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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nacional in position to win Uruguayan Apertura title

Surely there are more serious topics than a league title in the football world at the moment. Despite Chapecoense's tragic disaster and last weekend's scandal at the Clásico, Uruguay will go ahead with its penultimate Apertura matchday. Under certain conditions, Nacional could win the title already.

The scene at Nacional's training complex (Photo:
Peñarol - Nacional ended up in a massive scandal, but not necessarily a bad one for the Tricolor. The football association AUF awarded them the three points for the Clásico. This puts Martín Lasarte's team into a position to win the title during the upcoming weekend. A home win over Juventud is the first thing required. In addition, Nacional need Danubio to drop points away to Fénix. 

A look at the numbers

For Nacional, chances are not looking too bad. They have only played five home games so far this season, winning each of them. Visiting Juventud on the other hand are not scaring anybody away from home this year. Only one win in six tries speaks a clear language. This is being underlined by a league-low three away goals. 

Ultimately, it will likely be about how well Danubio fares in their own match. While having a positive (3-1-2) away record, their opponents were not the strongest. Through their last three games, Leonardo Ramos' squad also managed to score just two total goals. Fénix' home form has been a single up and down throughout the season as well. They are 1-1-1 in their last three. 

Champion, yes or no?

It is still a South American football league. Predicting outcomes of games is incredibly hard. A Nacional win over Juventud seems highly likely, given the opportunity to win a title as well. Another bright side for Diego Polenta and teammates is their two-week long break from their last game. It gave every player an extended rest and Lasarte some time to work on tactical issues. 

The other game is the tougher one. Considering Danubio's struggles to find the back of the net, I see them not getting more than a draw away from home. Nacional will win the title in week 14 already.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Silveira show as Nacional stay top

Week 10 in Uruguay's Primera División held no big surprises. Most of the favourites filled their role nicely and were victorious. Among them: Nacional, Danubio and Peñarol.

Ligüera shows his class again in Nacional's win over River (Photo:
Hugo Silveira was the key figure for Nacional this weekend. In a 3-1 win over River Plate on Sunday evening, the striker assisted on all three goals. The Tricolor was up 2-0 early through goals from Kevin Ramírez (13') and Sebastián Fernández (24'). Inside a packed Gran Parque Central, the home team profited from an early red card for the visitors. Fernando Gorriarán went showering early after a stunningly poor tackle on Viudez after just ten minutes. 

Domination continued in the second half and Martín Ligüera made his presence felt instantly after coming on. While his first magnificent attempt went stopped after he left the whole defense stranded behind him, the second try worked out for him. Following a strong run and precise cross from Silveira, Ligüera was there to head it home for a three-goal lead. 

Despite Mathías Saavedra getting a goal back via penalty three minutes later (74'), the win was never under much threat. A good save from Esteban Conde later, the match was a success. Nacional stay on top of the Apertura table after their eigth win in ten games. 

Danubio following closely

Equally successful is just one team: Danubio. The bottom feeders from last year have recovered tremendously and added another win this weekend. Against Boston River, they managed to showcase their comeback qualities, winning 1-2 after coming from behind. Pablo Ceppelini gave the promoted team a first half lead (29') with a shot from the edge of the area. 

While Danubio had already been the better team throughout the first half, collecting the lionshare of opportunities. They finally made it count after a good hour. Damián Malrechauffe's effort was saved by Boston's goalkeeper, but was it in front of or behind the line? The replay angle was not highly conclusive.
A goal or not? 
Six minutes from the end, Joaquín Ardaiz decided the game with yet another weird goal. The player was already on the ground, but somehow managed to get a leg to the ball near him. The push was enough to take it past goalkeeper and line. Conclusively, you might want to add, this time around.

Peñarol discover goalscoring form

Peñarol have celebrated their second win in a row and third of the season. Yellow and black managed to beat Sud América 4-1 away from home. Things were looking grim early on for Peñarol yet again, when they fell down 1-0 through a Gonzalo Camargo strike after 17 minutes. This time around, Fernando Curutchet's men found a way back at an important time. Right before the break, Junior Arias of all people equalised for the visitors. 

After struggling to find the net for the opening 7 weeks, the striker has now scored three goals in as many games. It was the start of a strong second half that saw Peñarol score another three. Nicolás Albarracin (65'), Diego Rossi (75') and Nicolás Dibble (86') all got on the scoresheet later on. Not only does this win give their team the well-needed points. Additionally, a comeback win allows them to grow their confidence that is at a low seeing their 12-point gap to archrivals Nacional on top.

Elsewhere around the league

Montevideo Wanderers held onto third place in the table despite a 0-0 draw against Plaza Colonia. Liverpool, that could have jumped past them, lost their own game to Fénix, 1-0. Matias Mirabaje scored his second goal of the season for the home team.

Defensor Sporting needed a last minute winner from Facundo Castro to beat Rampla Juniors away. Racing convinced early on, bagging three quick goals away to Cerro. The home team nearly came back through two penalties from Maureen Franco and Pablo Caballero. It remained 2-3 at the end. 

Villa Española stay bottom of the league after a 1-1 draw with Juventud. Pablo Silva equalised for Villa in the second half after Leandro Zapze had given the home team the lead early on. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Man shot in Uruguay leads to match suspension

The Uruguayan league match between Rampla Juniors and Peñarol was suspended at halftime last night. Reason for the stoppage in the Estadio Centenario was the shooting of a man near the bathrooms of one of the stadium exits.

Blood ahead of one the Centenario bathrooms (Photo:
Throughout the first half, people could concentrate on a game that was not a particularly good one for Peñarol once again. Down 1-0 to freshly promoted Rampla Juniors, they had to come up with some ideas to turn things around. As it turned out, football sadly took a backseat to other incidents. 

A man nearby bathroom door 10 of the Amsterdam grandstand took two bullets to arm and leg and was taken to the hospital right away. According to Sport 890, he is in stable condition. Furthermore, another person had to be attended to after being present in the same bathroom after the crime. According to several reports, the confrontation took place due to drug issues.

Questionable meanwhile the security around Estadio Centenario: Instead of conducting body searches, only metal detectors were in place for the match on Sunday night. Rightly, the police decided they could not guarantee safety of the spectators anymore and called off the game immediately.

It is uncertain when (and if) the second 45 minutes between the two sides are going to be played. One thing that is clear is the stadium will need to step up security wise.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Cavani goal ends Venezuela's hopes early in the second half

Uruguay have stayed on top of the South American World Cup qualification group. The two-time World Champions beat Venezuela 3-0 at home last night. 

Matchwinner Edinson Cavani (Photo:
The Estadio Centenario crowd did not believe their eyes early on when they saw the visiting Venezuela have the better of the match during the opening stages. Throughout eight matches in the CONMEBOL qualification group, Rafael Dudamel's team just managed to win two points, therefore still waiting for their first victory. On the other end, there was Uruguay, unbeaten at home while not conceding a single goal yet. 

Venezuela was particularly strong over the left side, with 19-year old Udinese winger Adalberto Peñaranda and Mikel Villanueva. More often than not, in left right-back Mathias Corujo in trouble and the visitors with good chances. The best of them saw Peñaranda through on an empty net following Fernando Muslera's strange trip outside of the area. Peñaranda put it wide. After another shot from the agile Salomón Rondón went wide as well, Uruguay started to gain a little more control. 

After losing many easy balls through bad passes, it were Sebastián Coates and Diego Godín in particular that managed to step up at the back and lead their team by example. What it led to pretty quickly was the opening goal for Uruguay. Carlos Sánchez switched sides magnificently and found Luis Suárez on the left wing. The Barcelona striker pulled back a fantastic cross into the centre of the penalty area and found the head of Nicólas Lodeiro who left Dani Hernández no chance (29'). Uruguay had a surprising lead and went to halftime with it. 

The start of the second half could not have gone worse for Venezuela. After the likely motivational speech and encouraging words from coach Dudamel, it took few seconds for the game to be over. Sánchez' high ball led to a battle in the air between the so far quiet Edinson Cavani and Wilker Angel. None of them could win it, but Cavani was first to second ball and banged it home with a great finish to the bottom far side corner. This second goal was Venezuela's breaking point, as they could not recover from it throughout the second half. 

From bad to worse, they even fell down to ten men after Oswaldo Vizcarrondo was sent off for a second yellow card just past the hour mark. The numerical advantage led to even more Uruguayan domination and Óscar Tabárez' men should have added to their goal total through substitute Matías Vecino or Sánchez. 

When they did after 79 minutes, it was the best goal of the night for the home team, beautifully crafted by several players. A long pass with the outside of the foot found the decent Sánchez on the right wing again. He crossed it low into the middle, where Suárez backheeled it on towards Cavani. El Matador did not have to be asked twice for goal number two and the victory. 

Here are the highlights:


Venezuela had the chances to take something from this game early on, but did not take it. When Uruguay started gaining confidence, it was over for the visitors who rightly stay at just two points. They have to improve their efficiency to be able to get anywhere in the future, despite their without a doubt talented young team. 

The Celeste deserved their victory after a great second half and still have not conceded a single goal at the Centenario: 3-0 vs Colombia, 3-0 vs Chile, 1-0 vs Peru, 4-0 vs Paraguay and now the next clean sheet.

Uruguay remain first in the group, now with a massive seven point gap to sixth-place Paraguay. This relieves some pressure before the important visit to Colombia on Tuesday. Venezuela host Brazil later the same night. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Changes to Copa Libertadores format from 2017

South American football confederation CONMEBOL has confirmed a number of changes to the format of its flagship Copa Libertadores. From 2017 onwards, there will be group stage spots reserved for the holders of the two international competitions and four nations receive additional spots.

The Copa Libertadores trophy (Photo:
Six new teams will find their way into the Copa Libertadores from next season. The total number of competitors rises from 38 to 44. This leads mostly to a larger qualification field, considering the group stage retains its 32 teams. The tournament will last from February until November. 

The leagues profiting the most from the changes are Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Chile. Due to the country size, Brazil was awarded two additional spots to their already dominating five. This means that three of them will take part in the qualification process that sees 16 teams fight for four leftover positions. Argentina, Colombia and Chile all receive one additional qualification spot. 

In the future, both the Copa Libertadores and Sudamericana champion will qualify for the competition's group stage automatically. Atlético Nacional are already affected by the changes and do not need to qualify via their usual league route. 

Three of the four countries receiving additional spots will be required to determine who gets to play in the Libertadores next year. Brazil simply gave the spots to the fifth- and sixth-best league team. At the moment, those are Fluminense and Atlético Paranaense. Whether they actually improve the competition dramatically remains up in the air. Brazilians have not done too well internationally recently. The last champion was Atlético Mineiro in 2013.

Another new feature is that Mexican clubs no longer have invitation status. This means that finals can be played in Mexico, whereas this was only possible in the first leg in previous years. In general, there will very likely just be a single leg on neutral ground to determine the winner in upcoming years. It is a change that is critically viewed among fans in South America. While CONMEBOL insist that the second leg home team won in 70% of the cases, it does make sense considering they are usually seeded higher after the group stages. Supporters from poorer countries certainly cannot make a trip to another country to see their team play in a final there. A lot of the traditional atmosphere would be lost.

Update: Fox Sports Argentina have reported during this afternoon that the two-legged final would remain a part of the competition. Great news if indeed true.

So far, 17 of 44 teams have already booked their place in the tournament starting next February. These are the following: 

Atlético Nacional - holders
Lanús - Champions of Argentina
San Lorenzo - 2nd Argentina
Estudiantes - 3rd Argentina
Godoy Cruz - 4th Argentina
Sport Boys - Apertura champions Bolivia
Jorge Wilstermann - Clausura champions Bolivia
The Strongest - Most points Bolivia
Universidad Católica - Clausura champions Chile
Independiente Medellín - Apertura champions Colombia
Chivas Guadalajara - Supercopa MX winner Mexico
Peñarol - Champions of Uruguay
Nacional - Most points Uruguay
Cerro - Second most points Uruguay
Libertad - Apertura champions Paraguay
Zamora - Apertura champions Venezuela
Barcelona - Primera Etapa champions Ecuador

Friday, September 30, 2016

Unstoppable - Colombian clubs excel in Copa Sudamericana

If someone had told me a year ago that both international club trophies in South America were being held by Colombian teams and three of them were in the quarterfinal yet again, I likely would not have taken that person too seriously. Colombia's elite proved me wrong. After Santa Fe won the Copa Sudamericana and Atlético Nacional marched through the Libertadores early this year, there are once again three clubs in the 2016 Sudamericana. 

Atlético Junior will keep on shooting in the quarterfinal after beating Montevideo Wanderers (Photo:
The development in Colombia is eye-opening lately, with fantastic performances on club level and a strong national team that did well ever since qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. While it helps to have the likes of James Rodríguez playing for you, South American dominance comes even more surprisingly, considering the early exit of the most talented youngsters from their youth clubs.

Three of eight clubs in the Copa Sudamericana quarterfinal are Colombian: Atlético Nacional are there yet again, vying for the next silverware. Independiente Medellín, the champions of the Apertura could not be stopped so far either. Lastly, Atlético Junior completes the strong field. Giovanni Hernández' team was stopped just short of the league title, losing the final. Just one team in Deportes Tolima exited early after a first round loss to Deportivo La Guaira, title holders Santa Fe in the round of 16 in poor style.

Reasons for this success are found quickly. Excellent youth work, that brought along players such as the exciting Marlos Moreno, paired with finally gaining somewhat of a killer instinct, that was certainly also assisted by the success of the national team. While they were stopped short countless times throughout the years, despite counting as favourites more than once, Atlético Nacional dominated in the Libertadores from start to finish this time. 

Going back to the present, they will be facing Brazilian side Coritiba for a spot among the last four. They are playing a completely average Serie A season, ranking 13th and still very much in danger of relegation. Their road to the quarterfinals of the Sudamericana was also a rather lucky one. After beating their countrymen from Vitória via away goal rule, they needed penalties to get past Argentine side Belgrano. Atlético Nacional can feel confident about themselves (as they would anyway currently) following wins over Deportivo Municipal (6-0 on aggregate), Club Bolívar (2-1) and Sol de América (3-1). It is hard to see anyone other than Nacional coming out on top of this tie.

Independiente Medellín will have a home game first, facing the side that got the better of Santa Fe: Paraguay's Cerro Porteño. After losing the first leg 0-2, it all seemed over, even more so when it was only 3-1 after 89 minutes in the return leg. Midfielder Cecilio Domínguez thought otherwise and completed a last minute hattrick that brought Cerro into the round of the last eight. Independiente themselves were on the verge of elimination in the past round as well after falling down 3-0 to Santa Cruz due to a Grafite hattrick. Carlos Ibargüen saved the day on the away goal rule. It is hard to determine a favourite in this matchup, it could once again go all the way to penalties. 

All of Independiente's efforts were not enough for Chapecoense (Photo:
Atlético Junior could possibly count as the least strong side of the three. They are going to meet Chapecoense, who are in the middle of a typical midfield range season in Brazil. In the Sudamericana, they did a better job, recently knocking out Libertadores record champions Independiente from Argentina. Junior themselves have not lost a game in six so far and will have to make their home advantage count before a tough travel to Brazil. Whether it will be enough at the end remains to be seen. At least they can count on the support of their VIP fan Shakira.

The final quarterfinal tie sounds like a great one on paper, even if no Colombian club is included. San Lorenzo have finally been able to go deep in a South American competition again and are going to meet Chile's Palestino. The fact that San Lorenzo are still alive is relatively surprising after they lost their first game to Banfield 0-2, before storming back with a 4-1 trashing in the second leg. Palestino have raised some eyebrows by finishing off Brazil's title fighting Flamengo after a first leg loss as well. Yet again, two close games are to be expected with the outcome fully open. San Lorenzo's squad quality speak for the Argentinians, but you can never be certain of anything in South America.

Prediction: Atlético Nacional, Independiente Medellín, Chapecoense and San Lorenzo will make it to the semifinals.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Big guns show mediocrity in Uruguay

When it comes to being favourites in the Uruguayan Primera División, two names quickly arise to the top of all discussions - for a good reason. Peñarol and Nacional share the lionshare of fans throughout the small nation among the Río de la Plata. Their performances in recent weeks have most certainly not lived up to the traditionally high expectations. 

Four games into the new season and after a lot of promising summer signings for both teams, Nacional and Peñarol find themselves positioned in midfield of the table. The latter have collected only five points thus far, currently one point behind their archrivals. Issues are ever-present on both sides, but of completely different nature. 


Disappointment about the lack of goals (Photo: peñ
Possessing the shared-best defense in the league is a sign that would usually make you a title contender. But not so fast: Peñarol have one big problem, a surprising one you might find after summer signings of the goalgetters Gastón Rodríguez and Junior Arias. During the past Clausura, both players found themselves on top of the league's scoring sheet with 16 and 10 goals respectively for their previous teams Wanderers and Liverpool. Now they scored zero goals. Considering the fact they were supposed to be Peñarol's new striking force, it is quite obviously a key area that explains what is going wrong. 

Two goals in four games simply will not crack it in a league, where a goal can always be scored out of nowhere, for literally any team, as proven by Plaza Colonia last season. Did Gastón Rodríguez' numbers last season fool the fans in yellow and black? Let us be clear that last season was unusual for him and off the charts. 16 goals in 14 games were simply outstanding. In no other half year in his career did Rodríguez score more than six goals, mostly even less. Certainly, he is a great striker for Uruguayan league standards. 

However, Peñarol has to be aware that him alone will not win them the championship, without according support from midfield. Junior Arias on the other hand is still young, 23 years of age, while consistently having improved throughout the past years. It was the player's dream to play for the club after improving from 6 to 9 to 10 goals in the Primera. He received the chance and has not really impressed so far either.

On the bright side, the aforementioned defense has been strong so far. In front of talented goalkeeper Gastón Guruceaga, the back four has seen several changes through injury or performance. One thing that did not change were the three clean sheets to start the year. 


Focal point Martin Ligüera (Photo:
If anything is not a problem for Nacional, it is the offense. They at least managed one goal in each of their four games, mixing their goalscorers around nicely, with nearly every striker scoring already. Sebastián Fernández and Martín Ligüera twice, Kevin Ramírez and Tabaré Viudez once each. Particularly apart from the 3-2 win over Plaza Colonia, it has not been all that convincing either though. 

Martin Ligüera's technical magic alone was the reason for the most recent win, when he scored from a direct freekick on the edge of the area against Fénix. The only other chance that game came from another set piece, when Mauricio Victorino headed just wide in the first half. Way too often, Martín Lasarte's men were seen playing through the middle with high balls. It is not really explicable considering the absence of a true proven number nine, unless you want to call the new signing Hugo Silveira that. 

Defensively, captain Diego Polenta and Jorge Fucile did not exactly bring the necessary stability back with them from their absences. This recently even led to Diego Espino rotating out of the first eleven to make room for Colombian Sergio Otalvaro. Nacional's defensive problems have translated straight over to the new season and could not be fixed under Lasarte so far. One thing that might help the back four is a little more balance with the defensive midfielders. Santiago Romero and Gonzalo Porras have found themselves caught in possession too often during the first weeks. Making sure to always have one player support the backline could work wonders and leave goalkeeper Esteban Conde with a little more hair on his head.

The near future

It is likely that eventually Rodríguez and Arias will start to score goals for Peñarol. Especially Arias' development speaks for a bright future for the young striker after getting used to his new surroundings. If they do not get it done, there is still Miguel Murillo in coach Pablo Bengoechea's backhand. Their defense should remain decent as the season progresses. 

Nacional on the other hand needs to fix several issues, but especially defensively. Who is going to do that? I do not know. On paper, they are good enough to play solid at the very least. However, when it comes to the on-pitch product, there is severe room for improvement. The fact that they somewhat rely on Ligüera offensively by now is not good considering his age, but should keep going well in the near future still. 

The good news for both is clearly that top of the table Danubio only collected nine points so far too, followed by several clubs with eight points. By having one good weekend, both teams would be right back in the mix to play for the title in Uruguay. That is the beauty of South American football. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Analysis: Nacional - Plaza Colonia

Nacional were hosting Plaza Colonia in an attempt to recover from their 1-2 loss to Danubio a few days ago. They did so successfully by beating the Clausura champions 3-2 at Gran Parque Central.

The first half really did not catch anyone on their feet entertainment-wise, but Nacional played quite well tactically, without allowing much. They took the lead in a fashion typical for this game. Nacional's biggest strength, their speedy wingers, proved vital after 17 minutes when Leandro Barcia was brought down inside the area after a nice run down the left.

Barcia brought down for a penalty.
Veteran striker Sebastián Rodríguez had no big trouble converting into the bottom left corner. However, before the goal, the hosts did not have many clear cut opportunities, a header from Mauricio Victorino after a set piece probably the best. This was often due to a lack of precision on their way forward. 

What worked best remained their wing play, with Barcia, Tabaré Viudez and Kevin Ramírez. While the latter joined Fernández up front to form a striking duo at times, he also joined the rotation with the other two. This saw Ramírez return to his common position from last season, the left wing, with Barcia on the right and Viudez down the middle. It was a smart change by Martín Lasarte's men, considering the lack of balls the actual strikers got up front. 

When he came into the play, Fernández was always dangerous, having another great opportunity to score denied by goalkeeper Dawson (28'). The rotation was ripped apart shortly after though, with Barcia having to leave the game injured. The less flexible oldie Martín Ligüera came on to replace him as true #10. 

On the other side of the ball, they were really well-organized too for the most part and showed some active defense against Plaza's rare attacks. One reason of them being so rare was the early distruction of any sort of attack by gaining a numerical advantage near the ball at all times. 

Three man take the ball away from Plaza's midfielder.
The fact that Nacional did not go to the half-time with the lead was simply down to a lot of bad luck. Plaza Colonia won a freekick about 25m out and the shot would have been an easy save for Esteban Conde. Gonzalo Porras as outside part of the wall deflected the ball and gave it its significant change of direction. It bounced against the inside of the post and in and Villoldo had equalised right before the break.

The second half started very evenly with not too many chances on both ends. Kevin Ramírez was denied by an exceptional reaction from Dawson. Just as Plaza Colonia was improving and applying a solid forecheck, they were punished twice inside one minute and basically sent home. 

Ligüera was sent through on the right side of the area and crossed beautifully for Ramírez. He for some reason could not put the ball across the line, so Fernández helped him out for his second of the night. The second goal seconds later was not much different. Viudez' cross from the right was buried by Ligüera himself this time. It was an emotional moment for the Nacional returnee. 

For obvious reasons, Nacional received a ton more room now and Ligüera could pick his favourite passes out of his magic hat. At least until the visitors struck out of nowhere again. From a throw-in on the right, noone could get the ball away and instead of hitting it for the sidelines, Gonzalo Porras for some reason decided it was a good idea to fire it into the center of his own area, where it was deflected to and Leyes stood where he had to to convert. 

Three against one, but Plaza will score in the middle.
Plaza's goal quickly destroyed any Nacional confidence and they turned hectic and simply bad at the back with inexplicable errors and nearly an own goal from Santiago Romero. The fact that their opponents barely gave them any serious tasks and yet the defense shook considerably is a reason to worry for Nacional going forward. They have some work to do on this end and Lasarte knows it. 

The 3-2 lead on the night was brought across the line and gives them their first three points at least. It leaves the Gran Parque Central crowd happy and that is what matters in the end.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

South America's Top Clubs - September 2016

Total dominance during the past month in Germancopa's South American club ranking: Atlético Nacional have taken over top position in spectacular fashion. The Colombian Copa Libertadores winners continued to perform where they left off in the Copa Sudamericana as well, marching through the first round. In the process, they collected a massive 51 points.

Champions of South America and of this club ranking: Atlético Nacional (Photo:
This leaves Atlético Nacional with a huge 14 point gap to second place Estudiantes de la Plata. After Ecuador's Barcelona in third, two further Colombian clubs round off the current top five. Independiente Medellín and Atlético Junior both had successful first rounds in the small continental competition as well and show why Colombia currently holds both trophies.

Olimpia, previously on top in August, fall all the way to 17th, but remain unbeaten in twelve straight games. The most unexpected club in the top 20 is probably Montevideo Wanderers. The Uruguayans also did well in the Sudamericana.

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

1 2 Atlético Nacional Colombia 51
2 9 Estudiantes Argentina 37
3 6 Barcelona SC Ecuador 37
4 16 Independiente Medellín Colombia 35
5 - Atlético Junior Colombia 34
6 7 Boca Juniors Argentina 34
7 14 Carabobo FC Venezuela 33
8 - Flamengo Brazil 32
9 - Independiente Argentina 32
10 5 Guaraní Paraguay 32
11 4 CA Lanús Argentina 32
12 11 Godoy Cruz Argentina 32
13 - Atlético Mineiro Brazil 32
14 19 River Plate Argentina 31
15 - CS Emelec Ecuador 31
16 - Montevideo Wanderers Uruguay 31
17 1 Olimpia Paraguay 31
18 - Deportivo La Guaira Venezuela 30
19 - Cerro Porteño Paraguay 30
20 - Palestino Chile 30

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Nacional visit Danubio to get season started

Finally, the new season in Uruguay's Primera División is about to begin today. Two games will be played at 20:30 CET, one of them Danubio - Nacional. Here is all you need to know ahead of the season start.

Nacional - Danubio in Uruguay today (Photo:
When Nacional travel to the Estadio Jardines del Hipódromo later today, they find themselves confronted with a tough challenge to begin with. From the past 6 games against Danubio, Uruguay's record champion could only win one while losing the other five. Their advantage this time around might be that no team really knows where it stands before things get started. 

The prolonged summer break due to safety concerns surrounding the big stadiums left the teams with a lot of friendlies to be played throughout the past weeks. When it gets serious today, Martín Lasarte's team will be without their captain. Diego Polenta was one of the players losing their cool during the meltdown at the end of last season. 

His replacement will likely be Rafael García. The Nacional youth product returned to the club this summer from his loan to Argentina's Defensa y Justicia. Possible returns to the field also include midfielder Diego Arismendi and winger Tabaré Viudez. Especially the latter could prove vital going forward with his speed and smart movement. 

Lasarte nominated the following players for the travel to play Danubio:

Esteban Conde, Luis Mejía.
Jorge Fucile, Mauricio Victorino, Rafael García, Alfonso Espino, Mathías Olivera, Agustín Lapido.
Diego Arismendi, Gonzalo Porras, Felipe Carballo, Sebastián Rodríguez, Santiago Romero, Martín Ligüera.
Leandro Barcia, Brian Lozano, Tabaré Viudez, Kevin Ramírez, Hugo Silveira, Sebastián Fernández.

This would make the following lineup look likely:
Conde - Fucile, Victorino, Garcia, Espino - Romero, Arismendi - Barcia, Lozano - Ramírez, Viudez.

 As you can tell, there are so many options, especially offensively, producing trouble to even fit everyone into a lineup. Good news for Lasarte, experienced Ligüera is a fantastic midfielder too.

Danubio on the other end will be without two players. Right midfielder Jorge Graví is suspended due to his accumulation of yellow cards. Offensive midfielder Marcelo Tabárez is dealing with a knee injury. They are two regulars on the team and will be missed by coach Leandro Ramos.

Centre-back Cristian González has left Danubio to join Sevilla's B team in Spain. He will leave a vacancy at the back as well.

Expert's Voice for Sporticos

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Argentina Season Preview - Part 1/2

Following CA Lanús' stunning title win during the shortened Primera División season in the early months of 2016, the new season is right around the corner in Argentina. On August 21, 30 teams will yet again begin their quest for the - probably - most important league title in South America. This preview takes a look at all the teams, their changes in the summer and what can be expected from each one of them. Enjoy and please share if you liked it!

Lanús celebrate their title in 2016 (Photo:
The brightest news first: the two division system is gone again. During the 2016-17 season, each team will play against everyone else at least once; twice against their Clásico rivals. It will be a new year that starts with a bang as Independiente will play hosts to champions Lanús in week one. 

New to the league are CA Talleres from Córdoba. The 102-year old club replaced the iconic Argentinos Juniors that were just too poor all year long to stay in the league. At the end of 16-17, four clubs will be hit by their relegation fate. As usual, the table of the last four seasons will be significant for the bottom clubs. The four spots are currently being held by Talleres, Atlético de Rafaela, Temperley and Sarmiento. 

In the regular yearly table, the four best teams will qualify for the Copa Libertadores in 2018. The following six will play Copa Sudamericana 2017. Traditionally, the big names are being expected to compete for the championship, whether it is River Plate, Boca Juniors or Racing Club. However, it is not justified for each one of them. Let us preview the teams.

Club Atlético Lanús

After shocking the big clubs with 12 wins out of 16 games during the 2016 season, CA Lanús return to the new year as first-time champions of Argentina. Most importantly, 34-year old striker José Sand remained at the club after scoring a ridiculous 14 goals the past season. The other main reason for success, coach Jorge Almirón, did the same and promises another year in the top regions of the table.
On the less bright side of things, Lanús did lose some quality on the transfer market. Paraguayan centre-back Gustavo Gómez joined AC Milan for €8.5 million, while Oscar Benítez went to Portugal to play for Benfica (€3.3 million). In addition, midfielders Pablo Mouche and Iván Marcone returned to Palmeiras and Arsenal de Sarandí respectively after their loan spells ended. 

Lanús themselves did not spend any money on the transfer market. They received back five players from loan spells, loaned striker Brian Montenegro (Nacional/PAR) as alternative for Sand in a busy calendar, right-wing Ciru Rius from Defensa y Justicia and managed to sign centre-back Santiago Zurbriggen. The 26-year old comes from Unión's youth system and was a key part of the first team in Santa Fe last season. Additionally, he is very flexible and can play on both sides defensively. 

Outlook: While losing three of their important regulars is definitely not good news for the club, they managed to keep some exciting prospects on the team as well. Paraguayan left-wing Miguel Almirón or striker Sergio González can be a part of another good season. It is doubtful that it will lead Lanús to the title again, but a top five spot is certainly not out of the question.

Club Atlético Aldosivi

The sharks have established themselves quite well in the Primera after reaching the highest tier of Argentine football in 2014. In the upcoming season, they will try to improve further and reach the secure midfield of the table yet again. Aldosivi's most exciting young player Santiago Rosales unfortunately left the club and joined Racing in a summer transfer. While the club received €2.35 million for the player, it leaves a big hole in the creative department on the left wing. In addition, 23-year old centre-back Guillermo Ortiz found Newell's Old Boys offer more attractive. Understandable, if such an iconic side inquires for you.

Central midfielder Martín Rivero joined his teammates on the way out after featuring in 15 matches last season. To replace him, Aldosivi acquired the services of 33-year old Uruguayan Roberto Brum. He joins the team on a free transfer from Gimnasia y Esgrima and wants to bring his experience to the table. The squad is filled up by a lot of U26 hopefuls from Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. One of them is Joel Acosta, a former U20 international of Argentina, from Boca's youth. He spent last season in Italy's Serie B, but could not make his mark. Instead, the player that can play anywhere on the pitch, will try to live up to his former standout status back home.

Outlook: Losing Rosales hurts Aldosivi a lot, but there will surely be weaker teams in the league. Led consistently by coach Fernando Quiroz since 2011, the offense has never really been a big problem at the club. New centre-back Alan Alegre is supposed to be part of the solution to fix the defensive issues.

Arsenal Fútbol Club

One of the few that stayed: Juan Sánchez Sotelo (Photo:
If you like a lot of changes in just one summer, Arsenal is your club. 16 players left the club, another 15 are new on Sergio Rondina's team. Logically, the new season is quite hard to predict and a lot depends on the coaching staff's ability to form a working unit quickly. Last year, they managed just that and finished fourth in Zone A.

Losing Fernando Luna is not great, but the club will be able to cope with that situation. Midfielder Federico Lértora featured in 15 games last season and is tough to replace. He joined league rivals Belgrano. In addition, offensive midfielder Mariano Barbieri left as well, interestingly with the same destination. They leave a hole down the middle in the squad that Arsenal is trying to fill with returnee Iván Marcone from Lanús and Maximiliano Calzada (Defensa).

Outlook: Despite a lot of action on the transfer market, Arsenal look somewhat ready to have a safe season in the middle of the pack. They managed to make the loan spell of left-back Claudio Corvalán permanent and loaned talented right midfielder Ramiro Carrera to Gimnasia. Why, you have to wonder, considering the exit of Luna, even if he was the more defensive option. If they find their structure quickly, they will be fine.

Atlético de Rafaela

Like I mentioned before, Atlético de Rafaela is deep in relegation trouble. They need a lot of points to avoid the drop and they need them better early than late. Coach Juan Manuel Llop knows that, but has only managed to win one game during his short 9 match span at the club. According to transfermarkt, the club is the least valuable in the league when it comes to player market value. At least Nelson Benítez, the only player that started more than 11 games for the club last season (15) stayed.

On the exit side instead: their only marquee talent, goalkeeper Axel Werner. He was part of Argentina's squad at the Rio Olympics and sold to Atlético Madrid. They loaned him back to Boca Juniors, so Rafaela will have the pleasure of going up against him during the season. Combined with striker Ignacio Pussetto (to Huracán) and right-back Leonardo Godoy (Talleres), it handed Atlético de Rafaela some well-needed money in the range of €2.5 million.

Lucas Hoyos is supposed to be the new number one behind an extremely shaky backline that was the worst in the whole league last season. It is the reason why most transfers have been made defensively. Five new players are supposed to make the difference and four of them will fight for starting spots as centre-back.

Outlook: It is really difficult to see this team anywhere but down. The fact that they need to leave four other teams behind them in the four-year table is unlikely considering their low starting position. If they are able to do it, it will have to be based on a better defense.

Club Atlético Tucumán

A great past season from the freshly promoted team makes a lot of hope for this season. CA Tucumán finished third in Zone B, way ahead of teams such as Racing or Boca. Going into 2016-17, they have done really well to keep their team together for another year. Solely losing right-back regular Nicolás Romat to Huracán is a loss.

Three players joined the club this summer. Mauricio Rosales did not play anymore at Estudiantes and will attempt to fill the hole Romat leaves on the right. In addition, 23-year old left midfielder Javier Mendoza and Independiente goalkeeper Facundo Daffonchio came in as well.

Outlook: Striker and captain Luis Rodríguez is 17 goals away from the all-time goalscoring lead and the 31-year old will be built upon to score this season as well. Tucumán have everything in line to play another successful season and there is nothing speaking against it. Surely, they will not surprise other teams anymore, but coach Juan Manuel Azconzábal has his team well-organised and ready to go again.

Club Atlético Banfield

Seemingly on the way up, Banfield had a very disappointing season in early 2016. They managed to win only two games throughout the 16. Seeing that they drew nine, it is not that hard to find their biggest problem: scoring goals. Under one per game was simply not good enough, but the problem was only adressed mediocrely in the summer.

Central striker Mauricio Asenjo returned from his loan spell in the Primera B. He did not convince significantly there. On the right wing, the experienced Mauricio Sperdutti was acquired from CA Colón. The former Argentine international (3 caps) was a key part of his team's offense and scored 4 goals, while assisting on another 3. Banfield hope that he can do similar things at the low-scoring team from the Buenos Aires area.

In central midfield, loaning River's Nicolás Bertolo to replace Iván Rossi who went the other way, is a great move by Banfield. Giovanni Simeone's loan spell from River ended as well and the 20-year old, despite not having the strongest season, scored a third (5) of all Banfield goals.

Outlook: Banfield will need to improve on the offensive side and more goals from veteran striker Santiago Silva and his new teammates like Sperdutti. Without Simeone, that seems like a bit of a longshot. I expect them to stay in the same area of the table in general, but maybe win some games more of those that they finished in a draw.

Club Atlético Belgrano

Matías Suárez, the club's own youth product (Photo:
Another team that never really got going last year was Belgrano. Scoring 21 goals was okay, but conceding 24 left them on the losing side more often than needed. In the upcoming months, Belgrano will have an additional competition on top, after qualifying for the Copa Sudamericana. How will they be able to cope with more games?

Significant players leaving the club this summer were centre-back Pier Barrios (to Ferro Carril) and 35-year old veteran striker presence Mauro Óbolo. On the sportive side of things, you cannot call it a loss, considering his zero-goal year. He returns to Universidad Católica. Belgrano themselves went up and down the talent pool to find new players. Federico Lértora and Mariano Barbieri (both Arsenal) should help, at minimum depth-wise. The most surprising deal of the summer was probably Matías Suárez back home from Belgian top club RSC Anderlecht. Back in 2008, the now 28-year old left the youth system of Belgrano and ended up playing 138 games in the Belgian league. In those, he managed 38 goals and 41 assists.

Outlook: Suárez is a fantastic signing on a free deal for Belgrano. He is the type of player this offense needs in its supporting cast. The rest of the players have scored very evenly last season and need their one go-to-guy. This is why I expect Belgrano to improve next season. After winning just a quarter of their games last season, they will at least move that up to a third despite playing in more games than most of their opponents. 

Club Atlético Boca Juniors

Putting all their eggs into one basket last season, Boca fell on their nose dramatically in the Copa Libertadores semifinal against Independiente del Valle. After a weak start and due to fielding a reserve squad on most of the late matchdays in the league, Boca collected a losing record last year, going 5-5-6 and finishing tenth. 

Of course, everything is expected to go smoother again in the upcoming year at the double winner of 2015. However, firstly the club has to deal with the loss of many of their most important players. Former captain Cata Díaz might have been 37 years old by now, but his experience was invaluable, in particular to the young players. The same goes for goalkeeper Agustín Orión, who was rumoured to leave the club throughout the transfer window, but has not done so yet. MLS club Seattle Sounders bought creative midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro for nearly €5.5 million. Elsewhere, the strikers Sebastián Palacios and Andrés Chávez left the club as well. 

Boca reacted with the purchase of a new #9, Darío Benedetto from Mexico's América for €4.4 million. In 43 games in all competitions in 15-16, Benedetto scored 13 goals. There is room for improvement for the 26-year old that lost his form a little after his strong Apertura. Should Orión indeed still leave, young Axel Werner is his replacement. Santiago Vergini (Sunderland) and Lisandro Magallán (Defensa) throw their name into the hat to fill the vacant centre-back position for Díaz. 

Outlook: Further good transfers including Fernando Zuqui and Walter Bou mean that Boca are nicely prepared for the upcoming season. The creative vacuum of Lodeiro remains seemingly wide open though. A lot of pressure to make up for it will be on Carlos Tévez' shoulders as always. At least he said in an interview that he plans to end his career at Boca before becoming a golfer. 

Club Atlético Colón

The biggest name at Colón will sit on the bench next season. Legendary Uruguayan and Juventus defender Paolo Montero has taken over control and wants to lead the club to more success than 11th place last season. It could be a good appointment, because the defense has been horrible last year and conceded a whopping 31 goals. 

Losing their main man up front that scored 7 in 9, Alan Ruíz, was obvious. He still brought a lot of money into Colón's cash register, costing Sporting Lisbon €5.3 million. New Banfield man Sperdutti will be missed as well, leading to the fact that the club from Santa Fe basically needs a new offense, since left-wing Víctor Figueroa's loan from Newell's ended. New loan deals in return are supposed to make the difference, such as for Rosario Central's central striker Walter Acuña. 

At least talented young centre-back Germán Conti remained at Colón and will have a new partner from the likes of Guillermo Ortiz, Ismael Banegas or Emanuel Olivera. Coach Montero brought the latter along with him from Boca Unidos. Whether he is yet ready for Argentina's top league remains to be seen. 

Outlook: A lot of uncertainties heading into the new season for CA Colón. Will they get their wide open defense under control? How fast will they implement Montero's new ideas? And lastly, who is going to score the goals? A lower midfield position looks the most likely again at this point.

Defensa y Justicia

A new team can also be found at Defensa y Justicia. 14 players freshly arrived to make up for 16 leaving colleagues. As it is the norm for many Argentine clubs, loan deals were Defensa's main activity on the transfer market again. Even if it keeps happening to them, it is a disappointment for Defense to have their successful team that finished fourth in Zone A fall apart again. At least 9-goal striker Fabian Bordagaray remained with the club and keeps being supported by Nicolás Stefanelli. 

Talented youngsters from all of Argentina's big clubs fill up the rest of the squad and hope to receive some playing time from coach Ariel Holan. They will more likely than not do so, simply because of a lack of alternatives. It is a win-win situation for both, as the U21 players can raise their market value and attract the attention of possible suitors across the Atlantic Ocean.

Outlook: Finishing fourth will not be an option in a 30-week season. Their system however is solid enough and the young players should learn fast. Holan is experienced to work with them at Defensa since the summer of 2015. A decent midfield position is possible.

Club Estudiantes de la Plata

Permanently at Estudiantes: Mariano Andujár (Photo:
Estudiantes successfully reached the Copa Libertadores last season in the decider against Godoy Cruz. Since years, they have been somewhat on the edge of topping Argentina, but falling just shy. Former midfield star Juan Sebastián Verón has done well in recent times and built a team that is particularly strong at the back. After conceding 11 goals in 2016, their great defense remains intact for the new year as well, promising an improvement this season. 

Because every great team starts with a great goalkeeper, the Argentines picked up some money and invested in Mariano Andujár and made his loan deal from Napoli permanent. It cost the club €455.000. More veteran presence is being introduced to the squad in form of Rodrigo Braña on a free from Quilmes and Javier Toledo on loan from San Martín.

Outlook: There is not much that speaks against Estudiantes at the moment. Defense wins championships and I believe theirs will be one of the best in the league again. A grown, strong team with a coach who knows how to win championships has to be a favourite for the title. It could be theirs this season. 

Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata

The other club from La Plata. They might be less successful than their big rival, but have played another good season last year. After finishing fifth in Zone A, they still have potential to do better. To accomplish higher goals in the future, they purchased offensive midfielder Lorenzo Faravelli from Newell's for nearly €900.000. During his loan stint with the club, he thoroughly convinced and wanted to stay at the club as well.

Ramiro Carrera from Arsenal was brought in on loan and is a tremendous talent in his right midfield position. In addition, 38-year old midfielder Sebastián Romero came over from Banfield and despite his age, he is still able to produce good performances on top level. Gimnasia will need him to either way, considering who the new guys have to replace. Uruguayan international Álvaro González followed his countryman Lodeiro to Seattle and will be missed in central midfield. Walter Bou was responsible for seven of his team's 19 goals and left for Boca.

Outlook: Gimnasia still need a proven striker to compete on a consistent basis. However, the team is good enough to beat any opponent when in form. They will most likely have their downtime during the season again, but should be able to pull off a top 10 finish.

Club Deportivo Godoy Cruz

A little disappointed was not how Godoy Cruz wanted to end their last season, but despite losing the Copa Libertadores decider, they had a tremendous season. Led by Santiago Garcia's and Jaime Ayoví's goalscoring ways, Godoy Cruz are ready to replicate their success again in late 2016.

Fernando Zuqui, a very important midfielder of Sebastián Méndez' team, left to Boca for €2.7 million, but at least the club managed to make the signing of Guillermo Fernández permanent the other way for half of that sum. Another important part of the first XI that needed replacement was left-back Lucas Ceballos. Godoy Cruz managed to sign Marcelo Benítez from Defensa on loan.

Outlook: Since most of their successful team remained at the club, it is likely that they can have a good season again. However, Godoy Cruz have been up and down in recent years and will have to be careful to not find themselves in a negative spiral one day. Santiago Garcia is only 25 years old, a perfect age for a striker and can easily score above ten goals again in 16-17.

Club Atlético Huracán

Huracán's offense relied solely on one player throughout the last years: Ramón Ábila. The big striker was transferred to Cruzeiro back in June and I have no idea how Huracán are going to survive without him. 11 goals in the league and 5 more in the Copa Libertadores were one of a kind and made him impossible to hold onto. It is the typical price of success you pay at an Argentine club.

More money was brought in by the sale of Cristian Espinoza to Spanish Villareal. The Yellow Submarine paid €7.2 million for the young Olympian. With José San Román, a third important regular left the club, him to Dutch ADO Den Haag. Who are their replacements? Nicolás Romat from Tucumán is the new right-back, Ignacio Pussetto the talented 20-year old central striker will be trying to get the goals Ábila used to. Huracán paid €1.25 million for him. A third exciting player is Julio Angulo, one of the surprising heroes of Independiente del Valle's Libertadores run.

Outlook: The personnel losses were big and the new players will need some time to acclimatise in Buenos Aires. While I do not want to call them less talented, they have a lot to live up to with their predecessors' success, especially in cup competitions. Huracán will be strong enough to finish in a midfield spot, but not any higher.

Club Atlético Independiente

New to Independiente: Juan Sánchez Miño (Photo:
Last team in today's part 1 of the preview is Independiente. The record Copa Libertadores winner is named as one of the title favourites year after year, but has not lived up to expectations in quite some time. Why not? While the defense does fine most of the time and only conceded 12 goals last season, the offense was not seen too often.

To change that fact, left-wing Juan Sánchez Miño was purchased from Torino. The 26-year old is supposed to improve the service for the strikers, such as Germán Denis. Independiente have a ton of talent in nearly every position, Emiliano Rigoni being one of them. Last season, the young right midfielder played all 16 games and led his team on the scoring sheet with four.

Outlook: Gabriel Milito is the new coach of Independiente. How will he fare in a traditionally quickly stressful environment? Only important loss was right-wing Rodrigo Gómez who went to Mexico's Toluca. We might see a bit of a shift to the left side with Miño's strengths. Independiente's defense still looks solid, but will that be enough to win the title this time around? They still somewhat lack a striker that scores consistently and I personally think that would be the last ingredient to a closer title chase.

Thank you!

If you are still reading this here, thank you! You rock and if you would like to share it on social media or with your friends, I would appreciate that, because it took me forever to write this. Part 2 will be coming soon with the other 15 teams! 

Monday, August 1, 2016

South America's Top Clubs - August 2016

Atlético Nacional won the Copa Libertadores, but still missed top spot in the monthly South American club ranking on Germancopa. New number 1 is Olimpia from Paraguay.

Olimpia's choreography in the Defensores del Chaco. (Photo:
Olimpia are the new leaders in August, removing Boca Juniors that led the ranking in July from top position. For the second time since October 2015, the Paraguayans profited off a great run in the league, seeing them stay unbeaten in the last eight matches. 

Atlético Nacional did fantastic internationally, but their league form took a little dip during their Copa Libertadores triumph. They reached the same number of total points as Olimpia, but fell just shy of top spot. 

Venezuela's Zamora, a consistent visitor in this list, finished third this month. Standout performers of the month collecting a great amount of points in their league outings were Guaraní and Ecuador's Barcelona SC. Talking of Ecuador: Libertadores finalist Independiente del Valle did not make the cut.

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

1 2 Olimpia Paraguay 38
2 14 Atlético Nacional Colombia 38
3 9 Zamora FC Venezuela 35
4 4 CA Lanús Argentina 35
5 - Guaraní Paraguay 35
6 19 Barcelona SC Ecuador 34
7 1 Boca Juniors Argentina 34
8 11 Libertad Paraguay 33
9 10 Estudiantes Argentina 32
10 8 Corinthians Brazil 32
11 12 Godoy Cruz Argentina 32
12 13 Rosario Central Argentina 32
13 15 O’Higgins Chile 31
14 - Carabobo FC Venezuela 30
15 - Melgar Peru 30
16 6 Independiente Medellín Colombia 30
17 17 Plaza Colonia Uruguay 30
18 5 Colo Colo Chile 30
19 18 River Plate Argentina 30
20 - Santos Brazil 29

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Deserved triumph - Atlético Nacional wins Copa Libertadores

Atlético Nacional have won the Copa Libertadores for the second time in club history. After their first triumph back in 1989, a 1-0 win over Independiente del Valle on the night was enough to beat the Ecuadorian surprise team 2-1 on aggregate. 

Copa Libertadores final night in Medellín. (Photo: Getty Images)
Following a football-wise pretty disappointing first leg a week ago in Quito, the tie shifted to Colombia. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere was outstanding and appropriate for the occasion. A stadium-wide chroreography in the club colours green and white was paired with a lot of confetti, lighters in the dark night and the usual fireworks. If you imagined standing on the pitch ahead of this game and listening to the national anthems, it had to be very hard to keep your concentration onto the actual game and you could see just that in many players' faces.

Could you want anything more as a football fan? (Photo: Getty Images)


Going into tonight's game, Atlético Nacional's coach Reinaldo Rueda made two changes. Alejandro Guerra and and Alexander Mejia replaced Diego Arias and the suspended Sebastián Pérez.

Pablo Repetto on the other hand left his visiting team unchanged, despite the not fully fit José Angulo and Emiliano Tellechea. Obviously, they would not miss a Copa Libertadores final. It could be the only one in their careers.

First half

After their tactical mistake to do nothing and only sit back ever since taking the lead in the first leg, Atlético seemed determined to not make the same errors again today. Right from kickoff, the Colombians attacked their opponents early and got their first large chance inside a minute. Miguel Borja was sent through with a long ball, but blasted it far over the crossbar.

The always dangerous right-back Daniel Bocanegra followed it up with a thunderous shot from distance and missed just wide. As Atlético kept pushing their opponents back into their own half, it was only a matter of time until we saw an opening goal. Nine minutes in, a freekick from Macnelly Torres went by everyone and hit the left goalpost. From there, Arturo Mina tried to clear but could not make sufficient contact with the ball. Borja was wide open in the centre of the area and made no mistake this time, scoring into the bottom left corner. 1:0.

Miguel Borja, the goalscorer. (Photo: Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)
Miguel Borja's story is a fantastic one. Transferred over from Cortuluá to their league rivals Atlético Nacional only a month ago, the striker made a name for himself in almost no time. In just four Copa Libertadores games, he now scored five times. After two in each leg against São Paulo, he quickly proved to be his new team's decisive factor.

Torres in the middle of the pitch had one of his best games for his club in quite a while and kept surprising the Ecuadorian defense with passes and set pieces that were tremendously hard to defend. Independiente del Valle did not play bad, with a high line of defense, but was simply overwhelmed by Nacional's offensive tornado during the opening stages. Marlos Moreno and Orlando Berrio on the wings were the ones profiting.

After 30 minutes, it led to a penalty shout when Torres sent through Berrio. He was brought down by goalkeeper Librado Azcona, but it was likely not enough to be given. Just shortly after, it was Borja again who could have made it 2-0, but he was stopped short by a magnificent tackle from Independiente's best defender Mina. Him and Azcona were the reasons it was still just a one-goal deficit when Repetto's team had their first opportunity. A sharp pass from Junior Sornoza had found his teammate Julio Angulo, who could have equalized, but instead saw his shot go over the crossbar as well.

The rest of the first half was a pretty even affair and even though the hosts dominated for large parts and had the lion's share of the possession, they could not stop some quick counter attacks. However, they led to nothing due to offside positions or lack of precision.

Second half

To start the second 45 minutes, Independiente del Valle made a substitution and brought on Jonny Uchuari for Junior Sornoza. It was a change that made limited sense to me, but Sornoza had seen the yellow card already and was probably protected by his coach.

Uchuari brought confusion to the Colombian backline right after coming on, when he danced by several defenders and was suddenly on the ground with his teammates shouting for a penalty the other way this time. Judging by the replays, it was none and the Argentine referee Néstor Pitana made another good decision.

After giving away the control for the first five minutes of the second half, Atlético Nacional regained it in strong fashion and failed to score from a clear cut chance yet again. Marlos Moreno made the whole defense look like youth players with his dribbles and laid the ball back to Berrio. He needed some time to control the ball, but then shot it wide across the face of goal.

While Uchuari did quite well on the other side, the precise passing of Sornoza was missed in a lot of Independiente's few offensive scenes. Instead, Macnelly Torres continued to be the main man in midfield, setting Borja and the wingers in scene multiple times. Borja could have made it 2-0 once more when shooting too far left, afterwards it was Moreno's turn to head it past the goalkeeper Azcona, but also wide.

Even though time was ticking down quickly now, the Colombians kept dominating and therefore avoiding to repeat their aforementioned mistakes. Instead of bolstering the defense for the final minutes, Rueda made it clear to his players what we wanted to see by bringing on striker for striker twice. Goalscorer Borja and Moreno left the pitch under the thunderous applause from their home support.

Not once in the final ten minutes could Independiente del Valle really threaten the in-form backline of Atlético Nacional which had thoroughly impressed during the group stages by not giving up a single goal. Despite its most recent shakyness, they regained their form when it mattered most. When Pitana blew the whistle for fulltime, the night reached its beautiful conclusion with the Colombians winning their first Copa Libertadores title in 27 years.

Trophy time in Colombia.


Deserved? A big YES. Both the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana are now being held by Colombian teams. Atlético Nacional was by far the best team in this year's competition and finally justified their favourite status with equally good performances. Their defense was particularly good early on, towards the end it was new signing Miguel Borja that carried them over the finish line.

31-year old midfielder Macnelly Torres pulled off a Man of the Match performance in the biggest game of his career. Lovely passing, always in position to receive balls from his teammates, offensive mastermind of Reinaldo Rueda's XI.

While their team might be ripped apart from European or Mexican clubs (especially young players like Moreno that already has standout status), their triumph will remain in the history books forever.

The same goes for their opponent. Despite not bringing their best performance onto the pitch last night, they played a wonderful campaign. Nobody in the world would have expected Independiente del Valle to make it to the Copa Libertadores final, yet there they were. Their brave performances gave a lot of hope and distraction to Ecuador's people after what they had to deal with outside of football pitches.


Here are some videos for you: Team entry + anthems, match highlights and celebration.

Thank you!

Lastly, I want to say thank you to everyone that followed this season's Copa Libertadores here on Germancopa. I will be back covering next season's edition for sure. Until then, we will have a lot of Copa Sudamericana and league football from Uruguay and Argentina.