras had most of the possession in this second half, ended up outshooting their opponents 13-5, but the end result remained 2-2.



Venezuela's champion Deportivo Táchira came up with a big home win to start their campaign. 2-1 was the final score over Paraguay's Olimpia. In fairness, they profited tremendously from a first half red card for Carlos Rolon.

Only one minute after, in the 42nd, Yuber Mosquera gave the Venezuelans the lead through a rising header from a corner. Overall, the first 45 were pretty even, both goalkeepers came up with huge saves at some point or another. 

About an hour into the match, Edgar Perez decided it with the 2-0 for Táchira. Heading a loss cross from Carlos Lujano in at the far post seemingly killed the visitors spirits. But not for good. Substitute striker José Ariel Núñez cut the lead in half when he was through on goal all alone after a perfectly timed pass by Wilson Pittoni. Olimpia tried to go for the equaliser with 10 men, but nothing much went the visitors way anymore. 


Battle without a goal between Santa Fe and Cerro Porteño (photo: colombia.interlatin.com)
Over in Colombia, a goalless draw was all that Santa Fe and Cerro Porteño managed. However, the Copa Sudamericana champions were heavily dominating throughout the game, ended up with 18-3 shots (11-0 on target!), but simply could not find the back of the net. 

The biggest chance of them all likely came in the first minute already. Centre-back William Tesillo went forward for Santa Fe's freekick and his header ended up against the left post. Since striker Carlos Ibarguen did not do it better in the 40th, as he hit the post as well, the Colombians have to wait until next time to gain their first win of the Copa Libertadores season.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Central dominates Newell's in Clásico Rosarino win

(photo from lt3.com.ar)

The stage on Sunday afternoon was set in sunny and hot Rosario: It was time for the Clásico Rosarino. Rosario Central, started into the season with a 1-0 victory over Godoy Cruz, hosted their archrival Newell’s Old Boys, who started with a 1-2 loss against San Martín. 
Newell’s were without Diego Mancini after his red card last week, while Central celebrated the return of their captain and last season’s top scorer Marco Rubén. The only other player rotating into Central’s lineup was offensive midfielder Giovani Lo Celso. In place of them, Cervi and last week’s goalscorer Delgado found themselves on the bench.
Meanwhile, NOB made three changes. Mugni, Formica and Formiliano played instead of Scocco, Rodriguez and Paz. Their back three from last week turned into a four for this derby.


Atmospherically, as you would expect, there aren’t many better games in the world. As the teams came onto the field, the non-existent roof was lifted and the visiting players got their first taste on today’s hostility. The last few times have not been good experiences for Newell’s at all. On four of the last five occasions, they stood no chance and lost to their foes.

Today, they did not look any better during the opening moments. Central were in control and had the bigger share of possession and as it turned out, chances. Larrondo’s header was the best opportunity of the first half that was by no means spectacular or appropriate for this outstanding crowd. Old Boys were completely toothless and gave the hosts nothing to worry about, leaving more question marks about this team than there were before. 

After a goalless first half, Central decided it was time to really get going. The title candidate stepped it up by at least two gears and had a lot more dangerous opportunities now, led by Marco Rubén, who did not seem fully fit yet. Still, he remained the focal point and had several shots that just went over. 

Gol Larrondo! (photo from eldiariodebuenosaires.com)
José Fernandez fired a shot against the crossbar to open things up in the second 45. Shortly after, it was him again whose cross from the left was met by a sliding Marcelo Larrondo. 1-0 for Central and it was deserved. 

As pressure continued to mount onto the helpless visitors, they lost another player due to a sending off for the second straight week. Franco Escobar could not stop the run of Rubén with legal means and brought the striker down. Frankly, this red card ended any hope Newell’s might have still kept alive at that point. Shocking statistic in general: a total of 3 shots in 90 minutes, 0 of them on goal. 



Finally, what had to happen did happen. Marco Rubén got a well-earned goal in his return. In injury time, he chipped the ball over the body of goalkeeper Unsain, right into the hearts of Newell’s supporters.  

2-0 was a rather lucky scoreline for NOB at the end of the day, as Central had multiple further big chances. Instantly after the full-time whistle, Newell’s coach Lucas Bernardi was relieved from his duties. The club will likely keep struggling as the season progresses while Rosario Central contest for the title again. Last week showed it, this week proved it.

Tucumán stun Boca in the Bombonera - Argentina Roundup

Leandro González. (photo from ole.com.ar)

The unthinkable has really happened: Atlético Tucumán, just promoted, have beaten Boca Juniors in the Bombonera, 0-1. Here is the roundup of all of Saturday's and Sunday's action in Argentina's Primera División. 

It has only been a week since Tucumán's stunning win against Racing, now the team from Juan Azconzábal won away to Boca Juniors. Leandro González scored the goal of the game 23 minutes in, his second of the season. 
Throughout the game, the big favourite only managed two shots on goal, compared to Tucumán's five. The bottom line is a sixth game in a row in 2016, in which Boca has not managed to find the back of the net. As of Monday morning, coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena was still in charge, but that is likely not going to hold until Thursday's visit to San Martín. 
Defensively, Boca was horrible and allowed way too much, seemingly uninterested. Does the team still have its hunger after winning last year's double? The next few weeks will prove if these performances were predominantly on the coach.

Sí, Señor: Pablo Barrientos wins the game late for San Lorenzo. (photo from elpatagonico.com)
San Lorenzo managed to get away with an injury time winner to beat Sarmiento at home on Saturday. Pablo Barrientos was the late hero of his team. The hosts fell behind quickly through Walter Busse's 6th minute goal. San Lorenzo had trouble finding offense and it took them until the final 15 minutes to get any consistent pressure on the visitors. Then a penalty from Nestor Ortigoza and a sending off for Sarmiento's Ferracutti did the rest before Barrientos won it. 

Racing Club suffered further goalkeeper problems in their 2-2 draw with San Martín. Both goals should have been saved by Sebastián Saja. With this form, Racing are far from contending for any title this season. At least Gustavo Bou continued his good form and gave his team the lead right before halftime. Daniel González tied things up in the 69th, before Óscar Romero answered with a gorgeous goal from distance into the top corner four minutes later. While Toledo's 89th minute equaliser took a little deflection, there is no excuse for Saja to not make this save. Racing start the season with just one point from two games.

Andres D'Alessandro's return to River ended in a loss. (photo from globoesporte.globo.com)
The story of River Plate's visit to Belgrano was clearly the return and debut of Andres D'Alessandro for his old team. Marcelo Gallardo named the 34-year old in his starting XI in place of last week's two goal man Pity Martínez. While D'Ale had an assist on River's first goal from Nicólas Domingo (26th), it was not good enough. By that time, Belgrano had already exposed their visitor's defense multiple times and scored twice through Iván Etevenaux and Jorge Vélazquez. When Etevenaux added another one right before halftime, the game seemed nearly decided already. Turns out, it was, since Iván Alonso could only get one back for his side in the 69th minute through a well-placed header. 
At the end of the day, River had just themselves to blame. Just like Boca earlier, they did not manage to get many shots on target. Belgrano surely did nothing magical and had their own problems defending throughout the game as well.

Lanús have opened their season with two wins. After last week's win over Estudiantes, a brace from José Sand saw Lanús get by Defensa y Justicia, 2-1. Making their victory even more special is the fact that they came from behind to get there. Fabian Bordagaray had given Defensa the lead after only 9 minutes.

Estudiantes themselves celebrated their first three points of the season. Lucas Viatri scored the golden goal at Atlético Rafaela after 39 minutes. The win for the away side was deserved, especially in the second half, Estudiantes did more for the game and had the better opportunities.

Freshly promoted Patronato has fallen into the league's one relegation spot after matchweek 2 following a 3-2 loss at Gimnasia y Esgrima. Despite the loss, Patronato did not look out of place at all and could have come away with at least a point on the night as well. Matias Garrido scored twice for his team, but Franco Niell, Lorenzo Faravelli and Walter Bou had other plans. Gimnasia have not won a lot lately, so these are some big points for them out of an even game.

Aldosivi continues with great offensive football and beat Argentinos Juniors 3-2. Jonathan Galván had his team on the scoreboard inside 5 minutes, but Juniors countered with Insúa's penalty. However, before halftime, Aldosivi got two more. Cristian Llama and Gastón Díaz with a penalty of his own put the game out of reach for the visitors. Lautaro Rinaldi should make it 3-2 in the 76th, but it was not enough.

Last but not least, Vélez Sarsfield have managed to win a game. Goals from Cristian Nasuti (9th) and Maximiliano Romero (79th) were sufficient to beat Olimpo 2-1. The away goal was marked by Walter Acuña in the 38th minute. Olimpo weakend themselves through a red card for Juan Quiroga in the 86th minute, making any sort of final push for a point impossible.

Here are all the goals in a long highlight video, because there were simply many goals this weekend:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Nacional victorious again - Dream start complete

Celebrating another goal: Nacional win their second game of the season as well. (Photo: Nacional Twitter)
Noone really knew where the club stood, not even after the first week of action in Uruguay's Primera División. After opening the Clausura with a 3-0 win over Villa Teresa, Nacional followed it up with another 3-0 away win, this time against Copa Libertadores participant River Plate.

One man stole the show throughout the 90 minutes: Nicolas López. He already convinced a week ago (see last match report), but this week he was on another level. A hattrick was the end result of a fantastic performance that might make the quick people ask who that Iván Alonso guy was. 
Kidding, we are not that far yet. But the start could not have gone any brighter for the 22-year old, who rejoined his youth club on loan from Udinese Calcio. The bottom line are 4 goals and an assist in just two games. 

During the week, the club signed central striker Léo Gamalho from Avaí, but the Brazilian will have an impossible mission to get into the first XI, if López keeps his form going. Especially considering the strong Copa Libertadores group Nacional got drawn into, any offensive strengths will be well-needed.


But not only López could convince the supporters. Jorge Fucile was very active on his right full-back position and continued being a threat going forward. The right side was the focal point of Nacional's attack for large parts, particularly in the first half. 

On the left side, Kevin Ramírez was not as strong as last week and could not get by defenders as effortlessly. Granted, River's backline is probably another quality compared to Villa Teresa's. On the back end, left-back Olivera had a fine game. After some time, he even commited to some attacking attempts. He can build on today.

One of the main problems last week was Mauricio Victorino after entering the pitch. He continued his shocking form today for a while, as River started to find their legs after going down 0-2 quickly. Misplaced passes, wrong positioning, all the good stuff you don't want to see from an experienced centre-back. Luckily he improved as the game progressed and in the second half, he had a fine outing next to the ever-consistent captain Diego Polenta.

Overall, the 3-0 win this week can be rated much higher than the opening one a week ago. Not only the competition was better, Nacional's performance was a massive step in the right direction. A win that could have ended up even higher, as countless chances went astray, notably through midfield engine Colo Romero.

Nacional are hosting Montevideo Wanderers in the Gran Parque Central next weekend, while River Plate are facing Palmeiras in the Copa Libertadores midweek.