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.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Nacional host El Tanque Sisley to get back on track

Following a successful international break, Uruguay's clubs are back in action for matchweek 7 of this season's Clausura. Nacional are hosting El Tanque Sisley in their attempt to get back on track.


Three wins were a brilliant way to start the season for the record champion, but lately the league form took a hit due to the addition of Copa Libertadores football. In three straight games, Nacional failed to take all points, losing twice and drawing once. Especially the last appearance two weeks ago was memorable, "playing" on Cerro's ridiculous pitch.

The gap to league leading Plaza Colonia is up to six points by now and coach Gustavo Munúa will change the lineup to get back to winning ways. Felipe Carballo and Sebastián Fernández will both enter the starting XI in place of Leandro Barcia and Leo Gamalho. In addition, Alejandro Tabo will stay there since Kevin Ramírez is still not ready to go.

Ramírez is being joined on the sidelines by Erick Cabaco (both fever) and Nacho González (adductors). 

Out against El Tanque Sisley: Erick Cabaco and Kevin Ramírez. (Photo: tenfield.com)
In Thursday's training session, Sebastián Eguren replaced Mauricio Victorino at the centre-back position. The veteran Uruguayan international who played twice for his country the past week trained seperately, but will be ready for Saturday evening at the Gran Parque Central. 

El Tanque Sisley meanwhile have collected 7 points so far this season (2-1-3). Three points worse than Nacional, they have only lost one of their last four outings. A weakness that might cost them away to Nacional is their inability to score goals consistently. So far, they only managed to find the back of the net 6 times in as many games and no player more than once.

If Nico López can find his form after the international break as well, this should be a solid win for Nacional, mostly thanks to finally being rested for a longer time. Captain Diego Polenta was extremely proud to be called up for Uruguay and should transport that mood over to his club team too. They will be two of the main keys for Nacional's success down the stretch.

  • Nacional - El Tanque Sisley
  • Sunday, 12am CET
  • Gran Parque Central
  • Conde - Fucile, Victorino, Polenta (C), Espino - Porras, Romero, Carballo - Fernández, López, Tabo.

South America's Top Clubs - April 2016


A new club has taken over the top of South America's football ranking. Rightfully so, you might say. Atlético Nacional has been wonderful thus far in the Copa Libertadores and won all four of their games, leading to a big lead in this ranking.

It was Colo Colo on top a month ago, but some less inspired performances in Copa Libertadores and league have led to their downfall to 19th. At least they still find themselves in the top 20.

Despite all the club football action earlier this month, just three new clubs made it into the top 20 in April. Uruguay's Club Nacional convinced twice against Palmeiras and enter the list back in 9th. Additionally, The Strongest and São Paulo are in, replacing the likes of Palestino, Deportivo La Guaira and Peñarol.

Argentina lead nation-wise, as they have five clubs, including Huracán. The in-form team of Argentina's Primera División seems to be able to stay in there forever.

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 5 Atlético Nacional Colombia 46
2 2 Corinthians Brazil 42
3 11 Santa Fe Colombia 38
4 8 Atlético Mineiro Brazil 37
5 3 Rosario Central Argentina 37
6 10 CA Cerro Uruguay 35
7 15 Deportivo Táchira Venezuela 35
8 7 Racing Club Argentina 35
9 - Club Nacional Uruguay 34
10 19 Independiente del Valle Ecuador 34
11 18 Huracán Argentina 33
12 16 CA Lanús Argentina 32
13 17 Independiente Medellín Colombia 32
14 4 CS Emelec Ecuador 32
15 20 Estudiantes Argentina 31
16 - The Strongest Bolivia 31
17 - FC São Paulo Brazil 31
18 12 Zamora FC Venezuela 31
19 1 Colo Colo Chile 31
20 9 Atlético Junior Colombia 31

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Uruguay top South American World Cup Qualification

Uruguay has taken over top spot of Conmebol's World Cup qualification group last night. After a 1-0 win over Peru, the first World Champion is on track on their way to Russia 2018.

Mauricio Victorino celebrates Uruguay's success. (All photos: Conmebol)
Uruguay hosted Peru at the Estadio Centenario with a chance to go top of the qualification group and they did just that. An Edinson Cavani goal in the 53rd minute was all it took to get by Claudio Pizarro and Co. 

Despite the relatively narrow margin of victory, Uruguay deserved their home win. They were the better team overall and could have scored more frequently in the first half but Alvaro Pereira saw his biggest chance, a header from short distance, get deflected against the crossbar. On the other side, it was Paulo Guerrero who stood wide open in front of Fernando Muslera's goal, only to be denied magnificently. 

As always, Uruguay's set pieces had huge danger potential, despite the absence of Atlético Madrid's centre-back duo Godín/Giménez. Players such as Coates stepped up and did managed their defensive duties in predominantly fine fashion. 

Finally, it was El Matador Cavani who gave his team the lead. Luis Suárez produced a wonderful assist right into the run of his striking partner. The PSG striker remained as cold as ice and fired it high into the net. 

The Copa América record champions had further chances to put the game to bed early on in the second half, but could not find another quality finish, as the likes of Carlos Sánchez and Edinson Cavani struggled to hit the target. It has to be concluded that Peru still is just not good enough to qualify for a World Cup tournament. Despite their best efforts last night, they lost deservedly and stand empty-handed yet again. 

Uruguay have 13 points in 1st, Peru are 8th with 4 points.

Man of the match: Carlos Bacca.
It was Ecuador, who led the Qualifiers before matchweek 6, but they really struggled for the first time by losing away to Colombia, 3-1. 

Colombia fully deserved their success, as they dominated their visitors as they pleased. Carlos Bacca scored twice (15', 67') and gave his squad a 3-0 lead along with Sebastian Perez' strike (48'). It was added time already when substitute Michael Arroyo cut into the 3-goal lead and gave his disappointing Ecuadorians at least something to cheer about.

The loss is not a big deal position wise as Ecuador are still 2nd with 13 points. Just their points advantage shrunk a lot over the last two matches. Instead, Colombia won twice and find themselves in 5th (the playoff position) with 10 points.

Lionel Messi celebrates his goal.
Over in Argentina, the World Cup runner-up celebrated a much needed three points against Bolivia. The guests were as bad as expected away from home and did not stand the slightest chance away in Córdoba. 

The goals were scored early on by River Plate's Gabriel Mercado (20') and a penalty from Leo Messi after half an hour. Argentina finished the match with 75% possession and 19-3 shots, which tells pretty much all the story of this game. 

Argentina go 3rd with 11 points, while Bolivia are 9th with 3. 

2 for 2: Arturo Vidal and Mauricio Pinilla both scored twice.
Chile produced a great comeback away to Venezuela, beating the hosts 4-1. 

Romulo Otero gave his Venezuelans another early lead after just nine minutes. But once more, his team could not hold onto it. Mauricio Pinilla took it on himself to turn the game around for the struggling Roja. He scored twice, one before halftime (33'), once after (52'). Arturo Vidal went on to do the same later on in his return from a yellow card suspension. Bayern's midfielder scored after 72 minutes and in added time to open up a 3-goal lead towards the end. 

Chile celebrate a very important win after their loss to Argentina and now sit 4th with 10 points. Venezuela fail to win again and remain last with just a single point.

Dani Alves strikes late to give Brazil a point.
Last but not least, it was Brazil's turn. The 5-time World Champion disappointed without the suspended Neymar away in Paraguay

The first half and some more minutes fully belonged to Paraguay who surprised Brazil with decent football and found an opener through yet another goal from Dario Lezcano (40'). When Edgar Benitez made it 2-0 right after the break (49'), it started to look very grim for Dunga's team. 

Finally, maybe an hour in, the visitors began to dominate the game and continued to produce a higher amount of chance, only to be rewarded very late. Ricardo Oliveira (79') and Dani Alves (90'+2) came to the rescue of a Brazilian side that still needs a lot of improvement ahead of the summer's Copa América. 

Brazil and Paraguay both have 9 points and sit in 6th and 7th, outside of a qualification spot.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Suárez strikes in deserved Uruguay comeback

Uruguay celebrates a big point away from Recife. After falling down 0-2 during the first half, the Celeste managed to come back and win a point in a 2-2 draw. The story of the game was obviously another one: Luis Suárez.

Luis Suárez returned in style. (Photo: conmebol.com)
Less than a minute into the match, it was Brazil who took an early lead through Bayern Munich's Douglas Costa. The winger was stronger than the defenders in the middle and got his leg to a Willian cross from the right. Not exactly a start any away team would imagine. Despite this early goal, the game remained pretty even in the opening stages.

The Brazilians added a second goal after 26 minutes and seemed well on their way to their first win of the qualification campaign. Neymar's beautiful pass cut open Uruguay's back four right between Pereira and Coates and found Renato Augusto. The midfielder curved around goalkeeper Muslera with a fake and fired it high into the empty net.

Brazil committed many players forward and did well throughout the first half hour. They deserved their two-goal lead at this stage, while their visitors had some serious trouble at the back.

It did not take long after the second goal for Uruguay to expose their counterparts at the other end though. Alvaro Pereira was allowed to run all the way on his left side without being bothered by any pressure. His cross went to the far post, found the head of Carlos Sánchez and he laid it back into the middle to Edinson Cavani. He had been awful so far in this game, but that will not stop a Cavani from using his chances. Filipe Luis had lost Sánchez behind him and what David Luiz was doing in the middle to stop Cavani - I don't even know. After a really entertaining half, we went to the break with a narrow Brazilian lead.

Dunga's inexplicable opinion that Luiz is a better defender than Thiago Silva (who was not invited to the national team yet again) fired back right after the break for a second time. What had to happen, happened: Luis Suárez scored in his return with a decent left-footed shot. In fairness, he could only direct it towards the goal, because David Luiz decided to just stand next to him instead of attacking the forward.
Additionally, Alvaro Pereira shone yet again with a lovely pass to Suárez in that scene. The worries ahead of the game about Uruguay's back four seemed justified after their start, but they improved during the course of the match. 

The goal completely killed Brazil's enthusiasm from the first half and they nearly lost the game towards the end. Suárez had another great chance and almost made it 3 to stun their old rivals. It stayed 2-2 until the end and Neymar got himself suspended for the upcoming away game in Paraguay with a dirty foul that he saw yellow for. 

Uruguay will play Peru at the Estadio Centenario next and will hope for three more points at home. They stay second in the group with 10 points, Brazil are in third with 8. Most of all, Oscar Tabárez' team deserved their comeback on the night.


Standings provided by Sofascore LiveScore



Friday, March 25, 2016

Last minute goal galore in South America

World Cup Qualification continued last night with matchweek 5 in South America. All teams aside from Brazil and Uruguay, who face each other tonight, were in action. Here is how it went for them.

Captain steps up: Colombia's goalscorer James Rodríguez.
It all started in the Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz, where Bolivia wanted to play out their altitude advantage (3600m above sea level) against Colombia, but failed to do so. Being down 0-2 at halftime through lovely goals from James Rodríguez (10') and Carlos Bacca (41'), Bolivia managed to fight back early in the second half.

Juan Arce converted a penalty (50'), before The Strongest' Copa Libertadores hero Alejandro Chumacero struck again, this time for his country. While Colombia felt to be disadvantaged by the referee in the buildup to the goal, the midfielder's strike was simply fantastic. Goalkeeper David Ospina, who made several big saves in the second half to keep his team in it, laid horizontally in the air and still did not have the slightest chance (63').

Bolivia kept pushing forward, but lacked a significant amount of precision towards the end. Instead, it was the visitors that stole all three points from this away game in the 92nd minute. Substitute Marlos Moreno assisted Edwin Cardona with a fantastic pass and the other substitute Cardona made no mistake and finished it into the bottom right corner.

A draw might have reflected this game a little better, but Bolivia did not pay the necessary attention right before the end. It is a big three away points for Colombia, whereas Bolivia cannot even build on their home advantage anymore, having lost 2 of 3 at the Hernando Siles.

Brace for his Albirroja: Dario Lezcano.
Over in Quito, Ecuador wanted to build on their outstanding start into the qualification campaign with a fifth win in as many games. They came close, but at the end, Paraguay snuck out a point in a 2-2 draw.

It all started well for the group leaders, when Enner Valencia gave the hosts a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes. Ecuador dominated throughout the game, but failed to make it count in a decisive manner. Instead, San Lorenzo's Néstor Ortigoza ripped open the defense with the pass of the game and after receiving the low cross from the left, all Dario Lezcano had to do was pushing it over the line (38').

A well played counter became Ecuador's problem yet again in the second half. Once more, they committed many men forward and Paraguay made the most of it through Lezcano for a second time. Ingolstadt's striker struggled a bit to get the ball under control, but his shot into the left hand corner was a great one (59').

Ecuador kept pushing and pushing and finally, after 92 minutes, found an equalizer. Subsitute Ángel Mena was played through by Christian Noboa and won his country a more than deserved point. Gustavo Quinteros' team continues to do well (13 points) and remains on top of South America after week 5. But well done to Paraguay too, who already have 8 points.

Winning goal: Ángel di María.
Argentina had previously struggled and only won a single game so far, but the return of captain Lionel Messi from injury sparked a 2-1 victory over Chile in the Copa América final revenge.

Chile had not lost at home since 2012 and it did not seem like they would anytime soon either after they took the lead inside 10 minutes. Felipe Gutiérrez' powerful header from a Fabián Orellana corner left Sergio Romero no chance whatsoever. Argentina was under a lot of pressure right after the goal, only to profit from Chile's injury struggles in the following scenes.

Mati Fernández had to go off after just 7 minutes and when Marcelo Díaz received treatment, Kun Agüero and Éver Banega worked themselves into the penalty area. The ball fell onto the foot of Ángel di María and he produced a sweet finish into the far corner (19').

Five minutes later, when Chile was still trying to get organized after two early injuries, Argentina struck again. Nicolás Otamendi headed the ball towards Messi who just got his foot to it and found River's full back Gabriel Mercado. In his third game for Argentina, Mercado scored his first goal with a turnaround shot (24').

The Chileans started well into the second half and it did not take long for Alexis Sánchez to have the best chance of the game, only to see it go wide. Another time, Orellana was denied by Romero, but in general, it was Argentina who came closer to a third goal now by exposing the spaces Chile had to leave them inevitably.

La Roja tried their best, but Argentina's defense just stood solid and did not give up any huge chances anymore. The visitors ended up celebrating big three points away from Santiago. It gives them 8 in the campaign and things are starting to look a little brighter for Gerardo Martino's men. Chile have just 7 points so far.

Late hero: Raúl Ruidíaz. (All photos: conmebol.com)
If late comebacks were a theme yesterday, Peru were a big part of it as well. In the 94th minute, the Peruvians completed a comeback at home against Venezuela that gave them at least one point in a 2-2 draw.

It was Venezuela showing a bright start to the surprise of many, as their young team went to the break with a lead. Rómulo Otero scored from the spot (33') in a first half that saw Venezuela be the better team overall.

They continued pretty well in the second half and when Mikel Villanueva scored a second one after about an hour (57'), the visitors thought they might finally get to celebrate their first qualification win on the road to Russia 2018. Villanueva was first onto a Juanpi corner that went through everybody in the area and his bullet left goalkeeper Pedro Gallese no chance.

It was a substitution that changed the game completely after 60 minutes. Raúl Ruidíaz came on for oldstar Claudio Pizarro and inside a minute, Peru had life again. He laid the ball off on the edge of the area, finding Paulo Guerrero and the Flamengo striker profited of Alain Baroja's costly error. The 26-year old goalkeeper should have made that save without a doubt, but saw the strike go right through him.

Finally, in the 94th minute, Peru got their equalizer through who but Ruidíaz. The striker got his head on Edison Flores' lovely cross from the left and managed to win his team a point late. Peru had severely dominated ever since their first goal and really earned their fortune here.

Admittedly, a point does not help either team and it does not look good for Peru and Venezuela when it comes to their point total. Peru are in 8th with 4 points, Venezuela remain deadlast after winning their first point of the campaign.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

El Pistolero is back - Luis Suárez returns for Uruguay

A very special night awaits football fans around the globe, particularly those in South America. In the night between Thursday and Friday (1:45am CET), Luis Suárez returns to Uruguay's squad after a break of nearly two years.

Luis Suárez. (Photo: Getty Images)
After biting Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup group stage in a heated battle with Italy, Barcelona's striker had been suspended for 4 months of club football and 9 internationals, excluding friendlies. Since Uruguay exited the World Cup relatively early, the suspension caused Suárez to miss last year's Copa América in its entirety. Additionally, Uruguay had to start their 2018 World Cup campaign without the countries' best goalscorer.

It did not seem to distract Uruguay all that much. The two-time world champion continued their solid track under Óscar Tabárez, winning three out of their first four qualification matches. The only loss came in unlucky fashion against group leading Ecuador. During the upcoming games against Brazil and Peru, El Pistolero is back and seemingly ready to go. 

Suárez: "I know it is special, because so much time has passed. But more than anything else, I feel like a player that came here to give his absolute best."

His opponents are shaking in the corners already, considering his recent form with Barcelona along with Lionel Messi and Neymar, whom he will meet on Friday. "Suárez is unstoppable", Brazilian defender Gil says. "Suárez is an excellent striker, an excellent player." Atlético's Filipe Luis tends to agree with his colleague: "He is able to bring a game out of its balance. We cannot give him any space."

While respecting the pressure he will be under, the 29-year old feels prepared: "I have worked on controlling my fear in the last few weeks, my nerves when it comes to the supporter's euphoria. But I'm very relaxed, because the team as a whole has a big responsibility and will give it their best when they play for the national team."

Especially Uruguay's fans always stayed loyal to their star striker during his absence and tough times. "It really is special for me to be back with my people. Through everything I had to go through, they were always on my side. They all know: I'm more than thankful. Now I have to demonstrate my gratitude and do a good job on the pitch, so Uruguay wins points in a difficult qualification group."
 
Nearly two years after his last competitive game for his country, Luis Suárez is back. Will he roar again right away or will his comeback be more of a quiet one? We have no other option than to wait and see.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Racing win 6-3 (again?!) - Argentina

Two weeks ago, Racing Club managed to beat Unión de Santa Fe 6-3 in an away game in Argentina's Primera División. Now they did it again. Last night, Atlético Rafaela hosted Racing and were defeated 3-6 by the champions of 2014.

Marcos Acuña defends the ball from Bruno Urribarri. (Photo: perfil.com)
Fans inside the Estadio Nuevo Monumental witnessed another breathtaking performance of Racing's outstanding offense. It was not until the second half that the visitors really got going, after the first 45 minutes ended tied 2-2. But even those provided excellent entertainment for fans and viewers all over the world. 

Federico Anselmo gave the outsiders an early 2nd minute lead with an excellent finish after being played through the centre of Racing's defense by Gabriel Morales. A lead that lasted for exactly seven minutes, because Marcos Acuña converted a direct freekick into the bottom right corner. 

Until the first half was 50% done, both teams had added yet another goal to their total. Lisandro López was wide open in the middle of the penalty area and picked out by Ricardo Noir, whose run had pulled the goalkeeper out of the goal and left López an open net to shoot at (14'). Anselmo himself added his second goal in the 21st, heading home a corner from the left.

Especially towards the end of the first half, Racing were in control and could have capitalized on further chances. The guests were dominating, in particular through great contributions from Noir and Acuña. In addition, Gustavo Bou was finally back in the starting lineup for his team and should pay back that trust later. He is simply so much fun to watch on the field. 

Racing kept dominating in the second half and got the rewards for it after all. Nicolás Sánchez (50') and Lisandro López (54') with his second were successful early on. Do you think Sánchez meant it?


After 65 minutes, Bou was the man that put the game tonight out of Rafaela's reach. He scored a typical goal for a mobile striker like him, turning around on the edge of the area after receiving Noir's pass and firing it into the goal. You had to feel a little for substitute keeper Axel Werner who could not do anything about any of them.

Just as the game was decided and calmed down a little, we got to see two more goals in the final ten minutes. First, Rafaela decided to make it a little closer again through Facundo Parra's right-footed shot (82'), before Facundo Pereyra restored the 3-goal lead with a magnificent finish (87').

While Rafaela was a bit of a mess during the second half, you have to critically take a look at Racing's defense as well. Despite competing with the best clubs in Zone 2 by now, they have given up a staggering 17 goals against now, just one less than league-leading Colón. Obviously, they need to rely on their offense to get the job done for them and they just might. Along with Defensa y Justicia, they have now found the back of the net 19 times, admittedly 12 of them came from just two matches.

Coach Facundo Sava needs to find a way to shut the open door at the back, since teams such as Lanús and Estudiantes, who are competing against Racing, can rely on their back lines significantly more. If defenses with championships, they are in the advantage at the halfway point of Argentina's Primera División season.

One thing is for certain though: If you want entertainment, do not look any further than Racing's games. Especially skillful players keep finding ways to beat their defense.

Check out the league table here: Click.

Racing Club play Tigre at home after the international break, Atlético Rafaela visit the Bombonera to take on Boca Juniors.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Cerro beat Nacional in a game to forget

After a week long break in Uruguay's Primera División, CA Cerro and Nacional returned to action in the Estadio Troccoli. While the pitch wasn't in form and looked like a potato field post-harvesting, you could not say the same about Nacional.

Inexcusable pitch for Cerro vs Nacional. (Photo: @PasionTricolor1)
Twice in one week, Uruguay's champion celebrated wins in the Copa Libertadores over Palmeiras (Germancopa reported). Regardless of the most recent triumphs, Cerro was expected to be a very uncomfortable opponent, as they went into week 6 equal on points with Nacional. Interestingly enough, their goal difference going into this one was 4-2. Expecting a low scoring game, anyone?

Personnel

Yesterday, the Bolso supporters received magnificent news from the international front as three current players were called up to the Uruguayan squad ahead of World Cup qualification against Brazil and Peru. Regular Jorge Fucile was joined by Mauricio Victorino and, well deservedly, by captain Diego Polenta. All three of them were on the pitch today and joined by striker Leo Gamalho for his starting XI debut. Gamalho replaced Seba Fernández who received a breather, as did Kevin Ramírez who was replaced by Tabó. 

First Half

Any word about the first half is one too much. On the worst football pitch I've ever seen in my life, no playing or passing was possible. It came down to some bounces both ways that did not turn into dangerous chance. Just once, Nacional came close to scoring. Countering 3 against 2, Tabó elected to shoot and saw his attempt deflected against the crossbar by a Cerro defender. One could only hope it would get better, but honestly my hopes were not too high.

Second Half

Sadly, I was right. The game continued to be an awful mess, highlighted early on in the second half by two challenges that should have gotten Andrés Barboza sent off, but didn't. More excitement in the 56th minute, when Barcia was clearly fouled right on the left edge of the area, but referee Rojas disagreed on the obvious fact.

Nacional's only real chance of the second half came after over an hour, when Leo Gamalho tried his luck with a nice looking solo run through Cerro's backlines, but his shot was comfortably saved at the end.

For the last ten minutes, Cerro was the better team. Barboza had a bad attempt going wide after being played through by Rodrigo Izquierdo. The latter then shot a freekick towards the bottom right corner and was countered by goalkeeper Esteban Conde.

The following corner was swung in to the near post and Cerro really scored a goal. A set piece was the only way it would happen today and Conde did not look good when he came out to attack the cross. Luis Urruti was on it the quickest and headed it into the net. It remained the last action of this actionless affair. 1-0 Cerro was your final score.

Analysis

Substitute Fernández had no impact for Nacional, but had it very difficult up front in this game. Ignacio González and Matías Cabrera were brought on too late to make a difference, after Cerro had scored their goal already.

While players such as Gamalho and Barcia tried their best to get something going up front, it was very hard to do today, mainly due to the pitch. The home team got the lucky winner that could only come from a set piece.

The bottom line were sadly 90 wasted minutes, unlike painful two hours are just your thing. I hope for everyone in this league that Cerro finds the money for a new pitch and does so soon.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

If the group stage ended today... - Copa Libertadores

Today, I thought it would be fun to see who would play against each other in the Copa Libertadores round of 16, assuming the group stages ended today.

Marcelo Barovero and Fernando Cavenaghi with the trophy. (Photo: espnfc.com)
Obviously, I took into account that some teams played less games than others thus far. Big teams made it through, others missed out on the knockout stages.

Here are the current matchups:

Atlético Nacional - Grêmio
Atlético Mineiro - Sporting Cristal
Toluca - Bolívar
The Strongest - Deportivo Táchira
Pumas - River Plate
Corinthians - Independiente del Valle
Nacional - Santa Fe
Racing Club - Rosario Central


Standing out so far have been Atlético Nacional, but thanks to Grêmio's rather average form so far, the Colombians might face a tough challenge in Brazil despite being perfect in 4 games. Another Brazilian squad might have it a little easier: Robinho's Atlético Mineiro would play Sporting Cristal in the round of 16. 

The most exciting ties on paper might just include Argentine clubs. Racing and Rosario Central would battle in an all Argentine duel due to their respective point totals. Title holders River Plate might have a trip to Mexico on their hands, as Pumas await them. 

Personally, I would very much look forward to Nacional and Santa Fe against each other as well. On the Colombian's road to the Copa Sudamericana title at the end of last year, both teams met and Santa Fe only advanced in very lucky fashion. I'm sure that Uruguay's champions would not mind some revenge. 

Not in the round of 16? Boca Juniors are out of it right now, as are Cerro Porteño or Colo Colo. Luckily, they still have time to play themselves in in reality. But a little bit of fun never hurt anyone halfway through the group stage.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Nacional beat Palmeiras again - Copa Libertadores

Thanks to a goal from Nicolás López, Nacional have overcome their Palmeiras challenge for the second time in a week. This time around, they were victorious at their very own Gran Parque Central, beating the Brazilian side 1-0.
Gran Parque Central ahead of the Copa Libertadores game.
It was an allround great night in Montevideo in the sold out iconic ground. The magnificent atmosphere that started with a great reception of the team would not stop, as Nacional performed very well once again. After having a break in their domestic league, they could enter last night's game with a lot of rest and it showed early on. Palmeiras' were outplayed in the first half and did not collect a single shot. 

Nacional's pressing was excellent, they played with a lot of pace, just lacked a little precision in their finishing. Veteran striker Sebastián Fernández probably had the best chance for the Uruguayans after half an hour, but he saw his shot go just wide to the right of Fernando Prass' goal. 

The home team deserved a lot better than a 0-0 by halftime. Goalkeeper Esteban Conde was wondering why he was even standing in the goal tonight.
Goal! Nico López has scored yet again. (All photos: nacional.uy)
While Palmeiras was a little better to start the second 45 minutes, it was Nacional who deservingly took the lead. Seba Fernández started the move and laid it out to Kevin Ramírez' left side. The young winger crossed it deep and found the head of Nico López who managed to just stay onside. His header hit the goalie's arm, but there was no way Prass was keeping it out. 1-0 and Nacional could finally play with the lead behind them after 50 minutes.

El Decano could focus on keeping the ball out of their own net more now, but Palmeiras lacked any sort of creativity, despite controlling possession in midfield. Too many misplaced passes and lost balls up front made it easy for the hosts to get through the second half. 

As the minutes ticked down and substitutes Gabriel Jesus and Lucas Barrios could not get it done either, Nacional came away with very important three points, which keep them atop of Group 2 in the Copa Libertadores. With 8 points, they are very close to advancing to the round of 16 in the competition. On April 7, they travel to their Uruguayan counterparts River Plate and can reach the next round. 

Especially the goalscoring touch of Nico López was the significant factor once again. After he scored a week ago in the return leg in Brazil as well, the highly talented striker decided yet another game with his goal. It was López' third Libertadores goal in four games. Take a look at last night's headed goal:



Midfielder Felipe Carballo, who filled in for last night's right-back Colo Romero (Fucile was suspended), did tremendously well and should be rewarded with further inclusions into Nacional's XI. He had a lot of help from his tireless teammates, especially the constant runs from Ramírez, Fernández and Barcia which exploited Palmeiras' back line. 

Rosario Central are second in Group 2 with 7 points, one behind Nacional. They are the favourites to go through at this moment, followed by Palmeiras with 4 and Uruguay's River Plate with 2 points.

Post-match celebrations from the players and their happy crowd.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Chumacero saves The Strongest late against River

For a long time, it looked like River Plate could finally overcome the Argentine away curse in Bolivia. It was over 45 years that any Argentine side had won a game in the heights of La Paz and until added time, River had a one goal lead. They did not get it across the finish line.

Best man for River: Goalkeeper Barovero. (Photo: ole.com.ar)
In a game that saw The Strongest be the better team for larger parts, the visitors took the lead against the odds. Rodrigo Mora produced a fantastic improvised overhead kick finish after Ponzio's long forward ball. The Uruguayan striker in general had a fine game and was the focal point when River got forward. Several other opportunities throughout the 90 minutes went wide. The same can be said for his striking partners. Lucas Alario and Sebastián Driussi were all visible but lacked final precision. 

The biggest spotlight belonged to Marcelo Barovero though. River's goalkeeper saved his team multiple times and made winning points even possible. The Bolivians had 21 shots, 10 of them on target, 9 of them saved. Just that one at the very end went in. Alejandro Chumacero was fastest on the ball when noone else was in added time of the second half and banged it high into the net. 

To celebrate the draw, both teams lost a player to sending-offs. Rodrigo Ramallo was sent off for his second yellow on the home side, while River's Leonardo Ponzio followed him with a straight red. Table-wise, both can live with how things went. The Strongest are on top with 7 points, River Plate have 5. Not going through right now: São Paulo with 2 and Trujillanos with 1 point. 

Elsewhere in the Copa Libertadores

São Paulo could not come away with a victory away to Venezuela's Trujillanos. Despite being the better team for most of the 90 minutes, a missed penalty from Ganso proved decisive at the end of the day. Overall, Ganso had a good game though and equalized quickly (38'), two minutes after Rubén Rojas had given Trujillanos the lead. In their attempts to catch the top two sides, a point will not do for either of them. 

Colo Colo didn't do bad away at Atlético Mineiro. They still lost 3-0, mainly due to the Brazilians' efficiency. Goals from Juan Cazares (2'), Patric (45'+1) and Hyuri (73') were too much for Chile's best participant. It hurt them tremendously to not have striker Esteban Paredes available for this game. Atlético Mineiro are close to advancing from Group 5 with now 10 points. Independiente del Valle (7), Colo Colo (5) and Melgar (0) follow them.

Corinthians' goalscorer Lucca celebrates. (Photo: corinthians.com.br)
Last but not least, another Brazilian club was victorious last night. Corinthians beat group leading Cerro Porteño 2-0 at home and rightly so. Paraguay's champion could not recreate the form that gave them a surprising 3-2 win over the same opponent a week ago. Lucca scored during the first half (24'), an own goal in the second from Victor Mareco (61') sealed things in São Paulo. Corinthians are now top of Group 8 (9 points), ahead of Santa Fe (7), Cerro Porteño (7) and Cobresal (0).

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

San Lorenzo miss first win, Santa Fe in form

After looking at Atlético Nacional's impressive performance against Peñarol (do so if you haven't yet), here is what else happened last evening and night in the Copa Libertadores.

Néstor Ortigoza after his early goal. (Photo: prohogar.com.py)
A very early and a very late goal wrote the story in the Nuevo Gasómetro. San Lorenzo's bid for their first Copa Libertadores win of the season ended in a 1-1 draw against Grêmio. Néstor Ortigoza gave the hosts the lead after just 4 minutes by converting a penalty. The Paraguayan midfielder was as sure as it gets from the spot. 

In the aftermath of the opening goal, both teams wasted huge chances. Geromel could have tied things up easily for the Brazilians but he slid it wide. On the other side, Martín Cauteruccio was all alone in front of the goal but was denied by Marcelo Grohe. The goalkeeper continued to deliver with an outstanding save on Blanco, laying in midair. Right before halftime, Blanco hit the post and San Lorenzo could not fire home the rebound in the middle. 

While the Argentine Libertadores winner from 2014 continued to be the slightly better side in the second half as well, they did not create as many chances anymore. Instead, Grêmio, who were not really existing offensively for large parts, equalized late in added time to silence the home crowd. It was substitute Lincoln that pounced on a loose ball after San Lorenzo had completely lost control at the back. 

Mexico's Toluca lead Group 6 with seven points. Grêmio have 5, San Lorenzo have 3. In last place are LDU Quito with 3 as well. Admittedly, Toluca and Quito still have to play their fourth game of the campaign, but will not do so until early April.

Jonatan Gómez celebrates his brace. (Photo: emol.com)
The second Colombian club in action last night, Santa Fe, won their game in convincing fashion as well. Against Cobresal, the Copa Sudamericana champion managed a clear 3-0. 

January signing Jonatan Gómez scored twice to get his team on track. A great low shot from distance hit the back of the net early on, just 8 minutes into the game. Cobresal had not been able to keep up in the Copa Libertadores so far and we saw the same picture today. Santa Fe dominated and outplayed their opponents from start to finish. Logical consequence was the second goal from Gómez shortly before halftime. Juan Daniel Roa had the ball on the right and gave it into the middle, where William Tesillo laid it back outside the area. Gómez fired home another well-placed shot from way out.

The second half belonged to the hosts in its entirety and after collecting an assist on Gómez' second, Tesillo got on the scoresheet himself in the 74th minute. His header from a Seijas corner could not be kept out by Leonel Cuerdo. It was the last goal of the night, which should put Santa Fe on top of Group 8 with seven points. They are followed by Cerro Porteño (7) and Corinthians (6). Cobresal, in their second ever participation, have none and are already eliminated after four matches.


Independiente del Valle have celebrated their second Copa Libertadores win in a row against Melgar. The Ecuadorians won 2-0.

Twice, an quick start to each half was enough for Independiente del Valle to get by the Peruvian champions. Junior Sornoza scored in the 3rd minute, while José Angulo was successful 2 minutes into the second half. Sornoza opened the play for his second Libertadores goal of the season himself by laying it out to the right. Emiliano Tellechea found the run of his teammate in the middle and the 22-year old midfielder finished with a lovely side-foot volley.

The final goal was created by a hard shot from Bryan Cabezas. Melgar's goalkeeper Daniel Ferreyra could not make a good clearance and instead the ball bounced right onto substitute Angulo's foot who had lurked in the centre of the area. In the following minutes, Melgar tried a bit more offensively, until Independiente took the game over again after about an hour.

Certainly, Ecuador's representative deserved their win on the night as they were simply more awake when it mattered the most. Even shot- and possession-wise, they were the better team and it looks like Peru will experience the Round of 16 from the outside again. At least Melgar have waved goodbye to the competition already after not being able to collect a point in four matches.

Independiente del Valle lead Group 5 with 7 points, along with Atlético Mineiro (7). They are followed by Colo Colo with 5. Those two teams play against each other tonight and the winner moves into top spot.

Time to take Atlético Nacional seriously

Colombia's champion Atlético Nacional continues to impress in the Copa Libertadores. Last night, they won 0-4 away at Peñarol. 

12 points from 4 games, it does not get much better than what Atlético Nacional have played so far. Yesterday, they convinced with brutal efficiency in the Estadio Centenario. From five shots on target, they converted four. It is more than time to take this team seriously when it comes to the competition's winner. 

Happiness: Atlético Nacional celebrate their fourth win in as many games. (Photo: AFP)
Jonathan Copete (8') and Daniel Bocanegra (45'+1) opened the scoring in the first half for an away team that was not even dominating the game, but simply was more precise and efficient than their opponents who were still missing Diego Forlán. Copete struck after a wonderful deep pass from Pérez, while Bocanegra scored with a direct freekick into the top right corner. 

Realistically, the game was decided at that point. Peñarol came out strong in the second half, but failed to make it count on several occasions. Notably the one shot on target throughout 90 minutes will be a thorn in their eyes. Neither striker Palacios, nor his partner Murillo could threaten Franco Armani's goal and were subbed off accordingly. 

The Uruguayans simply miss a lot of creativity, especially with Forlán out, a situation that is also apparent in their own Primera División. While it is somewhat manageable to look good against Rentistas and Villa Teresa, it will not be in the Copa Libertadores. 

Instead, Atlético Nacional made them pay twice more. Orlando Berrío scored with a goal that was basically a replay of the 1-0 (82'). A long ball was not dealt with by the backline and gave Alexander Mejia the assist. Three minutes later, Luis Carlos Ruiz added the fourth. He was played through the middle again by Mejia and finished without any problems. 

With this big win, the Colombians have pretty much guaranteed themselves winning the group (not mathematically yet), have 12 points. Next up are Sporting Cristal and Huracán with 4 and 3 respectively (but also a game less). In deadlast, Peñarol have one point and are on the verge of elimination.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Added time is Boca's friend again

Four days after a 96th minute equalizer in the Copa Libertadores, Boca Juniors have once again struck late to gain all three points. Against Unión de Santa Fe, Carlos Tévez' 91st minute goal handed Boca a 2-1 victory.

La Bombonera. (Photo: @PlanetaBoca)
One thing you cannot argue about is whether the win was deserved or not. Boca dominated the match throughout 90 minutes, be it possession or shot wise. After a goalless first half, highlighted by a clearance off the line from Boca right-back Leonardo Jara, it was Unión who surprisingly scored first. 

An excellent combination on the left flank ended in Malcorra's cross into the middle. Goalkeeper Orión got his hands to it, but could only clear it into the centre of the penalty area. There was Lucas Gamba who took an extra touch and fired it into the net. Boca were down again, a regular occurence this season. But their fightback started quicker this time around. Nicolás Lodeiro equalized just four minutes after Unión took the lead. 

Uruguay's Lodeiro in general played a decent game, was searched in midfield by his teammates and distributed the ball well. He even collected four of his team's 24 shots, one of them for his goal, which was an absolute beauty. After taking a corner from the right side, he got the ball back on the wing and his cross/shot with the left foot got longer and longer and flew right into the top far corner. 


Argentina's double winner continued to have a high amount of chances right after, up until the 70th minute when things got a bit calmer. Just as it appeared that both teams had settled for a point, Carlos Tévez thought otherwise. If working the ball into the net is a term, the inventor must have thought of this goal. Take a look at it yourself:


Boca had collected all three points late and it took them added time to get there again. While it was highly deserved, you have to feel for Unión after they fought and defended hard for 90 minutes. The Primera División all of a sudden looks a lot brighter for Guillermo Schelotto's team who now have 11 points, just 5 behind leaders Lanús. Unión are down in 11th of Zone 2 with six points. They just need to find a way to keep balls out of their net, as they have the second worst defense in the whole league, right after their local rival Colón.

Now guess what's next, everybody. You got it, Clásico de Santa Fe. And Boca Juniors travel to play Lanús away. An exciting matchday awaits us!

Boca's hero Carlos Tévez. (Photo: Goal Argentina)

Monday, March 14, 2016

POLL: Who will win the Copa Libertadores 2016?

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River lose to Colón and Alan Ruíz' hattrick

After CA Lanús, Defensa y Justicia, San Lorenzo and Rosario Central, more teams have surprised with shock defeats. On Sunday, River Plate lost 4-1 to Colón.

Symbolic: Colón celebrate another goal while River players walk away disappointed. (Photo: TyC Sports)
Matchweek 7 of Argentina's Primera División continues to be a great one for all people loving upsets. Copa Libertadores champion River Plate had an extremely poor outing last night, losing 4-1 to Colón who had lost three straight previously. 

The heavy favourites took the lead after 22 minutes, when Emanuel Mammana joined in with an offensive run and excellent finish from a Casco cross. Throughout the first half, River, who rested a lot of regulars such as Alario and Mora, could compete with the hosts, but still conceded the equalizer 11 minutes later. Alan Ruíz fired home a fantastic shot into the bottom left corrner and did not leave Barovero the slightest chance. While he was not closed down vigorously enough by River's defense, it turned out to be just Ruíz' game. 

It took Colón 15 minutes of the second half to put this match to bed and keep all three points in Santa Fe. Mauricio Sperdutti made it 2-1 in the 54th, converting a low Figueroa cross from the left. Ignacio Fernández got himself sent off for the second yellow card seconds later, further weakening River's chances. It was an extremely eventful seven minutes, as Colón should add two more goals to their total. Alan Ruíz completed his hattrick with the help of Marcelo Barovero. First of all, he got behind the defense to score the 3-1, before Barovero waited too long with his clearance, hitting Ruíz' foot and seeing it get deflected into his own goal. It was a rare off night for him, and for River as a whole. They have still just won two games out of seven.


In the meantime, Colón celebrate the reemergence of Alan Ruíz. He had remained without a goal since his braces on matchweek 1 and 3, but answered with a hattrick now to help his team out of the latest rough run. While the scoreline might suggest otherwise, the game was far from being an offensive firework. River only managed four shots from their starting XI, six total, which is far from enough when attempting to take points from a motivated home team. 

Colón did their best and convinced defensively as well. For them, it was enough to simply not show Barovero-like errors and clear the balls when given the opportunity. 10 men River never threatened them in the second half and had trouble to outnumber Colón on the flanks with their disadvantage.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Espinoza shines as Huracán beat Defensa

Huracán have surprised with an away win in Argentina's Primera División. The outsiders shut down the league's best offense in Defensa y Justicia and beat them 0-2. 

Huracán on the front foot: Rare picture, but still all three points. (Photo: eldiarionoticias.com.ar)
Man of the match: Cristian Espinoza, who fills the right midfield position in Huracán's lineup. The Argentine scored the game-winning goal in the 26th minute and showed the most for the visiting team that was inferior to Defensa. Huracán only collected a total of 9 shots, 4 of them belonged to Espinoza himself. The decisive goal itself was not even too brilliant: Goalkeeper Arias produced a woeful error from inside his own penalty area, playing the ball right into the foot of Espinoza who waited on the edge of it. Watch it here:


Defensa's main decifit laid in the usage of their own chances. They had the majority of shots, but either lacked precision completely by firing a large quantity of them wide, or against the post, as did Isnaldo and Bordagaray, who came off a hattrick from the 5-1 win at Argentinos Juniors.

When taking a look at last night's heatmap, you can tell where the game was being played. Defensa is on the left, Huracán on the right. The only time the Copa Sudamericana runner-up spent in the opponent's half was on that right flank with Espinoza and Abila who let himself fall back to get into the play.

The big striker did so successfully and ended up scoring the second goal that basically sealed things in the 63rd minute. Ramón Abila was sent through beautifully by his teammate Alejandro Romero, fended off a defender and went around the goalkeeper to finish into the empty net. 


While Defensa y Justicia won't have to worry with the offensive qualities they showed in previous matches, last night just wasn't theirs. 71% possession, 25-9 shots, 9-3 corners and still a loss thanks to individual errors and own inability to convert. But let's not underestimate the role of Huracán's goalkeeper Marcos Díaz right here. He showed up when he needed to and made some crucial saves when called upon, before his team was on the "safe side" and during the last few minutes of Defensa's desperate attempts.

Huracán will face Tigre away in midweek, Defensa will have to wait until next week to make up for their loss when going to Estudiantes.