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.

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