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.


Post a Comment