Friday, March 10, 2017

Copa Libertadores Week 1 - The good, the bad, the ugly

The first week of 2017 Copa Libertadores action is in the books and we take a look at what went well and what did not. The good, the bad, the ugly.

Good: Outstanding week for Bolivia, Cristal get point

The Strongest celebrate their next home win in the Libertadores.
One thing that was not to be expected when entering the 2017 Copa Libertadores season were outstanding performances from Bolivian clubs. They proved everyone wrong in week 1 and came away with two wins and a draw. While some might argue that it all happened up in the notoriously difficult Bolivian mountains, it still remains a feat that needs to be accomplished first. 

Jorge Wilstermann shocked Peñarol by scoring a whopping six against the Uruguayans. Their 6-2 win in a battle between two teams of ten put them in a good group position early on, ahead of Atlético Tucumán, Palmeiras and their opponent of the night, Peñarol. Especially Gabriel Ríos sent the game towards winning ways early on by scoring two first-half goals, even though the first one them should not have counted. In addition, he "won" the sending-off for Peñarol's Juan Boselli. When it got close and the Uruguayan visitors struck twice, Wilstermann just added another three for their impressive win. 

The Strongest continued where they had left off in the qualification phase. Their 2-0 home win against Colombia's Santa Fe came without too much surprise. Alejandro Chumacero was once again the man of the match, scoring both goals. Especially the first half was less of a clear case and The Strongest goalkeeper Daniel Vaca had to deny the attacking visitors on multiple occasions. Even though they ended up losing, it remained an encouraging night for Santa Fe as they go forward.

Lastly, Sport Boys Warnes entered the competition as well and did so with an exciting 3-3 draw against Paraguay's Libertad. Not very Bolivian-like was the way to come back from falling behind on all three goals. Sport Boys, coached by former Bolivian NT boss Xabier Azkargota, showed a lot of character and give a country hope that maybe, just maybe, their football has a chance this season.

Peru's Sporting Cristal surprised South America last night as well by winning an unlikely point in their home outing against Brazilian runners-up Santos. More surprising than the point was the fact that the match was evenly contested across the ninety minutes. In the last few minutes, it was not the heavy favourites that pressured the Peruvian outsiders, but instead the other way around. A lovely freekick from Carlos Lobatón found Jorge Cazulo's head early on, a lead that Sporting Cristal held onto until the 67th minute, when Thiago Maia equalized. Lucas Lima's assist for this goal was from another world as well, as he chipped the ball over Cristal's defense nicely. 

Bad: San Lorenzo get smacked in Brazil, bad week for Venezuela

Disaster at the Maracana: San Lorenzo's players walk away disappointed after a 4-0 loss.
After their last two embarrassing group exits, people expect more from San Lorenzo this season. They disappointed yet again to start their 2017 campaign, losing 4-0 to Brazilian side Flamengo. Is it easy to play in Brazil, in the Maracana? Certainly not, but that heavy of a loss came unexpected. While the first half ended all even at zero, the second 45 turned into a night to forget for the Argentina club. Goals from Diego, Miguel Trauco, Romulo and Gabriel saw them get smacked. Former Werder Bremen and Juventus man Diego was the man of the match, giving his team the lead with a beautiful direct freekick (see video below) before assisting another two goals from his teammates. Paolo Guerrero could have even made it 5-0, but missed a penalty.

Venezuela, the other struggling nation from South America (and not only football-wise sadly), had a much worse week than Bolivia. With just two teams in the competition, both of them enjoyed a home game in the opening week. You guessed it, both of them lost to Brazilian sides.

Zulia's 1-2 defeat came in a special night as they welcomed the new team from Chapecoense. It was a night which was about a lot more than just football, but the visiting team did a good job and got a 2-0 lead through a freekick from an impossible angle by Reinaldo and another goal from Luiz Antonio. Zulia struck back through former Mönchengladbach winger Juan Arango. It was not enough and Zulia fall behind early in a strong group that also includes Nacional and Lanús.

Zamora faced Grêmio in the other match and lost 0-2 without much of a chance. The Venezuelans were in it, but their lack of precision let them down as they only collected one shot on target throughout the 90 minutes. Grêmio on the other end did not do much more than they had to and got their goals late in the first half (Leó Moura) and via penalty early in the second (Luan).

Ugly: What's up, Argentina?

While Venezuelan losses came somewhat expected, the performances of the Argentina clubs were highly underwhelming. Their problem without league football translated straight into matchday 1 of the Copa Libertadores, leaving them without a win. San Lorenzo lost their game in Brazil heavily, champions Lanús were disappointing in their home match against Nacional. 

Atlético Tucumán might not be the biggest caliber of the competition, but playing with 11 against 10 for 70 minutes should fetch a better result than a 1-1 draw against Palmeiras, especially after taking the lead right after Vitor Hugo's red card. Lastly, Godoy Cruz played okay, but still only found a draw against Atlético Mineiro. A second minute striker from Javier Correa was equalized by Fred's penalty. 

Argentina's best two clubs in the competition, River Plate and Estudiantes, only enter the competition in the coming weeks, giving them hope that things might get better in the future. Particularly the return of the league season after the strike last night should help. 


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