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.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Guaraní completes semifinal - Copa Libertadores

Guaraní have reached the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores. A goalless draw last night was enough to advance 1-0 on aggregate against the Argentinian side Racing Club. A massive achievement to keep Racing fully off the scoresheet, considering the opponent had (and still has) the competition's top scorer. Either way, the times of Bou and Milito are over, it's time to look at what awaits us in the semifinal after the upcoming Copa América.

Guaraní will once again face an Argentinian team, this time with the home advantage in the second leg on top. The iconic River Plate are their opponents. After beating Corinthians and Racing, I personally do not see why they should not be able to beat River as well. When you are on a run like they clearly are, anything is possible. 

The second game in the round of the last 4 has Internacional meeting UANL Tigres. These teams are 3rd and 2nd seed in the competition, making these matches seemingly have all the ingredients for a quality tie. 

Obviously a lot will depend on how each team comes out of the gates again once the Copa América is finished. Definitely a nice touch is the diversity when it comes to the countries that are still involved. Four teams, four countries. Bring it on!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Party time in Brazil – River Plate shock Cruzeiro

After the first leg in the previous week, not many people would have predicted River Plate to advance to the next round. They showed those people to never count them out impressively last night. A 3-0 away win at Brazilian team Cruzeiro meant it was them who ended up winning 3-1 on aggregate and reaching the semi final against either Guaraní or Argentinian rivals Racing Club.

This time around it took place in a lot more human way compared to the scandalous round of 16 Superclásico. Goals from Carlos Sánchez (20’), Jonatan Maidana (45’) and a wonderful strike from Teó Gutierrez (52’) were too much to handle for Cruzeiro who had entered the game as favorites after last week’s one sided affair. It is not like the Brazilians did not stand a chance, they even led their guests in shots, but at the end of the day, what matters is on the scoreboard: 0-3.

River coach Gallardo showed himself proud of his team on the press conference: “I have to thank and appreciate the efforts of each of these players, I'm proud of them. This group played with personality, had enormous courage and dedication." He added that they “had said we will not give up and will recover from adversity."

When asked for the reasons for the success, he concentrated on aggressiveness and higher accuracy, “also, when we generated chances, we were decisive, which is something that in recent games we were not getting.” Gallardo stressed that he is still "enjoying being in the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores. I'm still very excited about the victory and the qualification. The players made a sublime effort.”

You bet they will do once again in the semifinal, when the Copa Libertadores returns from its Copa América break.

Rafael Moura ends Colombian dreams – Internacional to the semi finals

Wednesday evening means Copa Libertadores time, and Internacional SC play hosts for Santa Fe tonight. After having lost the first leg 0-1, the Brazilian side will need to win with at least a two goal margin to advance to the semi finals. So let us get right into it.

It took central defender Juan three minutes, and from two meters out he converted from an Internacional corner. Throughout his career (Leverkusen, Roma) he showed that strength, this might have been just been one of his more important, but also easiest, goals. And the Brazilians had the early lead that they were looking for.

Juan celebrates his early goal in tonight's Copa Libertadores quarterfinal against Santa Fe.

14 minutes into the game, Eduardo Sasha could not continue for the hosts, you would guess the option would be a lot worse, but on came Valdívia. Problems that Santa Fe would like to have. The visitors meanwhile had a relatively hard time getting into the match, the quick opening goal destroyed any sort of defensive plan. 

Chances remained a rare good ever since Juan scored, you would not be the happiest person in the world if you saw the Europa-League final earlier in the evening and are just out for pure entertainment in this one. 28th minute: most exciting thing is Valdívia taking a knock now. Maybe the position is cursed? Maybe it is a sign that the red and white should defend? Nope, he can continue, a sigh of relief from every Internacional fan watching their team. Santa Fe improved a little at this stage, but could still not find any clear cut opportunities. Also not in the 35th, when goalkeeper Alisson served the Colombians the equalizer on a silver platter twice with awful passes. All it did was end up in a collision and treatment for the keeper, and that sums up this first half beautifully. 

Always a bit of a bummer when a game starts off in an exciting fashion only to completely die off then. Maybe the second half will have a little more action in it. At this stage, you have every right to consider going to sleep. Since I started this article, I might as well finish it though. 

And here we go again, come on now teams, do something for every fan and viewer! Apparently those fans enjoyed themselves at least, singing their songs in the pouring rain. Santa Fe managed something they did not all first half, a top class chance, but a cross from the right was just missed by two attacking players in the middle of the area. Just so we have mentioned it, right now there would be penalties after 90 minutes if nothing changes. A couple of minutes later, Internacional had their first quality attempt, Valdívia was denied by a fine reflex from Leandro Castellanos. The Brazilians kept the pressure up and took over the game, finally showing their supremacy on paper on the pitch as well. On the other hand, coach Diego Aguirre took it a little too far and was sent to the stands by the referee. 

He was not the only one. In the 67th minute, Internacional striker Nilmar ran right into opposition defender Mosquera, who could not get out of his way. He got a yellow card nevertheless. That was his second and Santa Fe were down to ten men in this tough away game. Nilmar could not continue either and had to be substituted while looking very shaken up. At this point, I would expect the Colombians to go for the penalty shootout and test their luck. Barely would you see more than two attacking players trying to counter in the Brazilian’s half. 

Andres D’Alessandro continued the big final push for the home team, yet again a fantastic short side save by Castellanos kept Santa Fe in it. Juan with another header nearly scored his second goal in the 82nd minute, but he could not find the back of the net either. While I complained a lot about the first half, the second makes up for it. And while I am still typing this, Yulian Ancheco is the next guest player sent off after kicking a Brazilian player on the ground. The task to defend a 0-1 loss did just get even harder. 

What had to happen inevitably happened then. Substitute Rafael Moura went high into the air and headed another corner into the back of the net in the 88th minute for which looked like the decisive goal and it would be deserved after the massive improvement of form from Internacional in the second 45 minutes. A glorious chance to end the whole tie was missed in epic fashion by Lisandro Lopez, who stood wide open right in front of goal only to hit the post and then put the rebound wide of the far side. It did not come back to bite them. Internacional win 2-0 and manage the turnaround to reach the Copa semi final.

Notes around the Copa Libertadores:

Tigres come from behind to knock out Emelec: The Mexicans won their home game 2-0 after having lost the first leg 0-1 in Ecuador. The highest seeded team therefore advances to the semi final to meet Internacional. A first final with a Mexican team since 2010, when C.D. Guadalajara lost to that same Internacional, looks possible. Rafael Sóbis gave UANL Tigres an early lead in the 6th minute by converting a direct freekick, José Rivas sealed the game with a header from a deflection right in front of goal (80’).

Friday, May 22, 2015

Just keep on winning – Guaraní on its way to the semis

15.000 spectators came into the Defensores del Chaco stadium on Thursday evening and they were not disappointed by their team. Guaraní, having just eliminated Corinthians in the last round, came away with yet another victory against a favored side. In fairness, Racing Club had to play with ten men for a good 50 minutes of the match, after Lollo received a questionable red card in the 41st due to an elbow to the head of the opposition player. It still took 85 minutes for the Paraguayans to get the breakthrough they desperately fought for all game. Striker Julián Benítez fired a shot from the right edge of the penalty area across the goal and surprised goalkeeper Sebastián Saja to his right. The goal came when Racing reached control of the game, but overall it is a deserved victory for the home side who did a lot more offensively (13-4 shots, each one from the guests by Gustavo Bou). If Guaraní can reproduce another 90 minutes of the same kind next week, then they are well on their way to the semi finals of this year’s Copa Libertadores.


Guaraní players celebrating the winning goal by Benítez (in the middle) last night.

And the highlights of Guaraní vs Racing:

The second match of last night saw River Plate take on Cruzeiro. And again, the fans had to wait long to see a goal. Here it was less pleasant for the home side though, as Marquinhos scored in the 82nd minute to give the Brazilians a big away win, which puts them into the semi finals with one leg already. The game itself was pretty bad, did not have a lot of chances on either side. River did not do enough as the home team, lots of half chances or shots from distance were no danger for Cruzeiro’s goalkeeper Fábio. River coach Gallardo was disappointed by his team’s performance, but kept showing his competitiveness: “We generated very few clear chances, but we always showed our will. We will have a few days to recover and prepared for the match in Brazil.” Gallardo added that his team will have to go for it in the second leg, while Cruzeiro has the comfort of the lead going into that match.

Goals were a rare good in the quarter finals. The other ties played this week only had a total of one each as well. And both home teams and outsiders took the win. Emelec beat UANL Tigres through a Miller Bolaños goal in the 63rd minute. It was already the 6th goal this season for the Ecuadorian striker, who is having a great campaign along with his team.

Finally, Santa Fe beat Internacional 1-0 as well. A last minute goal from defender Dairon Mosquera sealed the deal, when the Brazilians left him wide open for a header in the penalty area. This leaves Internacional with a mountain to climb at home. Can they do it? For sure. Let us find out next week!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

8 teams left – Copa Libertadores entering decisive stage

The round of 16 matches are done, and after the big scandal at the Superclásico, that you surely read of, and which I will not be giving any platform here, only eight teams are left competing for the title this season. Some big favorites exited in the previous week, Corinthians and Boca being two of them. Let us take a look at who is left and who has the best chances to advance.

Who? The highest seed left in the Copa are no South Americans. Mexico’s UANL Tigres will face Ecuador’s Emelec. The Mexicans have not lost a single game yet, 5 wins and 3 draws make them the team to beat. Emelec themselves are unbeaten at home though, so this could shape up to be a very close tie.

When? First leg May 19, second leg May 26.

Prediction? Tigres to advance to the semi finals.


Who? The winner of the previously described matchup will (most likely) face the winner of Santa Fe vs Internacional. Both teams won their respective groups, and Santa Fe raised quite a few eyebrows by eliminating Estudiantes. The Brazilian attack force might be a lot to handle for the Colombians, but would you count them out?

When? First leg May 20, second leg May 27.

Prediction? Possible upset! Santa Fe to go to the semi finals.


Who? The surprise of the round of 16, Guaraní, is in action against Racing Club from Argentina. Once again the Paraguayans are heavy outsiders. But if you stop Guerrero and Co. from scoring any goals, why not also stop Bou and Milito?

When? First leg May 21, second leg May 28.

Prediction? They did it once, they will not do it again. I got Racing in the semis.


Who? The duel of 8 versus 16 seed is actually one of the best games of the quarter final. Cruzeiro will face River Plate who advanced on the green table. It remains doubtful who will even be able to play, because Ponzio, Kranevitter, a handful of others still remain under supervision by doctors after the pepper spray attacks. For me, it is really difficult to have any sort of idea of these games after the happenings.

When? That is still up in the air, at some point May 19-21, May 26-28.

Prediction? Cruzeiro because I need to make a decision, but 50/50 for me.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Racing across the finish line – Argentinians win it

Racing Club hosted the Montevideo Wanderers in tonight’s early Copa Libertadores kickoff. After a 1-1 in the first leg, a goalless draw would be enough for the Argentinians, but as you know, relying on that never works, so it was interesting to see what kind of game would develop.

The atmosphere was already on quarter final level. None of the teams seemed to be willing to waste much time defending. If you remember my article on the first leg, you will remember a strong defensive performance from the Uruguayans, which will be required again incase they want to advance against the super attack of Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou. The first real chance in the 15th minute fell to the visitors, but a header on goal was saved comfortably. So far so good, but then they lost their defensive order right after when leaving Washington Camacho wide open on the edge of the penalty area after a low Milito cross from the right and the Racing midfielder made no mistakes and slotted it home. The early lead the Argentinians had hoped for.

The lone survivor from Uruguay now needed one goal to at least get to extra time, luckily 70 minutes to do it were left. Despite that opening marker from Racing, it remained a pretty even game, no team really took over, a few half chances fell off. Gustavo Bou came close again in the 29th, firing a shot just wide. Both strikers were alive and that was definitely not a good sign for the outsiders.


Diego Milito tries his luck with a shot from inside the area in the first half which gets blocked away by the Uruguayan defense.

Like I knew it? Bou! In the 40th minute Racing’s number 7 makes it 2-0 with an ice cold finish into the near corner after a short dribbling in the area. Things get really tricky for Montevideo’s side, that now had 15 minutes of halftime to regroup and find a way to score two goals on a rock solid Racing Club.

Want a halftime fun fact? Here you go: Gustavo Bou played 8 games in the Copa this season, scored 8 goals and assisted on 4. What a season for the 25 year old so far.

Right back to the action we go. Would the Wanderers find a way to pull themselves out of the hole? If you take the first few minutes of the second half to judge on that, the sky looks pretty dark for the visitors. It would be typical if they now went down the field to punish me for writing this, and they do and they…do not score, phew.

An hour had been played and the whole stadium was bouncing up and down, as one of Argentina’s most famous sides was on its way to earn a quarter final berth. Meanwhile, Wanderers had some freekicks around the area, did not get any good chances out of them though. Those seemed to fall to Racing entirely today, as Bou had the opportunity to put the game to bed, but his lob missed the goal on the left. 68 minutes played, Diego Milito was done and the savior from the first leg, Brian Fernandez, came on. His first touch was a shot two meters wide after the Uruguayans carelessly gave the ball away.

With under 20 minutes left, Racing had the game under control, today it was them doing a very solid job defensively. At least we still got some danger from the hosts. Bou crossed from the right and a shot from Fernandez was saved spectacularly by goalkeeper Leonardo Burian. On the other side, Verges tested Saja, but his shot was saved without much of a problem.

86th, exit Gustavo Bou, he played yet another great game and received his more than deserved standing ovations.

But wait a minute, freekick for the Wanderers from about 25m out. Captain Maximiliano Oliveira takes the responsibility and puts it wonderfully into the top right corner. Sudden excitement out of nowhere! 3 minutes of added time to get the second goal that would suddenly put them into the next round.

Too little, too late. The game finished 2-1 and with the Montevideo Wanderers the last Uruguayan team have exited the competition. Racing Club will meet Paraguay’s Guaraní in the next round.


Notes from around the Copa:

Guaraní have pulled off the surprise that not many would have thought was possible and kicked out strong favorites Corinthians 3-0 on aggregate. They won the second leg in Brazil 1-0 with their opponents losing their cool. Two red cards made a comeback for Corinthians impossible. As previously mentioned, they will face Racing in the quarter final.

Not enough surprises for you? Maybe this one: Santa Fe have knocked out Argentina’s Estudiantes. Despite a 2-1 away loss in the first legs, the Colombians fought back and were rewarded taking the second leg 2-0.

Santa Fe will face Internacional in the quarter finals, because they won their all Brazilian duel against Atlético Mineiro 3-1 (5-3 agg.). Goals from Valdivia, D’Alessandro and Lisandro Lopez were too much to handle.

The other all Brazilian affair needed penalties after Cruzeiro equalized the 0-1 deficit from the first leg against São Paulo. Cruzeiro were the luckier side and advanced to the next round and plays the winner of the Superclásico.

The first legs of the quarter finals will be played next week, with the return legs the week after.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Nothing new in Argentina – Messi leads the same team

The preliminary Argentinian Copa América squad does not come up with a lot surprises. Lionel Messi continues to lead a team that finished second behind only Germany in the 2014 World Cup. The squad has a ton of experience in every position and will undoubtedly be one of the big favorites at the tournament in Chile.

Sergio Romero is the last man on the pitch for Argentina and has been for quite some years now. His reflexes make him one of the best goalkeepers at the Copa América. Backup Mariano Andújar is good enough to get the job done, but will most likely not be needed.

Half of Argentina’s defense is playing in the English Premier League, which is not the worst sign of quality. Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis at Manchester City, Marcos Rojo at United as well as Federico Fernández at Swansea. Two of them might well find themselves in the starting 11. Garay and Otamendi are strong alternatives at the CB position.


Reason to party also in Chile? Javier Mascherano (left) and Leo Messi, the most important players in Argentina’s team.

The strategic brain of this team is found in midfield, a position that he does not even play for his club. Javier Mascherano is being used as center back for Barcelona most of the time, but is extremely valuable for Argentina in a defensive midfield role. He not only showed his amazing abilities throughout the last World Cup. Mascherano will have a lot of quality around him, whoever joins him in midfield. Ángel di María had a rough (especially second part of the) season in Manchester, overshadowed by a burglary in his family home. His national team will not be able to replace him, and putting all things into account, some fresh air in another country and team might do wonders. Maxi Rodríguez, Fernando Gago or Éver Banega are more alternatives in the middle. Pastore, Lamela or Gaitán stand by if there is more need for creativity in midfield.

The attack of the team is breathtaking. I do not think I need to lose many more words over the captain. Messi is and remains the best footballer on this planet by a long distance. He is accompanied by Agüero, Tevez, Higuaín and Lavezzi. That is enough firepower for every imaginable situation for at least two teams. Coach Gerardo Martino is lucky enough to have it all in the same squad.

Here is the Argentinian squad in full:

Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Sampdoria), Mariano Andújar (Napoli), Nahuel Guzmán (UANL Tigres), Agustín Marchesín (Santos Laguna).

Defenders: Pablo Zabaleta, Martín Demichelis (both Manchester City), Federico Fernández (Swansea City), Marcos Rojo (Mancherster United), Ezequiel Garay (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Nicolás Otamendi (Valencia), Facundo Roncaglia (Genoa), Lucas Orbán (Valencia), Milton Casco (Newell’s Old Boys).

Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Ángel di María (Manchester United), Maxi Rodríguez (Newell’s Old Boys), Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors), Éver Banega (Sevilla), Lucas Biglia (Lazio), Javier Pastore (PSG), Enzo Pérez (Valencia), Érik Lamela (Tottenham), Nicolás Gaitán (Benfica), Roberto Pereyra (Juventus), Federico Mancuello (Independiente).

Attackers: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Carlos Tevez (Juventus), Sergio Agüero (Manchester City), Gonzalo Higuaín (Napoli), Ezequiel Lavezzi (PSG).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Last hooray for the Pizza Express – Peru squad

When you think of international stars for Peru, you will look towards Bayern Munich and Corinthians pretty fast. Claudio Pizarro might be 36 years of age, but he is the man that the young players look up to. Record goalscorer for foreigners in the German Bundesliga is a remarkable achievement for the player who found his second home in Europe. Paolo Guerrero is currently one of the best strikers playing in South America, precisely for Brazil’s Corinthians. If those two can lead this team accordingly, why not dream of the quarter final despite a strong group (Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela)?


Claudio Pizarro celebrating a goal for Peru. The captain will hope to do lots more of that in the month of June.

Pedro Gallese will see a lot of action against Neymar, James Rodriguez and Co. He is the goalkeeper for this Peruvian team, but he is not particularly experienced with only 6 internationals for his country as of today. Diego Penny is the alternative for the man from Juan Aurich, does not have too much more experience either though.

The defense was kept pretty young by Argentinian coach Ricardo Gareca. Right back Luis Advíncula plays for Vitória Setúbal, leads the European group that also includes Yoshimar Yotún, Carlos Zambrano  and Alexander Callens. Expect the centre back pairing to be Zambrano and Christian Ramos with Yotún on the left flank.

Juan Manuel Vargas is another face of this team, who in addition has a lot of European experience under his belt after playing for the likes of Fiorentina and Genoa. He will play as a winger for this team, having great crossing and set piece abilities, which should always come in handy at a tournament like the Copa América. You most likely will not be familiar with most of the other midfielders in the Peruvian squad, as most of them play in the small countries league. 20-year old Cristian Benavente meanwhile is a part of Real Madrid’s Castilla team, he might get some playing time at the Copa.

Up front, Peru is powered by previous and current Bundesliga stars as previously mentioned. Paulo Guerrero, Claudio Pizarro and right winger Jefferson Farfan stand out, but the latter two had to deal with long injuries this season and it seems unlikely that they will be at the top of their game by June. This situation might well lead to André Carrillo getting some games, which he might anyway as left winger.

Bottom line: It is highly unlikely that Peru goes far, but do not count them out of the quarter finals just yet. They have quality, but need everyone to perform at their highest level to have a chance.


Peru’s squad in full:

Goalkeepers: Diego Penny (Sporting Cristal), Pedro Gallese (Juan Aurich), Salomón Libman (Universidad César Vallejo).

Defenders: Luis Advíncula (Vitória Setúbal), Christian Ramos (Juan Aurich), Yoshimar Yotún (Malmö), Carlos Zambrano (Eintracht Frankfurt), Alexander Callens (Real Sociedad B), Jair Céspedes (Juan Aurich), Hansell Riojas, Pedro Paulo Requena (both Universidad César Vallejo), Gustavo Dulanto (Universitario).

Midfielders: Juan Manuel Vargas (Fiorentina), Rinaldo Cruzado (Universidad César Vallejo), Josepmir Ballón, Carlos Lobatón (both Sporting Cristal), Paolo Hurtado (Paços de Ferreira), Edwin Retamoso (Real Garcilaso), Cristian Benavente (Real Madrid Castilla), Christian Cueva (Alianza Lima), Carlos Ascues (Melgar), Paulo Albarracín (Alianza Lima), Joel Sánchez (Universidad San Martín).

Strikers: Claudio Pizarro (Bayern Munich), Jefferson Farfán (Schalke 04), Paulo Guerrero (Corinthians), André Carrillo (Sporting Lisbon), Daniel Chávez (Universidad César Vallejo), Irven Ávila (Sporting Cristal), Yordy Reina (RB Leipzig).

Cavani as decisive factor – Uruguay squad

Uruguay has released their preliminary 27 man roster for the upcoming Copa América. PSG star striker Edinson Cavani will carry a lot of the offensive weight, he is the only player who has scored more than 10 goals for Uruguay in this squad (25). The suspension of Luis Suárez and the retirement of Diego Forlán puts the full spotlight on him. Nevertheless the squad as a whole is very experienced, many players played at least one World Cup, some even two.

Fernando Muslera is the face in goal that you will remember from the world stage in 2010 and 2014. In addition he played when Uruguay won the Copa América in 2011. Nowadays he is under contract at Galatasaray in Turkey. His competition Martín Silva and Rodrigo Muñoz will most likely not have a chance for the starting job, as they are both older and a lot less experienced.

The defense is their best part of the team. Captain Diego Godín (photo below) will form an excellent pairing in the middle with club colleague Giménez. Both Pereiras could fill the fullback positions. There are less experienced alternatives in the squad, one will have to see how coach Oscár Tabárez views the situation.


The most experienced midfielder played 83 games for Uruguay: Christian Rodríguez. He is on loan from Atlético Madrid to Brazil’s Grêmio right now. Arévalo Ríos, Gargano and Álvaro González complete the “Over 50 caps” club in Uruguay’s midfield. The – for me – most exciting player to watch is Nicolás Lodeiro, who has fit in nicely at Boca Juniors and is getting his nice share of games there. He’s talented and creative and will have to do well for his country to be a constant threat offensively. While we are in Buenos Aires, look out for Sánchez, who is 30 already with only 3 international games, but is having a great season for River Plate.

Up front, the main factor for the team could well be the form in that Edinson Cavani arrives at the Copa. If he can perform up to his standard that is often seen in France, Uruguay will be able to replace the missing Suárez. Depth wise, Rolán is their best bet up front, might play as second striker or be the first option from the bench. He as well plays in France for Bordeaux.

One can point out that only one player of the whole team plays in Uruguay’s Primera Division. Here is the squad in full:

Goalkeepers: Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martín Silva (Vasco da Gama), Rodrigo Muñoz (Libertad).

Defenders: Maxi Pereira (Benfica), Diego Godín (Atlético Madrid), Álvara Pereira (Estudiantes), Jorge Fucile (Nacional), José María Giménez (Atlético Madrid), Sebastián Coates (Sunderland), Matías Aguirregaray (Estudiantes), Mathías Corujo (Universidad de Chile), Emiliano Velázquez (Getafe), Gastón Silva (Torino).

Midfielders: Christian Rodríguez (Grêmio), Egidio Arévalo Ríos (Tigres), Walter Gargano (Napoli), Álvaro González (Torino), Nicolás Lodeiro (Boca), Camilo Mayada (River Plate), Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro), Carlos Sánchez (River Plate), Guzmán Pereira (Universidad de Chile).

Strikers: Edinson Cavani (PSG), Christian Stuani (Espanyol), Abel Hernández (Hull City), Diego Rolán (Bordeaux), Jonathan Rodríguez (Benfica).

Friday, May 8, 2015

Weeks of the Superclásico – River beat Boca 1-0

We are most definitely seeing the weeks of the Superclásico: Last weekend saw the first of three matches in under two weeks between Boca and River, which ended in a late 2-0 league victory for Boca Juniors. Now, the round of 16 had the second treat for football fans across the globe. And again the home team came away with a win. This time it was River Plate who won the game 1-0 in their Monumental stadium, through a penalty goal from Carlos Sanchez in the 82nd minute. Gonzalo Martínez had been brought down in the penalty area by Lucas Marín. You can see the deciding goal below.

The game itself was dominated by River Plate, who throughout the game were the better team and ended up leading 14-6 in shots as well. Teófilo Gutierrez led the way with 7 alone. Speaking of Gutierrez, he did not last until the end, due to a red card a minute from fulltime after recklessly hitting opposing defender Guillermo Burdisso. He will miss the return leg next Thursday. The game itself was quite heated, there should have been two more red cards. Goalscorer Sanchez himself with an unbelievable elbow to the head of Fernando Gago, that went undetected by the referee. In addition, the referee and his assistants also missed Pablo Pérez spitting on Gonzalo Martínez. Scenes we do not need despite all rivalries. 

sanchez maidana calleri
Boca’s Calleri (right) tries to get past Sanchez (left) and Maidana.

River coach Marcelo Gallardo was pleased with the way his team performed. "We had to be decisive, aggressive and intense. And we were all that tonight. The victory was fair, "he said. "Maybe we could have scored another goal. I'm satisfied, we needed to win and not concede a goal against.” He added that River will need another strong showing in the second leg away from home: "We'll have to prepare intelligently. We think we can capitalize from our advantage." Gallardo named his midfielders Ponzio and Kranevitter the keys to the victory.

Boca coach Vasco Arruabarrena agreed that the game was in general a better one than the previous meeting in the league: "I think it was a little more about football than in the Bombonera. They were higher in the first half and pressuring well in the center of the pitch, pushed, pushed, had to be very attentive. In the second half we saw that we could play, we had a bit more of the ball, a little more precision and some dangerous situations but our error caused the penalty and the goal.” Meanwhile he stayed optimistic and noted that he expects his team to turn the “minimum handicap” around at home.

As you would expect, the stands were filled with atmosphere all game long, particularly impressive the entry of the home team.

Like I previously mentioned, the second leg will take place on next Thursday (Friday, 2am CET). Who do you think will come away with the victory on aggregate and move on to play the winner of São Paulo FC vs Cruzeiro EC?

Late equalizer stops Wanderers – Racing in good position

Gran Parque Central, the only Uruguayan survivor in the Copa Libertadores takes the stage. The Montevideo Wanderers host Racing Club, who’s attack with Diego Milito and Gustavo Bou is one of the better duos of the whole competition. And as you would expect, they were both in the starting 11 for tonight’s clash, making the Argentinians favorites over two legs. And maybe tonight?

I do not think that one should have expected an offensive firework tonight. The start of the game went accordingly and pretty slow with both teams getting used to each other including a lot of close duels in midfield. Especially Racing’s penalty area could have been used to plant some fresh flowers, while the Argentinians themselves tried their luck with a couple of shots from distance.

It took just under 20 minutes until there was the first real bit of danger in the home team’s penalty area, but noone could capitalize from a header or the follow up chance from a corner. Wanderers countered with a dangerous cross themselves which was fisted away by Diego Saja, Alex Silva put the rebound wide. The game opened up a bit finally with – more or less quality - chances on both chances, twice through Bou. The final precision in the passing game of both teams was lacking, but despite all of that the biggest chance of the game so far fell to the Uruguayans, Bellini turned around quickly and tested the goalkeeper with a low shot, Saja was up to the challenge. Marcos Acuña on the other side had the biggest chance for Racing. The game picked up its pace nicely towards the end, sad thing there has to be a halftime now.

Made it, second half time. 55th minute and it happened! Matías Santos with a low shot into the bottom left corner gave Montevideo Wanderers the lead, after he received a nice assist in the middle of the area from Nicolás Albarracín. What now, Racing? An away goal would obviously help their cause tremendously, but it will not come easy against the Wanderers, who continued to do a solid job defensively and not giving up many chances. There was nothing to see from (former) super striker Diego Milito. 11 minutes after the goal, Racing should have been one player less. Leandro Grimi jumped into the Uruguayan goalkeeper with his leg stretched, and fully caught him in the chest area. He got away with yellow, not enough in my opinion.

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Midfield battle between Nicolás Albarracín (#10) and Leandro Grimi.

Watching Montevideo Wanderers play in the Copa Libertadores makes you wonder how on earth this same team is third last in their domestic league. They kept their in large parts excellent defense going and frustration was creeping into the Argentinian players. Only 10 minutes remained and still no sign of any away goal whatsoever. Then, out of nowhere, a cross from Bou finds the head of Brian Fernandez and suddenly we are tied in the 87th minute. It was the only real weakness that Wanderers showed in the second half, and leaving Fernandez unmarked in the middle made them pay big time. The match ended in a 1-1 draw and the advantage for the second leg shifted late right into Racing’s hands, who would already advance with a 0-0 draw.


Notes around the Copa: From roaring tigers and surprising outsiders

UANL Tigres are the first team in the quarter finals of the Copa Libertadores. After a 2-1 away win in the first leg, a 1-1 draw at home against Universitario Sucre was enough to advance to the next round. They will face the winner of Emelec vs Atlético Nacional.

Guaraní shocked Corinthians. One of the tournament favorites from Brazil lost 2-0 in Paraguay and will have a tall mountain to climb in the second leg, which at least will be at home.

Elsewhere, Estudiantes beat Santa Fe 2-1. The all Brazilian duels ended in a 2-2 between Atlético Mineiro and Internacional, as well as in a 1-0 home win for São Paulo over Cruzeiro.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Led by Neymar - Brazilian Copa América squad

Nearly a month before the official deadline by the South American football federation CONMEBOL, Brazil have released their 23 men squad for the upcoming Copa América. It includes the names that were expected for the most part. Captain Neymar from Barcelona leads the way for a relatively old, but still unexperienced squad, who’s average age is 26.5. Santos striker Robinho has the most caps with 96, and will possibly reach the 100 mark in a quarter final game. You will probably still remember his first steps in Europe like I do, but he is already 31 years old as well.

The defensive cornerstone of the team remains Thiago Silva. The PSG centre back got stripped of the captaincy after the World Cup by coach Dunga, but is the best player Brazil has got on the back end. There is a lot of choice for the position next to him with both his PSG colleagues David Luiz and Marquinhos, but if I were to predict today, Miranda gets to start next to him. There is enough quality on the fullback positions in Danilo and Fabinho (right), as well as Marcelo and Luís (left).

A problem zone is the midfield. It used to be one of their biggest strengths, but if you take a look at it now, there is not much to amaze you. Luiz Gustavo, the best defensive midfielder on the team, strictly destroys the opposition game. The biggest promise might be Philippe Coutinho. Liverpool’s offensive midfielder has great vision and just as much technical abilities. If Brazil goes far, he will be a key factor. Some of the other players had up and down seasons, and I will leave it up to you to judge whether the UAE league challenges a player like Everton Ribeiro in his prime as a footballer (26).

The guy who always makes up for a lot of his teammates weaknesses by simply scoring a lot of goals is, you knew it, Neymar. 43 goals in 62 games is an incredibly impressive record for the young striker. He is used to carrying all the pressure by himself, as he experienced the maximum of it at home in 2014. It will be a relief that this Copa América is being played away from home in Chile. His support crew up front lies in the aforementioned Robinho, Diego Tardelli, who ears his money in China these days, and Roberto Firmino. Firmino had a very good season in Germany and, while being chased by European heavy weights, might surprise a few people by featuring in Brazil’s starting XI. Because he is a player one can compare to Coutinho, the question will be whether Dunga wants them both on the pitch at the same time.


Two of the Brazilian Copa América key factors: Neymar (l.) and Philippe Coutinho (r.).

Of course a lot can still happen in the last month of football around the world, so if there will be any injuries, the face of the team might still change a little (what we obviously do not hope for).

Here is the full squad:

Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo), Diego Alves (Valencia), Marcelo Grohe (Grêmio).

Defenders: Thiago Silva, David Luiz (both PSG), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Miranda (Atlético Madrid), Danilo (Porto), Filipe Luís (Chelsea), Marquinhos (PSG), Fabinho (Monaco).

Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Willian (Chelsea), Elias (Corinthians), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Casemiro (Porto), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Douglas Costa (Shakhtar Donetsk), Everton Ribeiro (Al-Ahli).

Strikers: Robinho (Santos), Neymar (Barcelona), Diego Tardelli (Shandong Luneng), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim).

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Failed but recovered – Nacional qualify for Copa 2016

Yesterday evening in the Uruguayan league saw the first big decision of the season with impact on next year’s Copa Libertadores. Montevideo’s Club Nacional have won the annual table and therefore qualified for next year’s intercontinental competition. The iconic side will also compete for the Uruguayan championship.

After a slow start to the season, that saw them around the bottom of the league and failing to qualify for the group stage of the Copa Libertadores, they picked up the pace dramatically and celebrated their fourth win in a row last night. Iván Alonso scored the decisive 1-0 goal via penalty in the 24th minute. In general, Nacional did not play the greatest game against Fénix, but did just enough to come away with the victory. And after all, that’s what matters most, right?


Ivan Alonso (left) celebrates with teammates after scoring from a penalty yesterday.

Next week has the biggest challenge of the season scheduled for Nacional. They will face archrivals Peñarol in the national stadium Centenario. If you have not done so yet, you should definitely make some time for that in your schedule, since it shapes up to be not only one of the biggest derbies in the world, but also a very important game in the title race in the Primera Division.