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: conmebol.com)
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: conmebol.com)
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. 


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