Thursday, May 5, 2016

Nacional knock out Corinthians to make last 8

Nacional have completed their surprise. Last night they visited Corinthians and a 2-2 draw was enough to make it into the quarterfinals. 

Mission "Corinthians" complete for Nacional.
The first leg a week ago had ended in a draw as well. Back then, the Gran Parque Central crowd saw a 0-0. Now Gustavo Munúa's squad travelled to Brazil to take on the country's champion in the World Cup 2014 stadium that saw the opening match two years ago. The atmosphere was magnificent and we were ready for a great match.


Nacional came out unchanged from the first leg. Before, it was being speculated that Munúa could try to stregthen his midfield with an extra man in place of Barcia or Ramírez. 
Corinthians on the other hand made one swap. Alan Mineiro was replaced in midfield by Giovanni Augusto. 

First half

The game started off the right way for the Uruguayan visitors. Nacional attacked through the right wing with Nico López. He put in a cross to the left where Kevin Ramírez headed the ball down to Leandro Barcia. His attempt was saved to the side by Cássio. The goalkeeper should have done better, because right there was López again and the striker had no trouble finishing into the empty net for an early lead (5'). 

The opening goal from Nico López (in the background).
Especially during those opening stages, Nacional had been the better team, earning most of the possession and control. Further opportunities for López and Porras were the logical consequence. However, it did not hold on for long. Brazil's champion threatened with two big chances from respective corners.

Only ten minutes after the opening goal, Corinthians were level, made possible by a series of defensive errors. First, noone attacked Giovanni Augusto properly, making it possible for him to play a deep pass into the penalty area. Then Mauricio Victorino slipped on the grass, letting André get to the ball and he eventually tapped it to his teammate Lucca. Corinthians' striker stood all alone in front of Conde and equalized. 

In the following stages, the game calmed down a little. While Corinthians gave away a few too many freekicks around their own box, Nacional could not make too much of it. Their best chance came through Ramírez, but the left winger was stopped by Cássio's quick reaction. On the other side, it was Elías' solo run that opened up an opportunity for Rodriguinho, stopped just as well by Conde. Due to another fantastic Cássio save on Barcia in injury time, the game went to halftime tied at 1.

Second half

After 57 minutes, midfield engine Santiago Romero struck with one of his most important goals. Lóepz laid the ball off to Fernández who got by a defender at the edge of the area with his nice fake move. His shot was parried away by Cássio, but only to a Nacional player yet again. Romero laid everything he had into the shot and was rewarded with a goal. 

Corinthians knew they needed two goals now to have any sort of chance of advancing, while not being allowed to concede at the same time. They threw forward what they could and worked out a clear shot advantage in the last half hour. But Nacional, with a lot of cleverness and a little luck, stood strong and held their one-goal lead for the time being. Especially home team substitute Ángel Romero made an impact right away when hitting the crossbar.

Towards the end of the game, things got a little too close for Uruguay's champion. Only during the last 10 minutes of the match, they collected a total of five yellow cards while fighting for their lives. 84 minutes in, Corinthians thought they had the equalizer on their plate. Captain Polenta had fouled Marquinhos Gabriel on the right side of the area. In fairness, the striker took the invitation very easily. André took the responsibilities and produced one of the weakest penalties I ever saw. Conde laid down and held onto the ball comfortably. 

As the nerves had seemingly gotten to the Brazilian side, they went down to 10 men not too long after. Full-back Fágner received a straight red card after 90 minutes.

In added time, Corinthians equalized yet again, but it all came too late. Diego Polenta's arm was pushed against the ball in the air, handball was probably still the right decision by the referee. After countless discussions and the aforementioned yellow cards, substitute Marquinhos Gabriel stepped up and converted into the bottom left corner for a 2-2 score. 

Shortly after, the full-time whistle was blown and the home team could wave goodbye to the competition that sees Nacional in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. Seven years ago, they were eliminated in the semifinals by eventual winners Estudiantes. 


Nacional players celebrate with their away support in Brazil. (All photos:
It was a well deserved draw for Nacional who convinced particularly during the first half. They are playing a fine campaign this year and got rewarded for it. They could rely on their goalkeeper when it mattered most, even if their own captain tried everything to make the last 10 minutes exciting again. 

Another difference maker was - yet again - Nico López. The striker was present up front in all situations and played his teammates through multiple times along with his own opportunities and the all important 1-0. 

In the quarterfinals, Nacional meets the winner of Boca Juniors vs Cerro Porteño (2-1 after the first leg).


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