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.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Defending champions on verge of elimination

River Plate's result crisis seems to find no end. Last night, they lost 2-0 away to Independiente del Valle and find themselves on the verge of elimination after the first leg of their round of 16 matchup already.

Librado Azcona celebrates his team's goals. (Photo: Conmebol)
It was the first game back in Ecuador after many earthquakes had kept the country on its toes for several days. Independiente's stadium was nicely filled and sporting a positive atmosphere for their countries' only survivor in the Copa Libertadores.

Personnel

Independiente del Valle made one change from their 0-0 draw against Colo Colo which got them to the round of 16 in the first place. Bryan Cabezas replaces Emiliano Tellechea. For River, Marcelo Gallardo made two swaps to their starting XI. Lucas Alario and Ignacio Fernández were replaced by Sebastián Driussi and Leonardo Ponzio.

First half

The home team produced the better start with the first few shots towards Marcelo Barovero's goal. Sornoza and Angulo were denied or lacked the right finish during the early stages. River came closest when Andrés D'Alessandro lobbed a ball from midfield over the complete home defense, but Driussi arrived a step too late.

Independiente were the better team of the first half, but could not make it count on their few half chances. More was not in this game through 45 minutes.

Second half

The second half began like the first one ended. Independiente risked more offensively, always in danger of running into a counter. Arroyo, Angulo and Sornoza had opportunities going wide for Ecuador's side, as did Ponzio and Driussi for the Argentines on the other side.

For all the precision that was heavily lacking throughout the first hour, José Angulo did things a lot better after 64 minutes. River lost the ball going forward to Luis Caicedo, who passed it on to Sornoza. His long pass to the left wing opened up a lot of room for the run of Cabezas. The speedy cross was missed by all defenders and landed right on Angulo's foot. Independiente's striker made no mistake and nailed the ball right under the crossbar for a 1-0 lead against the favourites.

Gallardo reacted by bringing on Lucas Alario right away, but an effect could not be seen until the last 10 minutes for the final offense, mainly through Rodrigo Mora. Instead, Barovero had to make further fine saves against the likes of Uchuari and Sornoza for the time being.

In the third minute of added time, it was Independiente del Valle putting one foot into the quarterfinal door by scoring their second goal of the night. The Ecuadorians played a good counter and Tellechea was brought down by Maidana. Junior Sornoza shot right down the middle and finally got his deserved goal on this evening. Shortly after, the referee blew for full-time.

Analysis

A deserved win for Independiente del Valle, who were simply the better team across the pitch. Sornoza played a key role up front and scored his fifth goal of the competition. Whether it looks the same over at El Monumental in the second leg is another question. River definitely have to find a way to generate more pressure against an - on paper - weaker opponent. Leaving Mora and Alario on the bench was a mistake by Gallardo and cannot happen again, if his team wants to have any chance of turning this tie around to defend their crown.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Entertaining first leg between Racing and Atlético Mineiro

Last but not least, I got the pleasure to report on another goalless draw today. 2 goals in 5 copa Libertadores round of 16 matches are not too impressive for the viewer, so let us hope it gets better tonight during the last three games. Racing Club and Atlético Mineiro could not find a winner last night.

Two of the night's best players fight for the ball: Romero vs Urso. (Photo: Conmebol)
28.000 people came out to see the clash between the Argentine and Brazilian giants. Despite its goallessness, the game turned out pretty entertaining as well. 

Personnel

Regular Ricardo Noir returned for Racing compared to their last Copa Libertadores game against Bolívar. On the bench for him: Gastón Díaz. He was sitting next to Diego Milito, by the way. Atlético Mineiro made two changes from the side that beat Melgar 4-0. Leonardo Silva came in for Tiago, while Jesús Dátolo replaced Juan Cazares in a central attacking midfield role. 

First half

Óscar Romero was the first one to attempt a shot on the night and saw his shot from a far distance fly over the crossbar. Racing continued to pile on the pressure early on and was nearly rewarded during a set piece. Romero's lovely cross found the head of centre-back Nico Sánchez, but Victor made the save right on his goalline. 

On the other side, Lucas Pratto tested Sebastián Saja who had struggled especially early in the season, but made a comfortable save this time around. Both teams did not manage to do all that much from open play, but continuously threatened from set pieces. Racing's Leandro Grimi had the ball in the back of the net, but was correctly called back for offside. 

A first really well played attack for Mineiro ended wide left of Saja's goal. Robinho had opened up a lot of room and played it out to the left for Jesús Dátolo. His cross was met by Júnior Urso's head, who could not direct it on target. 

Second half

The theme from the first half seemed to continue right away. Romero, who had a fine game, once again had the first opportunity of the second 45 minutes. This time, a direct freekick flew dangerously towards the far post and was dealt with in the last second by Victor. 

In the following minutes, some idiotic home fans thought it was a good idea to throw lighters at opposing players. Robinho got hit on the shoulder by one of those objects. The referee had to ask captain Saja to calm down the home crowd enough to be able to execute a corner. 

The Argentine's game improved a little and let to chances from open play as well. Grimi's shot was saved by a backpaddling Victor, Marcos Acuña's solo run and cross from the left side found no takers in the middle. Atlético Mineiro's offense was fully powered by Robinho and Pratto. The latter had all the chances at the end and just missed with an effort from inside the area. 

Up and down the pitch, the game was really entertaining in the second half and saw Lisandro López miss the best chance of them all. The experiences striker fired his shot against the near post. Saja made one more magnificent save on the other side, stopping Urso from getting his goal.

Analysis

Both teams had their chances to win this game, none used them. It is very hard to imagine that the second leg will end goalless again with all the chances that were being missed today. So who profits the most from a 0-0 draw? Probably Racing since a scoring draw away in Brazil would be enough for them. Striker Diego Milito might even return into the lineup to add some valuable experience on that day. 

Robinho and Pratto looked really good as Mineiro's up-front partnership, constantly supported by Urso's runs. At home, they still have every chance to advance.

Uruguay week 10 preview

Week 10 in Uruguay is right around the corner. Thanks to Labor Day, a national holiday in Uruguay on May 1, the football weekend starts on Thursday and is over on Saturday evening. Here is your preview for all the games.

Racing host Villa Teresa in the Parque Roberto. (Photo: racingclub.com.uy)
Racing Club and Villa Teresa are kicking things off on Thursday afternoon local time. Over in central Europe, the game will kickoff at 8:30pm CET. Racing are in a simply bad run of form as their last and only wins came in week 1 and 2 of the season. But Villa Teresa themselves are waiting for a win since three games now. If Racing can keep their goalscoring going and their defense manages to hold up instead of breaking down like against Liverpool the past weekend, a lot speaks for a home win and the club finally getting back on winning track. 

Friday is started off (8:30pm CET) with a battle between two more lower end teams: Danubio and Rentistas. Danubio, winless since Clausura week 1, seek to reach success, but their situation looks a little more grim than Racing's. They fail to score enough goals (5 straight with 1 or fewer), while not keeping the ball out of their own net on the other side. Rentistas meanwhile look to bounce back from an unlucky loss against Peñarol. 

The scene for El Tanque Sisley vs Juventud. (Photo: panoramio.com)
At midnight (CET), El Tanque Sisley look to win their third game of the season against Juventud. Losing four straight in recent weeks, they have certainly not looked good lately. Juventud just have two more points, but at least their goalscoring has been okay. If they can keep it up they should have a chance to beat El Tanque in the Estadio Campenoes Olímpicos.

Peñarol and their new stadium face their next challenge in in-form Liverpool. Following a come-from behind victory against Rentistas, they will need to be extra careful again though. Liverpool striker Junior Arias has scored seven goals in his past four games for his team. Peñarol are trusting their collective so far, with their best goalscorer having 3 goals (3-way tie between Forlán, Rodríguez and Murillo). Then again, with a week of rest and considering it is a home game for Pablo Bengoechea's side, you have to call yellow & black the favourite. This game will kick off at 2:30am CET.

The final four games will be play on Saturday. At 10:30am local time (!, 3:30pm CET), River Plate and CA Cerro will be trying to build on their most recent successes. Surprisingly weak at home, River so far only managed two points from four games. On the other hand, Cerro has an even away record and are in the midst of the title fight, just three points off the pace set by Plaza Colonia. It will be interesting to see if Cerro can sneak out another tight victory against somewhat strong competition.

When talking of home teams, Fénix is the number 1. They will be at home again against Montevideo Wanderers at 6pm CET. The loss at Nacional's GPC has set Fénix back a little in the fight to stay amongst the top sides. If there is any trouble they recently had, it's their goalscoring. It is now four straight games without more than one goal. On the other hand, Wanderers scored three in three straight games, but come into this weekend on the backend of a 0-0 draw with Defensor Sporting. Whoever gets their goalscoring back under way will come out on top of this one.

The aforementioned Defensor Sporting are hosting league leaders Plaza Colonia this weekend (8:30pm CET). Just when you thought they would slow down finally, Plaza picked it back up and remain on top of things. At this point you have to wonder whether Eduardo Espinel's team is strong enough to actually win the Clausura with six games left. Whichever way you look at it, Defensor have just won one home game all season and will be outsiders against the successful side from out West. Plaza Colonia are the best away team in the league and have not lost once on opposition ground.

Week 10 is closed by the only remaining Copa Libertadores participant Nacional. Gustavo Munúa's XI is going to play Sud América at the Centenario (midnight to Sunday CET). Resting players for the second leg would theoretically be a good idea, but went awfully wrong before on a previous attempt. Sud América have won their last league game 1-0 over Villa Teresa, but Nacional did not lose since week 6 either. The only two league losses the favourite suffered happened away from home though. Can Sud América, the fifth best home team, threaten enough?

Marco Rubén sinks Grêmio at home

After having won their group on the last matchday, Rosario Central had to travel first before playing the second leg on home turf. Their opponent: Grêmio Porto Alegre. 

Central players celebrate their goal. (Photo: Conmebol)
The Brazilians had collected seven points at home during the group stage, while Central managed to mount six away points. A pretty even game was to be expected.

Personnel

The main man returning into the lineup for the Argentine team was undoubtedly Marco Rubén. The top striker had been rested in the previous meeting with Nacional in Montevideo. Grêmio made two changes from their 1-0 win over Toluca. Geromel and Bobô were replaced by Bressan and Ecuadorian striker Miller Bolaños.

First half

Battles between Brazilian and Argentine sides are always something special in this competition and Central seemed to be the team dealing better with the pressure from the get-go. Yet the first opportunity fell to the home team when Miller Bolaños was played through and had the goalkeeper Sosa out of position. Victor Salazar had tracked the run nicely though and was there to bail out his team. 

14 minutes into the game, we saw the only goal. You have to say "at least there was one" these days, right? Of course it was Marco Rubén putting the ball into the back of the net. A long ball was hit forward by Central that reached his striking partner Germán Herrera. Herrera somehow scrambled the ball over to Rubén that just banged it home into the near side. It surely was not the most pretty goal, but it left Marcelo Grohe no chance. 

While Grêmio ended up with 55% of the possession, they did not make enough out of it. Two shots at the end of the night was an extreme disappointment for coach Roger and his team. After a corner, the most dangerous player of the evening Bolaños skied an attempt way over the crossbar from short distance. 

Before the end of the first half, Rubén could have made it two with a lovely lob over the head of Grohe who stood a little too far from his goal. The Argentine's shot his the crossbar and bounced back out.

Second half

The goalscorer had to stay in the dressing room for the start of the second half. Marco Rubén had picked up a slight knock and was replaced by youngster Giovani Lo Celso. This fact obviously did not help Rosario Central and their offense. They lost their target man up front.

Fans in Porto Alegre that expected their home team to step up and make the most out of their freshly gained advantage were left disappointed though. A single shot from distance produced a little danger during the second 45 minutes, fired low by Douglas. Sosa made a good save to his left. Additionally, a header from substitute Bobô was denied by Sebastián Sosa again.

Analysis

Central are going home with a huge advantage, before playing the second leg in the Estadio Gigante de Arroyito. They have all the options in the world and will probably receive some nice counter chances against a Brazilian side that needs to score at least twice in Argentina.

Rubén should be ready to go for the second leg and set up a quarterfinal appearance for Rosario Central. They would meet the winner of Atlético Nacional vs Huracán.

Nacional unlucky in draw with Corinthians

The Copa Libertadores round of 16 continued last night with three matches. In Montevideo, Nacional hosted Corinthians to build a good base for the second leg. It did not fully work out for them.

The captains with the refereeing team before kickoff. (Photo: nacional.uy)
Copa Libertadores nights are always special ones. Under the floodlights of Gran Parque Central, Uruguay's champion produced a decent performance against the favourite from Brazil. Only little detail that was missing at the end was the goalscoring. Yet another game ended 0-0 in the last few days. 

Personnel

Not many personnel changes were needed as Gustavo Munúa trusted the team that beat Fénix in the league with one exception. Santiago Romero returned from his yellow card suspension and replaced Felipe Carballo in central midfield. Corinthians rotated back a lot of regulars into the side that had been left out against Cobresal. 

First half

Nacional started the game on the front foot trying to assert their home team advantage. A bit of a mess in front of Cássio's goal had the goalkeeper scrambling, but his teammates finally managed to knock it clear for him. On the other side of the pitch, a freekick created first danger for Esteban Conde's goal as Romero headed back towards his own keeper, who ended up making a comfortable save though. 

As time went on, it turned into an all-Uruguayan affair. Chances from Nico López (10', 15', 27') were either denied by a solid Cássio or went wide. The biggest chance of them all the last one, when López was wide open in the area and knocked it past the goalkeeper, but also past the goal. 

Midfield engine Romero had a good chance at the other end about half an hour into the game, but his powerful header went flying over the bar. It went to the break tied at zero.

Second half

The second 45 minutes were a little slower when it comes to big chances. Nacional kept their previously won control of the game and left Corinthians no room to attack. 

Sebastián Fernández' header came close again (64'), nicely assisted by Leandro Barcia's cross from the right side. Cássio made the save, but only into the middle where his defenders had to help him out again before López could reach the ball. 

70 minutes in, Cássio did really well on the line then, making a good save on Mauricio Victorino's header following a freekick. It turned out to be the last big chance of the evening, because Corinthians' substitutes did not have the impact coach Tite was hoping for. Marlone and Ángel Romero both scored twice against Cobresal, but were non-existent in the home team's strong back four.

Analysis

On the day it was Nacional who were deserving of the victory for certain. They had all the chances, threatened throughout the game with dangermen López and Fernández. At the end, Cássio and a little luck kept them from taking a big advantage with them to Brazil next week. 

While Corinthians' back line had a lot more on their hands than Nacional's, the Uruguayans did really well and still did not concede a goal against a Brazilian side this season (1-0 over Palmeiras twice). If they can reproduce a similar performance away next week, they have every chance to advance, especially when scoring an away goal. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Huracán steal draw from heavy favourites

When the best remaining team plays against the worst, you would think it ends with a clear result. Not so much last night: Huracán managed to come away with a goalless draw against Atlético Nacional.

José San Román defends the ball against Jonathan Copete. (Photo: weltsport.net)
Both teams had already met twice in the group stage and while Huracán's home game on matchday 1 ended in a 0-2 loss, the two teams tied 0-0 a week ago. Right from the get-go, the game developed into a pretty chanceless affair. Each team lost a lot of balls going forward and did not really get it done in the final third. 

First Argentine danger was generated on the right wing. Cristian Espinoza was played through with a lovely pass through the still unbeaten (!) Colombian back line, but his cross was not met by anyone in the middle. Next up was experienced midfielder Daniel Montenegro. Following a corner from the left, he reached the ball and tried to hit the far post with a low shot. It went through many legs and produced some trouble for Franco Armani, but the goalkeeper made the save at the end. 

In the aftermath of that scene, Nacional captain Alexander Mejia could have easily been sent off after purposely running into Ramón Abila and knocking the big striker down. He only collected a yellow card and was allowed to continue. 

Not much was seen by the best team of the group stages during the first half and it did not surprise anyone that an Argentine team would go to the halftime break with a 0-0 scoreline after the past weekend. Orlando Berrío probably had the best opportunity for Atlético Nacional, but his header went quite a bit wide. 

The second half started like the first one ended: relatively eventless. About 70 minutes into the game, the visitors finally got a little better and controlled possession more the way they are able to. Alejandro Guerra defended the ball well in midfield and fired a shot from inside the centre-circle. Marcos Díaz had paid attention and caught the ball without any problems though. 

The last chance of the game was very likely the best one. After Luis Carlos Ruiz had headed a long ball further into the run of Berrío, the right midfielder had broken into the opposing penalty area. Díaz was out quickly narrowing down the angle and did well to make the save with his feet after Berrío had tried to nutmeg him. 

At the end of the night, a goalless draw was the right result for a match that simply did not deserve a winner. Atlético Nacional could not replicate the form from their past six outings, but retain a big advantage. Seven games into the Copa Libertadores campaign, they still have not conceded a single goal. It should come in handy at home, even if a 1-1 draw would be enough for Huracán due to the away goal.

Táchira surprise Pumas with home win

The Copa Libertadores round of 16 started with two games last night. Over in Venezuela, Deportivo Táchira was visited by Pumas UNAM.

Yuber Mosquera celebrates with his teammates. (Photo: Conmebol)
Venezuela's champion had a big task ahead of them as the Mexicans had been the second best team of the group stage points-wise. Early on in the game, you could not see anything from the favourite with Táchira pouring on the pressure. A first spectacular effort from Edgar Pérez was parried away by Pumas goalkeeper Alejandro Palacios. Wilker Ángel had the chance to score the opening goal from the following corner, but his header went over the crossbar. 

An extremely happy and bouncy dog was the reason for a little stoppage that seemed to help Pumas collect themselves. They finally arrived in the game offensively, yet should have been down to 10 men quickly. Alejandro Castro's foot landed in the region where it hurts the opponent the most, but remained on the field without even a yellow card. 

Pumas' top scorer Ismael Sosa (5 goals in the competition already) had the first better opportunity then, but his shot from distance flew over the bar as well. Fidel Martínez' attempt from a bad angle was saved comfortably by young Venezuelan goalkeeper José Contreras. The match was a relatively even one now and went to the break tied at zero. 

Deportivo Táchira might have felt a little unlucky, considering they had the bigger opportunities early on and could not convert them. They did not wait long to do so in the second half. After just 50 minutes, a cross from the far left by Carlos Cermeño was met by Yuber Mosquera's lovely left-footed touch and landed in the back of the net. The surprise was on with a Venezuelan 1-0 lead!

Pumas, quite obviously, tried to do more offensively, but struggled to produce any real goalscoring opportunities against the concentrated Táchira backline. Instead it was José Miguel Reyes who should have doubled the lead. He stood wide open in front of the goal and made a complete mess of a perfect low cross. 

After 69 minutes, Pumas lost their 11th man they should have lost way earlier. Marcelo Alatorre could not stop the counter in fair fashion and brought down Pérez for his second yellow card. Things would not get easier for the Mexicans this way. The game ended without any further significant chances and the surprise win for Venezuela's campeon.

One needs to conclude that Táchira's home strength is absolutely impressive. All four games being played in Venezuela were won by Carlos Maldonado's team, including against these same Pumas in the group stages. On the other side, Pumas has every chance to turn the tie around at home as well. In each of their three home games, they scored 4 goals. Táchira will need an outstanding effort in Mexico to stand a chance of advancing to the quarterfinals.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Liverpool find dramatic winner, Peñarol comeback

Uruguay's round 9 of the Clausura had a lot to offer throughout the past weekend. From outsider wins to favourite comebacks, here is the summary of all the games.

Once again Liverpool's hero: Junior Arias. (Photo: AUF)
Junior Arias was Liverpool's hero in a 0-3 away win against Sud América a week ago. On Saturday, the striker worked his magic again, scored twice and gave Liverpool a dramatic 3-2 win over Racing Club. Up until the 83rd minute, visiting Racing looked like it would surely take some points home with them, having a 1-2 lead after goals from Ignacio Ithurralde (4') and Juan Pablo Rodríguez (75'). Liverpool had tied the game quickly inbetween, through Arias' first goal of the day (14'). 

Once more it showed that Liverpool are masters of the late goal. Five of their eleven goals this season were scored between minute 75 and 90. Two of them on Saturday. First, substitute Jhonatan Candia's penalty equalized the game (83'). Finally, after 97 minutes, Junior Arias was there to give the home team the dramatic win with his 8th goal of the season. A long ball forward was headed down by Candia, right towards Arias. The striker let it drop onto the pitch once, stopped it with his chest and fired it into the top left corner with his right foot. A very late goal of the day candidate. 

Liverpool have now won 3 of their last 4 games, collecting 10 points in the process, after starting the season with 5 straight losses. Slowly but surely, they are moving up the ranks and find themselves in 11th now. Racing is 12th and experience a clear downward trend with 1 point from the last 5 outings.

Sub for a comeback: Rossi replaces Forlán. (Photo: AUF)
As I predicted in my matchday preview, Peñarol got in trouble in their first game since midweek's Copa Libertadores action. Rentistas held a 1-0 lead until the 72nd minute, then the visitors in yellow and black turned it on and got away with a 1-3 win.

Yoel Burgueño gave the outsiders the lead after 38 minutes with a long shot from distance that ended up fooling everybody, goalkeeper Gastón Guruceaga included. Peñarol was down at halftime and threatened to lose sight of top spot in the league. At the end of the day, it was two second half substitutes that turned their fortunes around late. Diego Rossi had entered the pitch for Diego Forlán, Maxi Rodríguez came on for Nicolás Albarracin. Those two ended up scoring three goals in a matter of minutes. 

Rossi produced a nice solo through Rentistas' backline, was not attacked enough and therefore banged home the equalizer (72'). Only two minutes later, Maxi Rodríguez produced his first of two strikes. He surprised Rentistas' goalkeeper Guillermo Reyes with a lob from at least 35 metres that found the back of the net. In the last minute, a low shot from the edge of the area ended things last night and gave Peñarol a late, but deserved win. 
 
The 1-0 win from Nacional over Fénix has its own article, if you missed it. 

Montevideo Wanderers surprised this weekend. Or was it Defensor Sporting that did after all? Either way, the league's top striker Gastón Rodríguez played for 90 minutes but was held to zero goals by visiting Defensor. With a 0-0 draw, Wanderers missed the chance to reach closer contact with Uruguay's top sides. Defensor still did not manage to win for the fourth time in a row, but show themselves improved defensively after giving up a lot of goals in previous weeks. 

Plaza Colonia win again. (Photo: AUF)
League leaders Plaza Colonia stay league leaders following a 2-1 win over struggling El Tanque Sisley. An undisciplined away team could not hold on to its 0-1 lead after a penalty strike from Yuri Galli (28'). Instead, El Tanque collected two red cards, one straight red for Claudio Dadomo shortly after the second half had started, one for two yellows for defender Sergio Felipe (83'). Plaza Colonia meanwhile showed their comeback qualities, even if it was against a tumbling opponent. Germán Rivero equalized inside the first half still (39'), heading in a high cross from the left. After 63 minutes, Plaza had gotten their second goal through Nicolás Milesi's looping header (63'). Against 10, later 9, opponents, the side from Colonia del Sacramento had no trouble to bring their advantage across the finish line.

River Plate finally convinced again in the Primera División, beating Danubio 0-3. Ángel Rodríguez produced an absolute stunner into the top corner to give River a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes. As time went on, the visitors continued to be the better team against their last place opponent, who then weakened itself with a red card. After 57 minutes, Cristian González was sent off by the referee. Montevideo's River now had it even easier and added two more goals, both via penalty, both from Michael Santos (64' & 90'+2).

A late penalty remained the only goal in the game between Villa Teresa and Sud América. Previously, both teams had rocked the same 3-2-3 record, now the fourth win belongs to Sud América. Maximiliano Arias scored the decisive penalty in the third minute of added time. The win was even more admirable for the visitors, as they were without Julián Perujo ten minutes into the second half after he had picked up his second yellow card of the day. Sud América climb up to 6th in the table, while Villa Teresa remains 11th. 

Finally, a surprise between CA Juventud and CA Cerro: Cerro can do more than just defend. Against somewhat-in-form Juventud, they came away with a 1-3 win on their ground. Maureen Franco got things started when he scrambled the ball across the goal line (15'). Juan Boselli managed to tie it up after 37 minutes in a bid to keep Juventud's unbeaten run going. Cerro had other plans in the second half. A freekick variation fooled everyone at the back and presented Hugo Silveira with an open net that he would not miss (51'). Andrés Ravecca added the insurance marker after 76 minutes with a flying header. Cerro, after some weaker performances, are back on winning ways and find themselves just three points behind Plaza Colonia.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Nacional beat Fénix in game that should not be

Nacional have beaten Fénix 1-0 at home, but the main story of the night was one happening off the pitch.

Alfonso Espino. (Photo: nacional.uy)
Round 9 of Uruguay's Primera División started off under scandalous circumstances. On Fénix arrival to the Gran Parque Central, Montevideo's police detained their coach Rosario Martínez, only to let him go shortly after. For a long amount of time, it was up in the air whether the game would even be played until finally, 75 minutes later, the referee could let the two teams start. Of course, footballers always want to play, but it was probably not the greatest decision. Nacional warmed up three times, while Fénix clearly had other things on their mind.

First half

Accordingly, the opening stages of the game were awful. No team could gain much control and was struggling in their passing game. Second might have played against unbeaten third, but for the most part the ball was passed around badly in midfield. It was Fénix who got the first big chance of the night. After 27 minutes, they were awarded an awful penalty for a dive. It bounced right back against them when Maximiliano Pérez stepped up and fired it five metres over the crossbar. 

It was the scene that clearly got the home team going on the night. Nacional started to dominate half an hour in and created quite a few chances doing so. Especially Nico López up front was the dangerman and a thorn in Fénix' back line with his quick movement and intelligent passes. The most dangerous shots went to López' account as well, but he struck them just wide. 

Nacional did not use their speed advantage on the wings, especially on Leandro Barcia's, enough and therefore struggled to consistently threaten their opponent. That opponent weakened themself significantly at the end of the first half though. Lucas Cavallini, after being booked before, handled a ball on the half-way line and was rightly sent off for his second yellow. Fénix had a hard task ahead of them in the second 45 minutes.

Second half

That second half started off with what turned out to be the winning goal. A corner from the right side reached Nico López on the edge of the area. The striker backheeled the ball beautifully right into the run of advancing left-back Alfonso Espino. The 24-year old struck the ball perfectly and fired it into the bottom right corner. Goalkeeper Darío Denis had no chance whatsoever. 


Almost instantly, Nacional could have doubled their lead but was not able to do so. They still had full control of the game and would not allow Fénix into any dangerous areas all second half. While not getting a decisive second goal, Espino's strike turned out to be enough against previously unbeaten Fénix. 

Analysis

Post-game celebrations. (Photo: nacional.uy)
It was a very deserved win for Nacional under difficult circumstances. Fénix was clearly not 100% up for the match, showing that during their disastrous missed penalty, Cavallini's red card and coach Martínez not making a single substitution despite his team's misfortunes. 

Diego Polenta was not pleased ahead of the game due to the uncertainty, but managed to play a great game, being Nacional's anchor at the back as he is so often. Sadly for his team, he picked up his fifth yellow card in the first half and will miss the away game against Sud América. 

Fénix suffered their first loss of the season and suddenly have a gap between themselves and the top. Plaza Colonia is four points away, Nacional three and Peñarol could still follow tonight. Admittedly, their situation likely did not allow them anything better this Saturday and hopefully resolves until next weekend.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Back to normality in Uruguay?

Following the tragic natural catastrophes in many South American countries, football rightly had to take a backseat for a while. Many people are still trying to help rebuilding the damage done to homes and whole areas. Nevertheless, Germancopa is a football blog and Uruguay's Primera División is supposed to return on the upcoming weekend. As the title race reaches its later stages, here is a preview of everything you need to know before Saturday.

If the games should indeed go ahead, league leaders Plaza Colonia will try to defend top spot against struggling El Tanque Sisley at home. El Tanque could celebrate just two wins out of the first eight matches and find themselves, unsurprisingly, third from last. They have not managed to win a game since March 5 against Liverpool. Watch out though: despite their excellent position, Plaza was held winless in the last two games as well. The first loss of their season against Juventud was followed up by a goalless draw against CA Cerro. Either way, Eduardo Espinel's Plaza Colonia will be favourites once again going into the weekend.

Tough lineup decisions for Gustavo Munúa and Nacional. (Photo: nacional.uy)
Most exciting game of the weekend should be the clash between second a third: Nacional are visited by CA Fénix. Slowly but surely, the illness wave hitting Nacional has died down going into the decisive stage of the season in league and Copa Libertadores. They find themselves 1 point behind Plaza Colonia at the top and could open up a gap towards their weekend's opponents. Considering it is a home game and all players had a lot of rest instead of playing midweek, they should be the favourites once again. In the last two league games, Nacional banged home a whopping seven goals. Fénix on the other hand are the more defensively solid type of team and are the only ones that have not lost a single time yet. 4 wins and 4 draws have given them 16 points thus far.

New edition of Rentistas vs Peñarol at the Centenario. (Photo: penarol.org)
Peñarol in the meantime will travel to Rentistas and will have to be extremely careful. Not only do they have two tough Copa Libertadores outings behind them, the last of them in midweek, but also meet an in-form team in the league. Rentistas have won their last two games against Sud América and Racing Club and drew against Fénix before. One of their main danger men is former Peñarol midfielder Matías Mier, who scored three goals so far this Clausura. The visitors themselves then arrive with a massive mental boost after their big comeback victory in the Copa Libertadores, but will feel that game in their muscles still. They have not been great in the league recently and it could well end up in an upset, if Peñarol are not careful.

In the latest edition of "Who will Gastón Rodriguez sink this weekend?", the right answer would be Defensor Sporting. It is a home game for Montevideo Wanderers and their 10-goal striker, who has been absolutely fantastic throughout 2016. Is there any reason he will stop against the 15th placed team? Just two wins all season for Defensor have the club's fans extremely disappointed. The latest record does not look too bright either: in the past three outings, they only collected one point. Wanderers on the other hand come into the game with two wins in their backs (Cerro & El Tanque). It is hard to see anyone else than Uruguay's best offense come out on top of this one.

CA Cerro, with their total of six goals, are still in the fight for the title. In fifth position, they find themselves three points behind Plaza Colonia. Going into the away game against Juventud, their 1-0 winning form has taken a little dip. A loss to Wanderers was followed by a draw against Plaza. Juventud on the other side has not lost since late February and will look to keep that run going.

A battle between Danubio and River Plate has two disappointing teams of 2016 matched against each other. Iconic Danubio, one of Uruguay's most famous sides aside from the big two, find themselves in deadlast. The reason for that is easy to find: 15 goals against means the second worst defensive record in the entire league. If they can get it together against anyone, it should be Sunday's opponent, which severely struggled to get goals.

Liverpool vs Racing Club on Saturday is another mid- to bottom-table clash. The pre-game situation looks completely different though. While Liverpool is unbeaten in three and has gotten 7 points from those games, Racing has only collected one point from their last four matches. They need a turnaround in fortunes and they need it fast. Liverpool's Junior Arias comes into the game on a hattrick.

Finally, the last game being played takes place between Villa Teresa and Sud América. Villa Teresa have surprised so far in the Clausura with an even 3-2-3 record. Their last three games tell the same story: 1-1-1. The visitors were fighting at the top of the league for a while, but losses to Rentistas and Liverpool in recent weeks have set their record straight again, returning Sud América to mid-table (with the same 3-2-3 record, by the way). Good luck predicting a winner from this one.

Promising round of 16 matchups in Copa Libertadores

The group stages are officially done with last night's expected advancement from title holders River Plate and São Paulo FC. Here is the look at what is coming up next in the 2016 Copa Libertadores.

The trophy. (Photo: latalonnade.com)
Best team of the group stages was, at the end unsurprisingly, Atlético Nacional. They absolutely killed it in their Group 4 without conceding a single goal through six matches. Now, as the system wants it, they will face one of their group opponents in the round of 16 again: Huracán. During the group stage play, Atlético Nacional collected four points against these opponents. The Argentine Copa Sudamericana finalist was the worst second placed team in the competition and host the Colombians in Buenos Aires at first. 

Mexico brought both of their qualified teams into the round of 16, best of them being Pumas UNAM. They scored an outstanding 17 goals (2.83 per game), leading all teams along with River. Their round of 16 opponent could be harder: Deportivo Táchira from Venezuela. Once again, both teams already met during the groups with both teams winning one each against each other. It remained Pumas' only loss (15 points). On the other hand, Táchira sport the worst goal difference of all teams remaining in the Copa (-5).

A classic between two big South American teams awaits us when Corinthians play Nacional. I am really looking forward to this game, because not only am I cheering for Nacional, but Corinthians have done really well to cope with their exit wave during the past transfer window and finished as the Copa Libertadores' third best team. Uruguay's champion has good experiences with Brazilian teams this season as they managed to beat Palmeiras home and away. 

Not much needs to be said about the following game either. Brazil's Atlético Mineiro will play Racing Club from Argentina. It is a fantastic game to look forward to with Racing's at times spectacular offense featuring Milito, Lisandro López and Co. Mineiro attack with (former) superstar Robinho themselves. If this does not become a great round of 16 battle, then I do not know what will. The Brazilians finished their group with four wins, while Racing only managed two. 

The second Mexican team Toluca will be in action against São Paulo. It is not exactly a draw you wish for as a group winner, as the Brazilians found their form later on, especially through Jonathan Calleri's amazing goalscoring record. Through the first three games, they had only managed two goals. Later on, they added nine. Toluca themselves do not need to hide. They won a difficult group including Grêmio, San Lorenzo and LDU Quito. 

While San Lorenzo got eliminated, all other Argentine teams made it through. For example Boca Juniors. Struggling a bit in early 2016, they fired their double coach and ended up making it to the round of 16. Now they face Cerro Porteño. The Paraguayans are the only survivors from their country and made it into this stage on the last matchday. In the Copa Libertadores, Cerro have struggled to score goals, actually conceding more than converting themselves. Boca on the other hand are the one team next to Atlético Nacional that is still unbeaten. after exiting early in the scandalous Superclásico last year, the odds favour Boca this time around. 

Title holders River Plate ended up winning their group with relative ease despite their continuous league struggles. For only finishing seventh best group winner, they received an opponent they will not be unhappy about. Ecuador's Independiente del Valle will host the champion first, if the situation in Ecuador allows it anyway. Independiente's defense has been excellent, allowing only four goals and beating Atlético Mineiro in the process. They ended up beating out Colo Colo for the final round of 16 spot. However, River are all about the offense. The aforementioned 17 goals lead all teams in the competition. 

Last but not least, Rosario Central won the group including Nacional narrowly and their reward is a travel to Porto Alegre to take on Grêmio. Central have been doing well offensively all season and have no trouble scoring with the likes of Marco Rubén or Franco Cervi. On the other hand, their defense is not always holding up and Grêmio might pose quite a challenge for them. The Brazilians had a pretty average campaign so far number wise, but did end up beating San Lorenzo comfortably for the final round of 16 spot. Atmosphere and quality wise, this could be a game to watch as well for sure.

Full knockout stage tree


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Cerro Porteño catch Santa Fe on finish line

Cerro Porteño have caught Santa Fe on the finish line to the round of 16 the past evening. In the last round of Group 8, Paraguay's champion of early 2015 beat the Colombians by a score of 1-0.

Goalscorer Alonso (#4) celebrates with his teammates. (Photo: Conmebol)
All Santa Fe needed in the legendary Estadio Defensores del Chaco was a draw, but they ended up making it impossible for themselves as bad discipline killed any chance of the current Copa Sudamericana champion. 

The game started off with a first chance for Cerro Porteño, when Junior Alonso fired a shot that was parried away for a corner by opposing goalkeeper Robinson Zapata. Not long after, Santa Fe went down to ten men only 20 minutes into the game. Leyvin Balanta had come up with his second clear yellow card and could not complain about the referee's decision. It was hardly a mean to help his away team reach their needed result in Asunción. 

Unsurprisingly, it was punished soon after by an aggressive, but disciplined enough Paraguayan side. Sadly for Santa Fe, bad came to worse and goalkeeper Zapata made an awful error, basically directing a cross from Junior Alonso into his own net. While Cerro had attacked well on the left wing, the end result left the visitors down disappointed. 1-0 after 34 minutes.

Finally, towards the end of the first half, the 10 Colombians tried to get on the offense a little. Now they needed a goal and Cristian Borja's cross found the foot of Baldomero Perlaza in the middle. The attempt of the young midfielder was saved comfortably though by Antony Silva. Going to halftime, it was Santa Fe that had it all to do in the next 45 minutes.

That was exactly what they tried coming out of the dressing rooms. Coach Gerardo Pelusso made a change that saw striker William Palacio come onto the pitch in the team's hopes to produce more danger up front. Through Luis Sejias, the guests collected their first shot of the second half, but he slipped during his attempt and had it go wide all the time. Shots from distance was a theme now, because both teams failed to get into the last third decisively and accordingly bemoaned a lack of quality scoring opportunities. 

At least until Luís Leal got by a defender with a decent move and fired a shot right at Zapata, who cleared it into the middle. Jonathan Santana had an empty Colombian net and put the chance wide. I cannot tell you how he did it. After an hour, Santa Fe hit the self destruction button for the second time tonight. Yerry Mina produced an incredibly dumb elbow to the head on Cerro's Guillermo Beltrán on the way to the corner flag. 

Despite their lackluster discipline, 9-men Santa Fe had two more huge chances to equalize in the game, firstly through Sergio Otalvaro. The right full-back had made his way down the pitch and suddenly was played through by his teammate and found himself all alone in front of Silva. Instead of shooting, he cut into the middle towards two defenders that made their way back until then. In the end, captain Carlos Bonet cleared the danger admirably. 

A second opportunity came from substitute William Palacio's head after a dangerous freekick had exposed Cerro Porteño's defense yet again. Antony Silva reacted quickly to clear the danger yet again. Logically, the home team received a lot of room to counter as the Colombians threw everything forward towards the end. Big chances from Jorge Rojas and Beltrán went begging though. It did not matter anymore, as the referee blew his full-time whistly without any further scary moment for the Paraguayans. 

Cerro Porteño win 1-0 and therefore advance to the round of 16 along with Corinthians, while Santa Fe have to watch the games from home. A little disappointing campaign for the Sudamericana holders that were surely hoping for more out of this relatively doable group.

Ángel Romero scored twice for Corinthians. (Photo: Conmebol)
Corinthians themselves ended the group stages with a fun outing against Cobresal. The poor Chileans got smacked 6-0 in São Paulo. 

Six goals were a little much to handle for Cobresal, who only celebrated their first three points a week ago against Cerro Porteño. Chile's champion was not even bad, but the Brazilian group winners just brutally effective. 

It did not take Corinthians long to build a two-goal lead on the night. Marlone made it 1-0 after just nine minutes with a powerful (and free) header following a corner, Ángel Romero struck four minutes later with a fantastic solo run, making countless defenders look silly in the process. 

In the stages after the two goals, Cobresal had quite a few chances to get back in the game, but were either denied by goalkeeper Cássio or could simply not finish themselves. Instead, after 39 minutes, it was Corinthians who struck for the third time, an absolutely amazing side volley from Marlone that you need to see below. Right on the stroke of halftime, Guilherme Arana's shot from distance added a fourth Brazilian goal to the mix.


The second half was relatively even until Corinthians decided to score another two in quick succession. Lovely team buildup and an even better finish into the near side high corner from Elías (75') made it 5-0, before Ángel Romero scored his second of the night (77') through converting a speedy low cross from the right.

Obviously, the Brazilians deserved their win last night and the fans got to see an exciting game with chances on both ends. Corinthians were dominating in chance usage.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Peñarol go out with a bang, Huracán advance

Group 4 had its final games take place in the Copa Libertadores last night. While most decisions had been made already, the fans got to see some attractive games across the continent.

Luís Aguiar. (Photo: turojadirecta.com)
Peñarol had not managed to win a single game yet going into last night's meeting with Sporting Cristal. For 45 minutes, it did not seem like they would today either. Down 1-3 going into the break, the Uruguayans had a massive task ahead of them. They ended up mastering it beautifully. 

Alberto Rodríguez, Cristal's centre-back, gave the visitors an 18th minute lead through a header from Carlos Lobatón's corner. As if that was not enough goalscoring for a defender, he added another one just six minutes later. After another corner, this time from the left, confusion broke out in Peñarol's area. The ball was not cleared and Rodríguez was there to pick up the pieces and smash it home.

It took the hosts a little while to get the game back under control. Once they did, they made it count right away. Luís Aguiar's shot (30') was fantastic and left Diego Penny in Cristal's goal no chance to make a save. In their brandnew stadium, they were back in the game, at least for seven minutes. That was how long it took the Peruvians to add a third goal. Gabriel Costa's through ball found the run of Irven Ávila and the striker left no doubts by scoring his seventh career goal in the Copa Libertadores. Down 1-3 at home and staring into the face of a complete disaster, Peñarol's coach Pablo Bengoechea ended up making three game-changing substitutions throughout the second half.

Cristian Palacios, Nicolás Albarracín and Hernán Novick entered the pitch up until the 69th minute. By now, Uruguay's Apertura winner had come up with increasing pressure onto Penny's goal and finally made it count in quick succession. Who else but Hernán Novick would score two goals right after coming on. Firstly, goalkeeper Penny could not handle a Palacios shot, deflecting it right in front of Novick's feet and the midfielder only had to slot it home (72'). Tied game after 81 minutes: Palacios' run created a lot of space for Novick in the middle again and he used his colleague's assist with a great finish to the far post. 

At the end of the night, Peñarol even took all three points away from Sporting Cristal who so desperately needed them to try and advance to the round of 16. A long ball to the right side found the run of Novick and he crossed it right into the danger zone. Palacios got to the ball and was beaten by a great reaction from Penny, but there was only so much the goalkeeper could do. Third super-sub Albarracín was first to get on the rebound and finished the game off by scoring the fourth and last goal to give his team a spectacular 4-3 victory. 

Peñarol won their final Libertadores game for some time deservedly. While they were out before, this win puts them ahead of Sporting Cristal, with 5 points. The Peruvians, with 4, join their Uruguayan opponents on the tv screen ahead of the round of 16.

Lots of battles, but no goals between Atlético Nacional and Huracán. (Photo: Conmebol)
As lucky as Atlético Nacional were to win all three points the last time around against Sporting Cristal, last night was an unlucky one for the comfortable group winners. Against Huracán, the Colombians dominated from start to finish, not allowing a single shot on goal against. Still, it was only enough for a 0-0 draw on the night.

Especially towards the end of the game, the hosts created a lot of pressure on their Argentine visitors. The chances were there for Atlético Nacional: Farid Díaz' shot from distance that hit the crossbar, Víctor Ibarbo's header wide, another Díaz attempt that sneaked past the far post. After a long cross, El Globo defender Federico Mancinelli even came close to scoring an own goal, but Marcos Díaz saved his side from further problems with a great reaction. 

It was just not meant to be for the Colombians today, who finished the group with 16 from a possible 18 points. In particular left-back Farid Díaz had an outstanding game and was present in nearly every highlight of the night. Atlético Nacional are ready for whoever they might face in the round of 16. Huracán needed a point to go through and they got it as well. The Argentines will need a lot of improvements though before thinking about beating a group winner which they will face.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Rosario Central stop Palmeiras' efforts

Rosario Central have qualified for the round of 16 in the Copa Libertadores. Last night, they beat Nacional 2-0 away in the Gran Parque Central. 

Alejandro Donatti. (Photo: rosariocentral.com)
Nacional, already qualified beforehand, took the opportunity to rest a lot of regulars last night, including the likes of Nico López, Santiago Romero or goalkeeper Esteban Conde. At least Leandro Barcia returned from his illness and got in 78 minutes. 
Central on the other hand fielded a strong squad, solely without their star striker Marco Rubén who was on the bench for 90 minutes.

The game itself developed into a really even one. Neither team impressed all too much, Barcia had the biggest chance in the early going for the hosts. His attempt was saved by Central goalkeeper Sebastián Sosa. On the other side, Jonás Aguirre's shot from distance flew over the bar. 

Finally, 44 minutes in, the ball was in the back of the net. Sadly for Nacional in their own behind Luis Mejia. After Franco Cervi's corner, everyone forgot that defender Alejandro Donatti exists and the centre-back had no trouble directing his header into the goal. A strike at a psychologically important time. 

Alejandro Donatti wide open in the middle and heads in Cervi's corner.
It was Franco Cervi in general (read the scouting report on him) who had a fine game and continued the trend in the second half by having the first dangerous attempt on target. Mejia had some trouble, but his teammated cleared it for their colleague. Nacional continued trying to go forward as well in front of a great home crowd that sang their songs throughout the game. Ignacio González curled a freekick just over the crossbar. It is doubtful whether Sosa could have reached that one. 

At the end, it was Rosario Central adding a second goal. Cervi played a long ball forward for his second assist of the night and Germán Herrera had it a little too easy against the only defender back, Erick Cabaco. Mejia could do nothing about the finish and Central went on to leave Montevideo with all three points and the group win.

They ended the group stages with 11 points, two ahead of Nacional.

Egidio scores Palmeiras' first goal. (Photo: Cesar Greco/Ag Palmeiras/Divulgação)
The team that got eliminated last night was Brazilian side Palmeiras, despite their best efforts. They won 4-0 against Uruguay's already eliminated River Plate. 

Two goals in each half was the recipe for success last night, but you cannot talk of success when crashing out of an admittedly tough group. Two losses to Nacional proved vital on the final bill. 

Throughout the whole game last night, Palmeiras were the clearly better team and got their three useless points highly deserved. Egidio scored the first goal 19 minutes in, profiting from a deflection that fooled River's goalkeeper Nicola Pérez. Now the floodgates were open for the match, but it took the Brazilian side until the 45th minute to get a second one. Agustin Allione produced a quality finish against the inside of the post and in after a long ball from Alecsandro had found him behind River's back four.

The same Allione was successful again during the second half. The Uruguayan defense was absent and left their goalkeeper out to dry on this goal. Allione was all alone to bang home the rebound following Alecsandro's saved attempt (73'). The finishing touches were being applied by Alecsandro himself. After two assists, he got fouled in the penalty area and stepped up for the penalty himself. Bottom left and 4-0. It was the last action of the night.

All Palmeiras could manage at the end of this Copa Libertadores season were 8 points, River Plate collected a total of 3 through 3 draws.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Boca take over group lead, River struggles continue

Aside from Grêmio's triumph over LDU Quito, there were five more games in the Copa Libertadores last night. Here is a summary of all of them. 

Nico Lodeiro after his late goal. (Photo: Conmebol)
Boca Juniors visited Racing Club in an all-Argentine duel. In front of Racing supporters who were in fine voice, a relatively even game developed. Both teams did not threaten their opponent's goal too much during the first half. Boca's best chance came through Carlos Tévez' shot into the side netting, while Racing had a penalty shout turned down by the referee Carlos Vera from Ecuador. First, Gustavo Bou was fouled by Pablo Pérez inside the area, only for the Boca man to handle the ball right after. The visitors were extremely lucky in this scene. 

As we went tied into the second half, Boca was the slightly better team and had further chances through Frank Fabra. The 25-year old Colombian played a fine game on the left side and advanced forward dangerously on multiple occasions, including an offside goal. Racing seemed to have accepted their point and did not commit too many men forward anymore. A mistake, as it turned out.

Fernando Gago played the ball out to the right side, finding the run of Cristian Pavón. His speedy cross was deflected on by Pablo Pérez' heel and found the foot of Nicolás Lodeiro. The Uruguayan midfielder could not miss from centimetres in front of the goalline and handed his team the victory after 84 minutes. 

Boca Juniors now lead Group 3 with 9 points, ahead of Racing's 8. Bolívar (4) follows and basically plays a must-win game against Deportivo Cali (2) tonight.

Grêmio kills last hope for San Lorenzo

A lot of Copa Libertadores action last night and some further participants of the round of 16 were decided. One team that did not play and still got eliminated: 2014 champion San Lorenzo.

It was thanks to Brazilian club Grêmio Porto Alegre, that San Lorenzo can watch the round of 16 in front of the television for a second straight year. Grêmio beat LDU Quito 3-2 away in Ecuador and advance to the next stage themselves.

Bobô, scorer of Grêmio's second goal. (Photo: Conmebol)
Douglas (13') and Bobô (26') gave the visitors an early 2-0 lead that held until halftime. Throughout the game, the result remained unrepresentative of the actual events on the pitch. Álvaro Gutierrez' Quito did really well controlling the game for the most part and creating the larger amount of opportunities. Their biggest chance of the first half came after 28 minutes, but Edson Puch's artistic effort went wide.

Right at the start of the second half their efforts finally paid off. José Quinteros was there to finish off a fantastic attack when Grêmio were still in their dressing room and cut the lead in half (46'). The pitch itself was extremely difficult last night, as it had rained a lot in Ecuador, making precise passing an ever so big challenge for both sides. 

Even the soaky field did not stop Wallace top produce an absolute golazo after 53 minutes though. His screamer from the edge of the area went right into the top left corner and extended Grêmio's lead back to two goals. Even if goalkeeper Alexander Domínguez did not look good there punching the ball right onto Wallace's foot, it is hard to blame him for such a great finish. 

LDU Quito kept applying pressure until the end, despite already being eliminated from the competition. They wanted to put on a show for the supporters that came to the stadium to see them play and finally got a second and final goal after 77 minutes. José Cevallos Jr. fired a shot from distance that fooled everybody, including goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe and went in at the far post. Just before, Grohe had come up with a spectacular 1v1 foot save on Carlos Tenorio. 

At the end, Grêmio got away with all three points, giving them a total of 8 and a ticket to the round of 16. They are being joined by group winners Deportivo Toluca (13), while San Lorenzo (3) and LDU Quito (3) remain at the bottom before the last matchday. 

In particular San Lorenzo will be disappointed. After a dreadful 2015 campaign, they had hope to get back on track in 2016, but stayed winless (!) in five matches. That is simply not good enough for the big Argentine club, whether they have a new coach or not.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Peñarol crash out while Atlético Nacional stays invincible

The group stages of this year's Copa Libertadores are reaching their decisive time. Last night, four games were being played.

Uruguay's Apertura winner Peñarol travelled to Argentina to take on Huracán in a must-win game. Having only collected one point previous to last night, Diego Forlán & Co. had it all to do against the in-form team. Sadly, for them, it was over before it really started.
Marcel Novick fights for the ball with Huracán's Matías Fritzler. (Photo: Conmebol)
The opening stages were not too eventful, both teams had a chance they could not convert. Instead, midfielder Nahitan Nández got himself sent off after just 23 minutes. His challenge was a clear and stupid attack on Mauro Bogado's health, leaving his Peñarol teammates down to 10 men early. The visitors had to react early and take off one of their goalscorers from the past weekend, Nicolás Albarracín, to fill the gaping hole in central midfield. 

While the game continued to be pretty even throughout most of the first half, Peñarol stood no chance in the second and was very lucky to get away with a 0-0 draw last night. Heavy pressure from El Globo ended in big chances for Ezequiel Miralles, Hugo Nervo or José San Román, to name a few. Especially the left side with Miralles and Romero was Huracán's focal point of attack, pushing their visitors back around their own penalty area. Goalkeeper Gastón Guruceaga made tremendous saves on multiple occasions and kept the clean sheet at the end.

Both teams actually got the ball into the back of the net late, Huracán from an offside position, while Guruceaga wanted to become the matchwinner for the Uruguayans on the other end. His header went in, but clearly after an offensive foul on his goalkeeping colleague Marcos Díaz.

For Peñarol, one point is not enough. Bad performances throughout the group stage have eliminated the club from the competition. When recalling their first won point against Sporting Cristal, it was a very lucky one as well, so elimination is far from undeserved. Diego Forlán will have to attack his dream again next season. Huracán meanwhile are close to advancing to the round of 16, barring a loss of their five goal advantage to Sporting Cristal during the last round.

Víctor Ibarbo. (Photo: Conmebol)
That very same Sporting Cristal faced already advanced Atlético Nacional last night. The Colombians stayed invincible with a 0-1 away win, but were the worse team for the first time during these group stages.

Peru's vice champion played forward right from the get-go and still it was the favourite who took the lead 13 minutes in. Defender Alberto Rodríguez saw no other option to stop Víctor Ibarbo than to foul him from behind. The Colombian had previously produced an outstanding run through the whole Peruvian half. Ibarbo himself stepped up and converted the spotkick comfortably.

It took Cristal a while to get over conceding the first goal of the game. Towards the end of the first half, they regained control of their home game. Santiago Silva had the biggest chance for the hosts as he suddenly found himself in possession right in front of the goal following a weak punch by Franco Armani. The goalkeeper made up for it by closing the striker down quickly and making the second effort save. After yet another deflection fell onto the foot of Silva, he shot it wide.

The second half was literally all Sporting Cristal, but despite dominating in possession (55%), shots (13-7) or corners (13-0), Peru's survivor could simply not find an equalizer. They tried to speed up the game by executing set pieces quickly, but lacked final precision in their attacks, especially when time ran out on them. Still, Carlos Lobatón did well and created one good scene after the other.

It ended with just the one goal being scored and it leads to Atlético Nacional collecting 15 out of 15 possible points. They will most likely be the #1 seed for the round of 16. As previously mentioned, Sporting Cristal needs to make up a 5 goal disadvantage over Huracán in their final game to advance.

Elsewhere in the Copa Libertadores

San Lorenzo find themselves on the verge of elimination after yet another attempted fail to win in this season's competition. Despite holding a lead until the 82nd minute, the Argentines lost 2-1 away to Deportivo Toluca. Nicolás Blandi had given the visitors the lead right before halftime, but Colombian striker Fernando Uribe turned out to be the Mexican supporters' hero. He scored twice (82', 88') to turn a seemingly lost game into a win. Toluca are assured group victory, San Lorenzo are out with a Grêmio win tonight over last place LDU Quito.

Trujillanos made affairs in Group 1 exciting again by winning their home game against The Strongest 2-1. A penalty in the fourth minute of added time proved decisive on the night. It was Maurice Cova who decided the game late, after Carlos Sosa (32') and an own goal from Hector Perez (67') had previously produced a tied game. The Bolivian visitors with the tiger in their logo could have come close to advancing, but are held to 7 points, one behind River Plate. They are followed by São Paulo FC (5) and Trujillanos (4). Despite their win, Venezuela's subcampeón is eliminated from the competition already.

5 surefire reasons why Nacional will win title

Now we all know about how games have gone lately in Uruguay's Primera División. After struggling for some weeks due to the double deployment (thanks, Copa Libertadores), Nacional have gotten back on track lately and find themselves just one point off the pace. In that case, the pace is called Plaza Colonia. 

Nacional celebrating their Uruguayan title in 2015. (Photo: taringa.net)
Two competitions remain due to the club's successful international campaign, so why would anyone write them to be title favourites right now? This is why.

1. They have Esteban Conde

Following now-coach Gustavo Munúa, Conde did not exactly have an easy task to take over the goalkeeper position in the club. Nevertheless, the Uruguayan did so admireably well. He turned into an absolute cornerstone behind a - at times - shaky defense. While being 33 years old, he was born in a town called Young. I forfeit, Esteban wins. 

2. Successful wing play

From Jorge Fucile and Alfonso Espino up towards the offensive wingers Leandro Barcia and Kevin Ramírez, if healthy, Nacional have outstanding quality on both flanks. Especially Fucile could likely still play in Europe if he wanted to. He chose his home country and the fans appreciate that decision on every opportunity they receive. While Espino suffers from a little lack of precision slightly too often, he is one of the Primera División's better left-backs as well. 

When looking forward, there is simply a whole ton of speed and skill. Even the substitutes such as Tabó can absolutely rip apart an opponent's defense. 

Jorge Fucile enjoys a great season on his right side. (Photo: nacional.uy)

3. Romero's heart

One man is pouring his heart into each game like no other for Nacional. His name is Santiago Romero. He quickly became one of my absolute favourite players in the league, because giving up is simply no option for him. It could be 0-3 and he would fight for every ball in midfield like it is the last opportunity of his career. On top of that, he is actually skilled technically and scored quite a few outstanding goals throughout his career.

4. Polenta's leadership

When we are talking of heart, we cannot leave out the captain. After Iván Alonso left the club for River Plate, Diego Polenta received the armband from Munúa and he has lived up to expectations. Sure, not every ball reaches a teammate, but he is merciless and incredibly tough to beat. After all, his convincing performances for his club earned him an invitation to Uruguay's national team during the past international break.

Captain on top: Diego Polenta, leader of his Nacional squad. (Photo: nacional.uy)

5. Nico López

You saw #5 coming, did you not? Nico López has simply been their main man this season and does not seem to be willing to slow down. 7 goals in the league, 3 goals in the Copa Libertadores and inevitably there is interest from bigger leagues. In particular Brazilian clubs are rumoured to be impressed by the player. Who could blame them? 

One thing is for certain: Until the end of the season, López will be a Nacional player and, barring any injuries, will continue to fire home goal after goal. Until they won the title?