Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Peñarol crash out while Atlético Nacional stays invincible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere in the Copa Libertadores

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

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


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