Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Atlético Nacional impressive, Cristal get first win

Week 4 of the 2016 Copa Libertadores group stages started last night with three matches. In particular Group 4 was of higher interest. Here is how the games went.

Diego Forlán slowly sees his dream of winning a Copa Libertadores title fade away, while Atlético Nacional can plan for the round of 16. The Colombians were victorious at home last night, beating Peñarol 2-0. 

Throughout the 90 minutes, Atlético Nacional was the significantly better team and rightfully earned all three points for the third time in as many games this year. While the first half remained goalless for some odd reason, Colombia's champion made sure to strike twice in the second. Right fullback Daniel Bocanegra in the 55th minute fired a shot from at least 30m into the bottom left corner, with the polite assistance from Uruguayan goalkeeper Gastón Guruceaga. 

Even though Nacional took the lead through a mistake, it was absolutely overdue on the night. They added a beautifully crafted second goal six minutes later. A short cutback from Victor Ibarbo was slotted into the net by Marlos Moreno, who had a fine game like so many of his colleagues. 

Instead of producing chances on the other end, Peñarol ended up weakening themselves further thanks to an inexplicable red card for Hernán Novick in the 86th minute, one (!) minute after he was brought onto the pitch by coach Pablo Bengoechea. Chopping down an opposing player from behind in front of the referee is never a smart idea, Mr. Novick.

Peñarol have a single point after 3 matches, Atlético Nacional lead the group with 9.

Between those two: Sporting Cristal and Huracán. Their meeting in Peru saw some more goals and ended in a 3-2 win for the Peruvian home team, who celebrate their first Libertadores win of the season. 

Overall, we saw a relatively even first half in which both clubs had the chance to take the lead. Cristal nearly scored from a direct corner, Huracán had a shot from distance hit the post. At the end, it was Gabriel Costa opening the scoring for the home team after 26 minutes. The Uruguayan was given way too much space inside the penalty area, so it was no big issue to fire home Horacio Calcaterra's cross from the right. 

Santiago Silva added to the lead nine minutes later, showing off his strength against three defenders. He was first to the ball and produced a magnificent finish from Carlos Lobatón's lobbed pass. 2-0 was how it went to the break, where the Argentine Copa Sudamericana finalist finally brought on their best player and difference maker Ramón Abila. 

Before he could have an impact, Sporting Cristal had struck again via penalty from striker Santiago Silva again (56'). Huracán's Luca Sosa had gotten himself sent off and seemingly robbed the visitors any sort of chance for a comeback. Just do not tell that Abila. The big striker cut into the Peruvian's lead only a minute later, pouncing onto a loose ball in the area the quickest. Ramón Abila added his second goal with a tremendous lob finish in the 77th minute, beautifully sent through by Cristian Espinoza. 

Sadly, for the visiting team from Argentina, that was all and when the fulltime whistle blew, you could hear a large sigh of relief from the home crowd. Sporting Cristal are in second with 4 points now, followed by Huracán with 3.

Over in Ecuador, the fans saw an entertaining opening part and finale to the match between Emelec and Olimpia. The Paraguayans, who have struggled massively to start off 2016, fell down early on from Fernando Giménez' 4th minute header. Fernando Gaibor had found his teammate with a decent cross from the right side.

Unlike on previous occasions, Olimpia actually found a way back and did so convincingly by taking control of the first half. First, Miguel Paniagua placed a header of his own into the top corner (12'), before 18-year old talent Blas Riveros turned the game on its head by giving Olimpia the lead (20'). While his finish was good, he had the goal handed to him on a silver platter as defender Jorge Guagua played a horrible misplaced pass inside his own penalty area. 

It took the Ecuadorians until the last half hour to gain control in their home game and produce a higher amount of chances. At the end of the night, it was still heartbreak for the fighting Paraguayan side, who could have really used a win for confidence reasons alone. 

Fernando Giménez was there again in added time to score Emelec's equalizer with an absolute bomb from distance. Much like in Peñarol's game, the shot could and should have been saved by goalkeeper Víctor Centurión. He did not, which is why Emelec remain on track to the round of 16, with now 4 points. Olimpia at least got their first point.


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