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. 


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