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.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Major clubs missing out on 2017 Copa Libertadores

With the 2017 Copa Libertadores under way, 47 teams are fighting for the most prestigious South American crown. While three of them have been eliminated during the first round of qualification already, others did not even get the chance to enter the competition due to numerous reasons. Here are the 12 former Libertadores champions that will not be there in 2017.

Independiente's players with the trophy in 1984. It was their last triumph to date (Photo:


Constantly in the conversation for big titles, constantly coming up well short. It is the story of Argentina's Independiente in the past years. While it has not always been this way, the record winner of the Copa Libertadores (seven titles) has not won the title since 1984. Even their latest domestic title has nearly been forgotten ever since 2003. By finishing three points behind promoted Atlético Tucumán in the league, they missed out on the last qualification spot for the international stage and will instead compete in the Copa Sudamericana later on this year. 

Racing Club

Staying in Argentina, Racing Club was included relatively often in the Copa Libertadores of previous seasons. Not this time around, as they played a very average season to finish in eleventh, well behind the required top 5 position. At least they gathered the final Sudamericana spot and will join their archrivals from next door in trying to win that one. Racing won the Libertadores once, all the way back in 1967.


Over to Brazil, a two-time winner of the competition will not be around this time. Despite a whopping eight spots for the association, Cruzeiro's highly disappointing 12th place finish saw them come up well short. Their most previous final appearance came in 1997, when they beat surprise side Sporting Cristal from Peru 1-0 on aggregate. Now, they can instead focus on their state championships and the Serie A later on.

Boca Juniors

After a double in Argentina, many expected the Boca Juniors to march on to the Copa Libertadores title as well. They did anything but that and got eliminated by outsider Independiente del Valle from Ecuador. In the Argentine Primera, they finished 17th and showcased a ton of problems throughout the year. At the end of it, club icon Carlos Tévez left for China as well. Will we see the six-time champion back in action as early as 2018? 

Argentinos Juniors

Argentinos Juniors' team ahead of the final in 1985 (Photo:
You cannot be much further away from the Copa Libertadores than Argentinos Juniors. Diego Maradona's club is currently playing in the second division. At least that has gone quite well for them after nearly half the season is over. They sit in second place, only two points behind Guillermo Brown. Their agenda includes a lot of steps ahead of a return to the international stage. In 1985, it took three finals to decide a winner between Juniors and América de Cali, with the Argentines coming out ahead on penalties.

São Paulo FC

São Paulo is one of the most popular teams on the continent, also due to their three successes in the competition. Led by iconic goalkeeper Rogério Ceni, they marched to their last title in July 2005. Their past year was less impressive, as they finished tenth in Brazil's Serie A. At least a semifinal appearance in last year's Copa Libertadores could calm the supporters, however Atlético Nacional were way too strong back then. 

Vélez Sársfield

Vélez missed qualification by quite some margin. Their average year was not even enough to get into the Copa Sudamericana in 2017. You would not really expect the club at the top anyway, considering their latest Libertadores triumph came back in 1994. The aforementioned São Paulo FC was beaten on penalties, with the help of another goalkeeping legend: José Luis Chilavert. 

Vasco da Gama

I promise there will be more countries than just Argentina and Brazil soon. For now, back to the North-East, where Vasco da Gama has just managed to return to the Serie A after a year in the second tier of Brazilian football. In 1998, they were in the middle of a sandwich consisting of three winners of the same country in a row. A young Juninho Pernambucano was a part of Vasco's midfield, before he went on to Europe for a great career. Ecuador's Barcelona had no answer, losing 1-4 on aggregate.

LDU Quito

Talking of Ecuador: LDU Quito was the first and only champion of the Copa Libertadores from Ecuador. Their 2008 triumph came on penalties against Fluminense. Lately, they have been more down than up and only finished sixth in their domestic league. It is quite likely that they will return to the competition sooner rather than later though, maybe as early as 2018?

Once Caldas

Once Caldas' ultimate triumph in 2004 (Photo:
The Colombian headlines were written by Atlético Nacional most recently, but Once Caldas cannot be dismissed. In 2004, the club won the Copa Libertadores itself, on penalties against Boca Juniors. Their squad back in the days included players such as Elkin Soto, who went on to become valuable players in Europe. That has been the last hooray for quite some time either way, as they finished lowly in Colombia's Apertura and Finalización. 


Oh Inter, what happened to you? The two-time winner, most recently in 2010, suddenly finds itself in Brazil's second division following a horrendous season. While their chances to get promoted again soon are possibly quite high, the international stage could be in quite some distance for a few years. It is a shame, because their stadium and fans are made for Copa Libertadores nights.


Last name on the list is another big name from Brazil in Corinthians. The situation for them looks a lot less grim than for Internacional. After their whole team was ripped apart following their title a year ago, they still managed to find some sort of rhythm and finished only two points shy of a Libertadores spot. Able to concentrate on the league fully, it would not surprise to see them back in the competition as early as next year.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Independiente del Valle win to start 2017 Copa Libertadores campaign

The Copa Libertadores is back and started with its first round of qualification for the 2017 edition last evening. After reshaping the format of the competition, there will be three rounds of qualifiers before the group stages begin. Three games including last season's finalists were played and here is how they went.

Michael Estrada celebrates his goal (Photo cropped from:
Independiente del Valle has returned to a new Copa Libertadores season in winning fashion. Following their magical run to the final last year, they had to start at the very beginning in 2017 due to their lower league finish. It did not stop them from beating Peruvian side Deportivo Municipal 1-0 away from home. 

The only goal was scored early on, when Michael Estrada found the back of the net after just ten minutes, converting a pass from Efrén Mera. 15.000 fans in Lima's national stadium saw a defensively minded game that only counted few shots on goal. A total of five meant that the Ecuadorians did not have as much to worry about as Municipal coach Marcelo Grioni would have hoped for. 

The home team thought they had recovered from the early blow, but a direct freekick from Rafael Guarderas only hit the side netting. Grioni tried everything to give his team hope during the second 45 minutes, but even his offensive substitutions such as Sergio Moreno were left without any opportunity. Masakatsu Sawa had the best chance to tie things up in the second half, but could not convert. Instead, Independiente nearly made it 2-0 on two counters. Last year's runners-up are in a good position going into the return leg at home on Friday. 

The lineups:

Entertainment in Bolivia

Compared to Municipal - Independiente, the early kickoff in Bolivia provided a high entertainment level with chances up and down the pitch. Universitario de Sucre managed to beat Montevideo Wanderers 3-2. The action started early as Sergio Blanco scored the first goal of the 2017 campaign for the Uruguayan visitors just six minutes into the game. Universitario were completely unorganised at the back and could not deal with the early pressure from Wanderers. Argentine Juan Robledo even saved his team from further damage by stopping a point-blank attempt from Manuel Castro. 

However, things changed pretty quickly, leading to the equalising goal. Victor Melgar's deep cross from the right wing found the back of the net untouched and caught goalkeeper Ignacio de Arruabarrena by surprise. Another ten minutes later (28'), the Bolivians turned the game around completely from the penalty spot. Following an obvious handball from Diego Barboza, Alexis Bravo left no doubt with his finish into the top of the net. 

The second half continued with weak defense all over the field, predominantly from Wanderers. Universitario had several huge chances, only one of which was converted after all. From what appeared like an offside position, Aldo Velasco fired home a rebound, after de Arruabarrena could not clear the danger in front of his goal decisively (66'). A substitution from the visitors changed the dynamic of the game for another time. Cristian Palacios came on for Castro after 76 minutes, only to score two minutes later. A lovely pass from Ignacio González ripped apart the whole U de Sucre back-end and led to the 3-2. Palacios could have scored another one, but missed the chance. The match finished with the slight advantage for the Bolivians who will have to do well in Montevideo to defend it in a few days.

Paraguayan success over struggling Táchira

Deportivo Capiatá's players after scoring the only goal in their Copa Libertadores debut (Photo:
Deportivo Táchira could not break out of their struggles in the third and final first round match last night. The Venezuelan side, that has not won a game since November 20, lost again. In their away game at Deportivo Capiatá, they picked up a 1-0 deficit going into the second leg on Friday. 

The only goal of the game came in first half added time. A shot from distance by Hugo Lusardi was not dealt well with by opposing goalkeeper José Contreras. The 22-year old reached the ball, but could only deflect it into his own net. It was touched by a defender before, giving it a slight change of direction. Most of the 12.000 spectators were ecstatic about the goal, that turned out to be the decider for the first ever win in the first ever game from the Guaraní side. 

Capiatá dominated for large parts of the game, pushing the Venezuelan visitors back. Nevertheless, the attempt to find a second goal to give the Paraguayans a bigger advantage for the return leg failed in the process. It took Deportivo Táchira 75 minutes to create their first real chance. Substitute striker Josmar Zambrano went by two defenders, but saw his shot get deflected. Seven minutes later, it was Jan Carlos Hurtado's freekick that endangered the home win. The shot had goalkeeper Bernardo Medina beaten, but glanced off the bar and over. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Diego Coelho shows promise in Nacional's preseason

While the South American U20 championships are on, the focus naturally lies on the continent's elite talent. Clubs from all over Europe have sent their scouts to Ecuador. One player that is not involved in the tournament is Diego Coelho. Nevertheless, he is making a lot of noise during Nacional's preseason, having scored two goals already. What makes him one of the club's most promising talents?

Diego Coelho in training (Photo:
In Nacional's sheer endless pipeline of excellent young players, Diego Coelho is just one of six talents that received their shot at first team action in preseason. Along with the likes of Facundo Labandeira, Gabriel Neves, Guzmán Corujo, Thiago Vecino and Axel Müller, Coelho started training with Martín Lasarte's men on January 4. 

The 22-year old Diego Coelho is a striker and owned family ties to the club before even playing his first friendly minutes. Father Walter Fabian played for Nacional from 1995 to 2005 and won six Primera División titles in the process. His son is still at the beginning of his own career, but his preseason form suggests at least raw talent. Diego produced two goals in as many games against Boston River and Montevideo Wanderers and left a good impression on Nacional's coaching staff that just welcomed Rodrigo Aguirre as a new striker option. 

"I am happy to take the opportunity, trying to do what the coach asks me and to add to the team", Coelho explains. "They game me opportunities to convert and the most important thing is to show efficiency in front of the net. I have the ability to face the play and help in the build-up, but also to take advantage of any ball that is in the area."

Diego Coelho's strengths are indeed quickly discovered: a big body paired with the ability to make good runs, quick pivots and most importantly a nose for the goal. Playing in the third Uruguayan division, he was able to showcase those skills on a regular basis in Nacional's second team. Even though Lasarte knows that the player still needs time and should not be rushed into top tier football too soon, he is also aware of the athlete he has in the club already. The coach underlines: "With these guys [Coelho and the other five] one has to be very careful and even more so at Nacional. In case it does not work out for them, it can generate a lot of frustration in the player and that is what we desire the least."

Nacional's training coordinator, Sebastián Taramasco, was interviewed regarding the talent in the club's youth team: "We start from the fact that all coaches are in permanent contact with us and the management. This includes watching trainings, matches or having talks with one another. We spoke with Martín [Lasarte] about this preseason and reached the result of adding these six players to the first team."

Whether Diego Coelho receives much playing time during the Clausura is rather doubtful with Hugo Silveira and Rodrigo Aguirre ahead of him. One thing remains certain: The striker is definitely one to watch in the future, whether it will be at Nacional or another club. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

South American U20 Championship starts in Ecuador

Before the Copa Libertadores gets going with its new season next week, the focus shifts to the continent's youth national teams. South America's U20 sides will contest a new champion in Ecuador. Argentina has their work cut out for them as they try to defend the 2015 crown. 

The format is a little unusual, at least judging by European standards. There will not be any knockout rounds, instead a large group of six will determine the winner of the tournament. How do those six teams qualify for the final group? By reaching one of the first three spots in either group of five. 

Group A includes Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Paraguay. On the other side of the tournament, holders Argentina will face the likes of Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela in group B. While group A undoubtedly sounds like the stronger one on paper, challenges from the smaller sides can never be underestimated.

Brazil's striker Richarlison (Photo:
Brazil's squad does not look particularly overwhelming in terms of youth talent. Striker and Fluminense regular Richarlison will most likely be the most dangerous forward in yellow and green. He scored three Serie A goals so far, but will require help from his teammates. One to do that could be Sao Paulo's right-wing David Neres. He also appeared on the stage and collected first team action at the end of the year. Especially the midfield, like in Brazil's first team, lacks something. They will look towards players like Maycon (Corinthians), Allan (Hertha BSC) and Caio Henrique (Atlético Madrid) to make the difference. 

On to Chile, where all but one player still play in their home country. Jeisson Vargas is currently on loan at Argentina's Estudiantes. It is not exactly an easy place for a young player to break through, but in his limited playing time (119 minutes over four games), the offensive midfielder collected at least two assists. Chile hopes he can produce more of the same for his country in a right-wing position. Two other hopefuls include left-back Cristián Gutiérrez (Colo Colo) and right-back Francisco Sierralta (Palestino). 

Colombia's senior team has enjoyed continued success in recent years. The under 20 hopes to replicate that during the upcoming tournament. Defensive midfielder Kevin Balanta leads the lines and is the most experienced player at the same time. Under José Pekerman, Balanta even celebrated his senior debut as early as September 2015. The now 19-year old is a mainstay at Deportivo Cali and can usually be found on the pitch for the full 90 minutes. Up front, Julián Quiñones is supposed to score the goals. The striker plays for Mexican side Tigres.

Hosting the tournament, a lot of pressure will be on Ecuador. They can bring a really interesting team to the table, led by Bryan Cabezas. The left winger is under contract at Italian side Atalanta Bergamo, but still waits for his debut in the Serie A. Back in early 2016, Cabezas was shining bright on the South American stage, going all the way to the Copa Libertadores final with Independiente del Valle. Talking of that club: Five players of Ecuador's squad come from the runners-up, another five from Barcelona. Emelec's Joao Rojas can play anything offensively and looks to be another valuable weapon for Javier Rodríguez' team. Despite a few standouts, Ecuador's defense could be a little shaky against South America's heavyweights. 

Group A is completed by Paraguay, filled with players from the countries' powerhouses Olimpia and Cerro Porteño. The athlete best known in the squad is undoubtedly Blas Riveros. Nowadays in action for Swiss side Basel, Riveros came through the youth system of Olimpia as well. Lately, he managed to get regular first team playing time in Switzerland and even celebrated his Paraguayan first team debut last year. The left-back will be a key ingredient to Paraguay's success. Julio Villalba, bought by Borussia Mönchengladbach, will be leaned upon offensively. While the squad is generally not one of the better ones, they can rely on absolute teamwork and heart on the field. 

Argentina's midfielder Santiago Ascacíbar (Photo:
Title holders Argentina are the heads of group B. Claudio Úbeda coaches a team that certainly has a lot of talent, but will maybe not stand out to the extent of the 2015 squad. Santiago Ascacíbar captains the team from a defensive midfield role, the same way the small 19-year old controls his club Estudiantes. He will be supported by his offensive-minded club colleague Lucas Rodríguez. This midfield gives Argentina a lot of familiarity and balance. Up front, Racing duo Braian Mansilla and Lautaro Martínez look to lead the charge. Both have collected some top tier action during the current season. Once again, Argentina has to be counted towards the title favourites. 

Bolivia brings a young squad to the tournament, with most of their players aged 18 or 19. Considering most of them are still playing in the youth leagues of their home country, this team is a bit of a mystery to me. Limberg Gutiérrez, from Nacional's U19 squad, at least has the famous name on his resume. His father Límberg played for all of Bolivia's big teams and won the league title twice. Bruno Miranda is set to produce some danger up front. He plays his club football for Universidad de Chile and was given his senior debut for Bolivia last May. It is hard to see them be anything more than safe points for the top sides.

Attacking South America's crown again is the plan for Peru. It is a rather ambitious one considering their lack of success in recent tournaments. Universitario de Deportes are responsible for the team's best players, whose skills can be mainly found in the attacking third. Raúl Tito has played just about every position for "La U", making him a highly valuable piece for Peru coach Fernando Nogara. Roberto Siucho is best suited for the left wing, but has a major problem. He is not particularly dangerous in front of the net, neither on the scoring nor on the assist sheet. Striker Adrián Ugarriza will also have to work on his efficiency for his country to have any chance in Ecuador. 

Finally, a more competitive team can be found in Uruguay. Despite senior coach Óscar Tabárez' reluctance to play any young players, Uruguay's youth squads continue to do well and produce new talent. After the Gastón Pereiro show during the 2015 edition, some of it will be on display again in Ecuador. The squad is very balanced and has decent players in all areas of the pitch. For example, the tournament's most valuable player (when it comes to market value) will wear the sky blue of Uruguay. Midfielder Rodrigo Betancour is currently under contract at Boca Juniors, but has produced interest of Europe's heavyweights such as Real Madrid or Juventus, that has a buying option. Up front, Atlético Madrid's Nicolás Schiappacasse is an exciting prospect, as is Cerro's Agustin Sant'Anna in the right-back position. Uruguay will not have much trouble getting out of the first group, success during the final round also depends on daily form.

This leaves us with the final team of the tournament, Venezuela. Now, even the first team has built mainly on youth the past years, leaving it inexperienced and at the bottom of South America's World Cup qualification group. However, it shows a change in the thought process inside the poor country and a promise for the future. Quite a few players have already enjoyed their senior debut and even played in said World Cup qualification, but came back now to play this U20 tournament. One of them is captain Yangel Herrera, regular for Atlético Venezuela. He controls the game and tempo of his own team in a central defensive midfield role that is well-suited for the 19-year old. Herrera can continue to progress in that role, as can Yeferson Soteldo on the right wing. Huachipato paid nearly €1.5 million for him during the winter break. Soteldo hopes to showcase some of the speed and skills that got him that pricetag in Ecuador. Having a good goalkeeper in Wuilker Fariñez on top should help Venezuela in their fight for a top-three spot tremendously. The Caracas FC man could be the difference maker in close games.