Colombians win competition against Ecuador's Independiente del Valle.


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


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


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


Colombians win the Copa Sudamericana after penalty thriller against Huracán.

Monday, April 27, 2015

On the horizon – 45 days until start of the Copa América

It’s not long anymore until the prestigious South American tournament returns. June 11 sees the first match of this year’s edition in Chile. The hosts face Ecuador in the opening match. Here is a quick look at all teams for you, with their chances as of right now.
Group A: Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia
Led by Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal, Chile strives for glory in their first home tournament since 1991. In addition, they have never won the Copa América before, four second places was the best they could manage so far. The group will (most likely) not be much a problem for Chile. Sure, Mexico have a good team, but with the home advantage, they are also very beatable. As the back three seems to get more popular in European football again as well, Chile have practiced that tactic for quite a long time now, giving them a lot of power on the wings, as well as five defensive players on one line when defending. Especially in games against favored teams, the coach tends to use this strategy, seen in the World Cup against Spain, the Netherlands and Brazil. Having Premier League star Alexis Sanchez up front does not hurt either.
Mexico do have some recognizable names throughout their lineup too, Real Madrid striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez only being one of them. They play the same 5-3-2 as does Chile. Héctor Herrera is their engine in midfield, the game rises or falls with his game. Realistically, they will make it out of this group, but when facing the really strong South American teams, I don’t see them advancing much further.
Antonio Valencia’s Ecuador will have an uphill battle to reach the second round. Since the World Cup, they continued their up and down form, beating this year’s group rivals Bolivia, but losing narrowly to Brazil. Goalkeeper Alexander Domínguez will need to show his very best form three times. Since September of last year, Ecuador play in a 4-2-3-1 formation instead of the 4-4-2 with double 6. Beating Bolivia is a must.
Those Bolivians are the clear outsider of this group. Nearly the whole squad that will be nominated plays in the small countries’ league. Bolivia does not have any real set tactic they can rely on, a coaching change did its part to that fact. Under Néstor Clausen, they did win their first game though, beating Venezuela 3-2. Alejandro Chumacero and Damián Lizio in central midfield will be under a lot of pressure to hold this team together defensively.
Group B: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Jamaica
The World Cup runner up Argentina has to be the favorite when it comes to group B. With all the offensive firepower they have got, you have to feel sorry for the rest of the teams. Lionel Messi, coming off yet another fantastic season with Barcelona, alongside of players like Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín and the list goes on. After they got it together defensively as well, there is not much speaking against them as the favorite for this tournament. Betting companies agree, and give them the best odds of all participating teams.
Defending Copa América champions Uruguay look ahead to an uncertain tournament. They obviously still have a lot of quality, but the retirement of Diego Forlán and the suspension for superstar Luis Suárez, which will most likely not be overturned and keeps him out of the tournament, hurt the small country a lot. All that is left of the former triumvirate is PSG striker Edinson Cavani. Granted, a lot of the other teams wish they had a player like him. Despite all problems up front, they still have an absolute powerhouse defense, captained by Diego Godín from Atlético Madrid. Count them in for one of the first two spots in this group.
Paraguay are so out of form that they have not won a game since September 2013. A shocking development for a team that ended up losing the 2011 final to Uruguay. You really wonder why when you see former and current Bundesliga stars in Lucas Barrios and Raul Bobadilla in their lineup. 37 year old Justo Villar is their constant in goal, and will probably play his last big tournament.
That leaves us with the biggest outsider I can remember in all the recent Copa América’s. Jamaica does not care though and is unbeaten in 2015. Defenders Wes Morgan and Adrian Mariappa are probably the only names you would recognize if you are paying attention to midfield and bottom clubs in the English league. The only focus can lay on not getting destroyed by Argentina and Uruguay. Maybe if they get something out of Paraguay, there will be a chance of advancing as third placed team.
Group C: Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela
Change was needed for Brazil after being humiliated by Germany in their home World Cup, and change happened. Since summer 2014, the winner of 4 of the last 6 Copa’s did not lose a game, beating the likes of Argentina, France and Chile. Neymar, of course, remains the focal point of the squad, but he receives better support compared to previous times. Players like Roberto Firmino, Luiz Adriano, Oscar or Coutinho stand for balanced attacking football. 32 year old Jefferson took over in goal and has the luxury of Thiago Silva and Miranda ahead of him. The tactics are very variable, but a back 4 usually remains.
The team that excited everyone during the World Cup, Colombia, is the other strong team in this group. Their attacking force remains one of the best in South America, Falcao did not have a good year in Manchester, but will be needed to do well by the Colombians to make it far in the tournament. James Rodríguez, after a long injury, also slowly returns to form and should be able to make his mark on this team. Their worry remains the defensive side of the game with a rather inexperienced backline.
Peru is led by striker Paolo Guerrero, who plays in Brazil for Corinthians. Fiorentina’s Juan Vargas is supposed to get him the ball from the left side of midfield. So much for the plan. In the actual games it usually looks different, because the team simply does not have enough quality aside from those two. They will have some serious trouble defending against Brazil and Colombia and I would personally be surprised if they make it into the quarter finals.
Lastly, Venezuela. Zenit St. Petersburg Striker José Rondón leads the way for a team, that I am not quite sure about. On paper, they have the players to win games, but most likely not Brazil or Colombia. Juan Arango is the captain of the team, but with his 34 years, he is not the prime candidate to decide a game alone either anymore. Venezuela try to tighten up the midfield, I expect them in a 4-5-1 formation during the Copa América. They, to me, are one of the teams that can make it into the next round via third place.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Schedule for round of 16 is out

Find all the games with local kickoff times here:

The first game will already take place in 5 days, when Universitario de Sucre welcome Tigres from Mexico.

Pathetic São Paulo derby – Anyone need an actor?

One could write about the game between São Paulo FC and Corinthians SP. Or one could take a look at all the pure ridiculousness that took place in the matchup between the Brazilian rivals.
Already in the 20th minute, Emerson from Corinthians was sent off with a straight red card. If you see it on the video I linked you below, you are just going to scratch your head over it like I did. São Paulo’s defender Rafael Tolói fouled Emerson on the wing, so far, so good. The real problem starts then. At first, he tries getting the ball out from underneath the attacking player, only to proceed to stamp on Emerson’s leg. A clear red card, that was not detected by either referee or his assistants. Surprisingly enough, the striker stays completely calm and wants to play on, and as the hosts move the ball forward, the two players have a slight coming together, as Emerson’s foot touches Tolói’s. The defender goes down and rolls around like he was hit by a lightning strike, the red card funnily enough goes to Emerson.

But do not worry, that was not all. Acting class part 2 took place in the 55th minute. Luis Fabiano held the ball on the right wing for São Paulo, before losing it to substitute John Mendoza. Fabiano tries to win it back, can’t do so, but instead pushes the defender out of play along with the ball. Mendoza’s hand comes up, Luis Fabiano goes down. Was he ever touched by it? Of course not. The referees decision is even more interesting here, he hands the striker his second yellow card and sends him off, but Mendoza himself received a straight red. Good acting job, Luis, you got what you deserved for it. Sadly at cost of Corinthians’ defender as well.

What stays from this game? That São Paulo’s players should be ashamed of themselves after pulling off this crap. This is by no means what football needs or ever needed or ever will need. And it does not matter if this is a derby or not, show some class and do not sink this low.

Two were stronger – The Strongest crash out of Copa

Wednesday in Porto Alegre, Brazil: It was 1 versus 2 in group 4. Internacional hosted one of Bolivia’s iconic teams, The Strongest. Both teams hoped they could celebrate together after the match, but for that they would most likely need help from La U (Universidad de Chile), who faced third place team CS Emelec.
The game started off quite lively, both teams tried to get up the field as fast as possible, as each of them still had a lot to play for. The first huge chance fell to Brazilian striker Nilmar in the 22nd minute, he put a nice cross from the right wide of the net. On a sidenote, it was nice to see former Bundesliga player Andres D’Alessandro back in action in the red and white of Internacional. The Brazilians kept circulating the ball well, gaining some chances from corners and freekicks near the penalty area, but nothing came really close. The Strongest did their job so far, keeping it a scoreless draw, but it is tough to rely on that and the parallel game remaining 0-0 as well.
And as if you guessed it, after 40 minutes the inevitable happened and it was only fair after how the game went so far. Internacional took the 1-0 lead through a goal by Valdivia (who only came on in the 19th minute), after another cross from the right side by Eduardo Sasha. And from bad to worse for The Strongest: seconds later, CS Emelec take a 1-0 lead over La U themselves, pushing the Bolivians out of a round of 16 spot by halftime. Would they be able to turn it around?
The real question is will we survive 15 minutes of the same in-arena picture at halftime? The stadium is nice though, World Cup memories. Why you wonder? It saw the greatest goalkeeper game ever played at a WC, when Manuel Neuer basically beat Algeria all by himself in the round of 16.
Talking of round of 16’s, that’s what it was about tonight between Internacional vs The Strongest, with the stage hopefully set for an exciting second half as we got back underway. A couple of minutes in, Valdivia had the first chance for the hosts, but put it over the crossbar. The Strongest came right back at them and had their first real chance of the match after a shot from Rodrigo Ramallo, and in general looked more active than in the first 45 minutes. Escobar’s dive for a penalty was not good enough for either the visitors or ref though.
Finally having a football game now, the Bolivians just kept going, after d’Alessandro lost the ball on the edge of his own area, it was up to goalkeeper Alisson to provide a big save to keep his team in the lead. While I’m still writing this, Internacional had their next big chance on the other side, as today’s super sub Valdivia shot the ball just wide. Crazy guy in the background screams about a goal somewhere, and sure enough Emelec have made it 2-0 in Guayaquil. Bottom line: The Strongest have to score two right now.
Just the time to accomplish that was slowly but surely running out. Yet it is not like there was not any chance for the away team. D’Alessandro with (another) awful loss of the ball right at his own area, but for the second time their opponents could not capitalize. Not everything the Argentinian captain from Internacional did was a risk though. After a fantastic run from Nilmar which earned the hosts a freekick on the edge of the box, Andres D’Alessandro shot the set piece narrowly over the crossbar. Substitute Cuesta had the biggest chance to tie things up in the last minute, but from 5 meters out wide open in front of the goal, he did not manage to score a goal.
Porto Alegre did not end up seeing a miracle. The Strongest go out after a performance that was simply not strong enough. Internacional did just enough to come away with a 1-0 and the group win. The Ecuadorians from CS Emelec held their 2-0 at home and move on to the next round as the only team from the small country.
Notes around the Copa Libertadores:
Huracán out – The Argentinians surprisingly did not stand a chance on their visit to the already eliminated Mineros de Guyana, losing 3-0. The Venezuelans celebrate their first win of the group stages and catapult Bolivia’s Universitario Sucre into the knockout stages despite their 2-0 loss away to Cruzeiro, who ended up winning this group.
Estudiantes advance – One of the other Argentinian clubs in trouble did a better job, and after beating last place team Barcelona SC 2-0, they find themselves in the round of 16. The same goes for the group winners, Atlético Nacional. The Colombians left no doubts as they trashed Libertad 4-0.

San Lorenzo out – The holders have lost their last game which was a must win in order to have any sort of chance of making it to the next round. Danubio, who were held without a point until this point, came to Argentina and beat the favorite 0-1. At the end of the day, it would not have mattered anyway due to São Paulo FC’s 2-0 win over Corinthians, which saved them second place behind yesterday’s opponent.

Santa Fe win group 1 – The Colombians top their group after a 3-1 home victory over Atlas Guadalajara, who finish last. In the battle for second place, Atlético Mineiro got what they needed against Colo-Colo with a 2-0 win. Rafael Carioca scored the decisive second goal in the 80th minute of the match.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Decisions, decisions & the small matter of a Superclásico

As we move closer towards the knockout stages, here’s a roundup of all this week’s decisions and standings in each group.
Group 1 saw, yet again, a 1-0 win from Atlas Guadalajara over Atlético Mineiro, a loss with which Atlas pulled the Brazilians on the brink of elimination along with themselves. Both have 6 points and trail the leading duo Santa Fe and Colo-Colo by 3 (Santa Fe beat them 3-0). The decisive game will most likely take place between Mineiro and Colo-Colo, with the Chileans holding the advantage on goal difference. Atlético Mineiro will need at least a 2-0 win.
In Group 2, São Paulo FC came away with a last minute victory at Uruguay’s champions Danubio FC, who remain pointless. A 2-1 win puts them in a solid position behind the already qualified local rivals Corinthians SP, that drew 0-0 with defending champions San Lorenzo. The team from Argentina needs a win in the last game at home against Danubio, while hoping that Corinthians helps them out with three points against São Paulo.
For the situation in Group 3, check out my last article: Huracán cruz(eiro)-ing to victory – Ábila shines.
CS Emelec used to lead Group 4 ahead of this matchday. Well, not anymore. The 0-1 loss in Bolivia’s capital La Paz means their opponent The Strongest moved past them by two points. But not only that, because Internacional SC with their own impressive 4-0 win against last placed U de Chile now have the front seat when it comes to qualifying for the next stage. Only thing to look out for: On the last matchweek, the top two teams (10 and 9 points respectively) face each other, opening the door again for Emelec (7), should they be able to beat Universidad de Chile.
Group 5 is finished and Montevideo Wanderers did what I expected them to do in beating Zamora 3-0, while hoping that Boca would also win their last game against Palestino. They delivered with a 2-0 victory over the Chilean outsiders, who did not perform like one throughout the tournament that is now over for them. Boca Juniors won every game while scoring an impressive 19 goals along with it. If you did not have them on your list of favorites before the first kickoff, you do now. Wanderers ended up second with 10 points.
It was a very close finish in Group 6 and finally, on the last matchday, River Plate got out of the tight spot they maneuvered themselves into. A 3-0 win over Club San José, their only win in the group (four draws), was enough to advance into the knockout stages. Juan Aurich had it in their own hands to ruin it for the Argentinians, but could not do it. They lost a wild one to group winners UANL Tigres 4-5.
Group 7 did not see a game this week, it all remains as explained in previous articles.
Lastly, we are also done in Group 8. Argentina’s Racing Club celebrated a final comeback victory against Deportivo Táchira, beating the Venezuelans 3-2 after being down 0-2. The battle for second spot ended in a 1-1 draw, which results in Paraguay’s Guaraní advancing over Sporting Cristal.
This is the schedule for knockout round 1 as of right now, and wow is it ever a big one (yes, the first game is safe, and yes, it is the Superclásico):
Boca Juniors* vs River Plate*
Corinthians SP* vs Guaraní*
UANL Tigres* vs Libertad
Racing Club* vs Cruzeiro EC
Internacional vs Montevideo Wanderers*
Santa Fe vs The Strongest
Universitario Sucre vs Colo-Colo
Atlético Nacional vs São Paulo FC

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Huracán cruz(eiro)-ing to victory – Ábila shines

Tuesday night saw the meeting of two teams still fighting for a place in the next round and especially third place Huracán was under a lot of pressure, after only collecting four points in as many games. Opponents Cruzeiro from Belo Horizonte meanwhile were going into the game as group leaders with 8 points.

Nothing much happened in the opening stages and you might as well have went back to the fridge to get a fresh beer and some snacks. The great home fans in Argentina’s capital would easily guide you there and back. But you better did it fast. Out of nowhere, big striker Ramon Ábila opens the scoring with a cool finish. He was all alone in front of the opposing goalkeeper Fabio, after Huracán won a couple of decisive midfield battles for the ball and a long ball was played over the last line of Cruzeiro’s defense. It is a shame because it should not have counted due to Ábila being offside by about half a meter.

Back to the fridge then? No, let us enjoy this game for a while. What answer would Cruzeiro have? No instant one at least, instead Huracán nearly made it two, but goalscorer Ábila shot it wide from a difficult angle. And it continued, all the Argentinians now. A fantastic pass back into the center of the penalty area from Pablo Bruna and Ábila is there again: 2-0 after 26 minutes. A really outstanding game from the striker this far.

Cruzeiro look strangely tame, still unable to produce any quality attacks, not even mentioning chances, probably just hoping to get to halftime anytime soon. I am glad I did not go back to the fridge. The game got a lot better, at least from the host’s side. Ábila, yet again, nearly adds a third goal with a half volley that flies narrowly over the crossbar. And wow, it just happened, a shot from Cruzeiro! It did go wide by quite some margin, but shot is shot, right? They did make it to halftime after all, and in the parallel game, Universitario Sucre took the lead right before halftime as well, to put themselves in first in the live table. You did not see that coming, did you? If you did, you deserve another beer from the fridge. Sorry for making you an alcoholic. Still better than tennis commercials at halftime?


But good news, everyone survived the 15 minutes like a champ, and maybe even Cruzeiro was more ready for this game now. Or not, Mister Everywhere, Ramon Ábila in the center of things again, test Fabio with an overhead kick, which is comfortably saved. In the 58th minute, Huracán had something happen to them they would have rather gone without. Eduardo Dominguez brought down the Brazilian star striker Leandro Damiao inside the area, and the penalty was stupid but inevitable. The fouled player himself cut the lead in half with a shot straight down the middle. 2-1 out of the absolute nowhere.

Federico Mancinelli would not have any of that. A lob pass beat the whole Brazilian defense yet again, and the rightback headed it home from close range. Two minutes after the penalty goal, Huracán retook their two goal lead. Furthermore, it sparked the fans to get louder again as the optimism for a home victory grew. Long time no Ábila? Don’t worry, here he came with his next chance, a wide open header right in front of the goal, but he could not direct it on target.

The score remained 3-1. It was a very impressive game from the hosts, who left no doubt about who was going to leave the pitch as winner tonight at any time. Cruzeiro disappointed and missed out on the chance of advancing to the knockout stages already. Instead they have to worry about Sucre, who added a second goal to beat Mineros 2-0, and now lead group 3 with 9 points, one ahead of Cruzeiro, who themselves have a one point gap to Huracán. But the Argentinians have excellent chances to advance, as they will meet the already eliminated Mineros de Guyana in the final group match. The top two teams will face each other in Belo Horizonte.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Have your say - Copa América in June

What do you think?

Who will win the Copa América? free polls

Friday, April 10, 2015

Argentina? - Colombia!

When you are the record champion and the defending champion of your country, there is not much doubt that you are a good football club. A club like that exists in the second largest town of Colombia, Medellín: Atlético Nacional. At the beginning of last night they were in third spot of group 7, now they are in first. What happened? A surprising away win at Argentinian favorite Estudiantes.


Yulián Mejía was the man of the match, as he was the one who broke the draw in the 37th minute of the game. A shot that took an ugly deflection off the defender and bounced over goalkeeper Hilario Navarro. You can see the goal on the video that is linked below.

You can not really say that Atlético Nacional was the clearly better team. In fact they got outshot 5-14 by Estudiantes, but this is what happens if you use none of your chances. For example, striker Guido Carillo gave it all he had, but even his six attempts would not be enough to start a comeback against the Colombians.

What does this result mean ahead of the last matchday? First we should take a look at the other game that took place in group 7. Paraguay’s Libertad came from behind against Ecuador’s Barcelona SC to manage a 1-1 draw. This puts Libertad level on points (8) with Atlético Nacional and into second place, one ahead of Estudiantes. Barcelona meanwhile is out.

But here comes the positive side for all Argentinian fans out there: On the sixth and final matchday, Atlético Nacional host Libertad. Regardless of what happens in that game, all Estudiantes has to do is win their own game in Ecuador, and they will advance. Everyone has their fate in their own hands, how could the last week be any more exciting than this?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Staying alive – San Lorenzo master São Paulo challenge

When everything is on the line in a match, be it in football or any other sport, a championship team comes through and will perform the best in those moments. Now San Lorenzo is just that. As holders of the Copa Libertadores, all eyes were on them on Tuesday night, as they took on São Paulo FC to stay alive in this year’s competition and only a win would really help them. The Estadio Pedro Bidegain was nearly sold out and ecstatic, as the hosts just celebrated the 115th birthday of their club.

São Paulo arrived late, as the team bus was stuck in traffic, so it was a bit of a rush to get ready for the game. The start to the game was just as slow as their arrival though and in general it was not an extremely good one. The first chance of the game came from the guests, when Alan Kardec shot on goal in the fifth minute. Matos, Blanco and Mussis had 3 chances from inside the area for San Lorenzo, yet all of them put the ball wide. It remained 0-0 at halftime.

That scoreline would not exactly help the Argentinians, and as the game continued to move forward pretty eventlessly, they made a substitution, which they would not regret. In the 63rd minute, Leandro Romagnoli made way for Martín Cauteruccio. It took him 7 minutes, until he pulled off what you can see below.

He received the ball headed on by striking partner Mauro Matos, lobbed it over defender Rafael Tolói, and then provided a cool finish high over the shoulder of legendary goalkeeper Rogério Ceni. The all important goal had finally been scored, and they managed to defend their lead until the final whistle. Michel Bastos, who scored the winner in the meeting of these two clubs 2 weeks ago, tested goalkeeper Sebastián Torrico twice in the final few minutes, but he was up to the task and helped secure the three points for San Lorenzo.

That win is huge for the defending champions, as it puts them level on points with São Paulo. In the other game in group 2, Corinthians put on a show, beating Uruguay’s champion Danubio 4-0. Former Bayern Munich striker Paolo Guerrero destroyed them with a hattrick. The guests from Montevideo meanwhile did not manage a single shot on target in 90 minutes. Corinthians, with four wins in four games, advances to the next round.

Group 2, as it stands: