Thursday, March 16, 2017

Zulia surprise with away win against Nacional

Nacional played their first home game of the 2017 Copa Libertadores season against Zulia FC tonight. The match did not quite go according to plan and saw the Uruguayans lose by a goal to nil.
Gran Parque Central on Copa Libertadores night (Photo: Pasión Tricolor Twitter).

Personnel: Two changes for Nacional, three for Zulia

Martín Lasarte brought in Tabaré Viudez who had been lively after coming on against Racing Club on the weekend. He filled the right midfield position in place of Álvaro González, that moved to defensive midfield instead. This whole area of the pitch was a new one, as Santiago Romero had to be replaced and Diego Arismendi was needed at centre-back for the injured Rafael García. Gonzalo Porras rotated into the first XI.

On the other side, coach Daniel Farías swapped three times from the 1-2 home loss against Chapecoense. The defense saw the most changes as both Daniel Rivillo and Sandro Notaroberto went out to be replaced by Kerwin Chirinos and Edixon Cuevas. In addition, César Gómez was replaced by Luciano Guaycochea.

First half: Counters from Zulia enough for lead

Both teams attempted their best to get a positive start for their respective sides. Especially Zulia let the ball circulate well for extended periods of time. Yet the first true chance had to be waited upon until the 14th minute when a shot by Nacional's #9 Hugo Silveira got deflected and had to be saved alertly by the visiting goalkeeper Renny Vega. On the other side, Jefferson Savarino fired a shot wide, was however whistled offside shortly before.

While the Uruguayan champions tried to control the game and moved forward towards the opposing penalty area, they often misplaced passes in midfield, leaving Zulia's midfielders around Juan Arango way too much freedom. Even though the Venezuelan counterattacks could not quite convince regarding an end product, they remained a threat for Nacional's back four.

In the 31st minute, Gran Parque Central saw its first goal of the night, surprisingly coming from the visitors. Zulia beat Nacional with speed and skill, as Arango's high through-ball found the run of Savarino perfectly. Arismendi had been unable to reach the ball with his head, paving the way in on goal for Zulia's #10. He made no mistake and finished past Esteban Conde into the far post.

Zulia kept their danger on the counter up on several occasions afterwards as well. They really deserved their lead here considering Nacional's lack of concentration or decisiveness going forward. Arismendi kept getting exposed in his unusual role and picked up a yellow card in the process, too. Right in added time of the first half, Nacional managed one more big chance when Porras' shot was saved magnificently by Vega with one hand. We went to halftime with an away lead.

Second half: Last big chance wasted by Nacional

The start to the second 45 minutes was much more eventful than the first time around. Inside one minute, Arismendi produced his next huge error that left the strong Yohandry Orozco wide open in the area, but his shot his the crossbar. A minute later, Silveira's sharp cross could not find the waiting Viudez in the middle. Finally, after 52 minutes Martín Lasarte realised that Arismendi at the back was a mistake and replaced him with the talented Agustín Rogel.

Nacional had to do more now offensively and produced half chances from Kevin Ramírez, Tata González and Alfonso Espino in the process.  Lasarte had to risk more at the hour mark and brought on striker Rodrigo Aguirre for Seba Fernández who never really got into the game. Shortly after, Rogel was held during a freekick, before being knocked down by the goalie storming out. The referee missed it alltogether and did not give a penalty.

The home team pressured their opponents much better than they did during the first half and Zulia enjoyed less time on the ball for their creative midfielders. This was also due to Rogel's direct impact who did a nice job in a stronger Nacional back line. Another player to have a potentially big impact? Lasarte's final substitute Martín Ligüera that convinced with goal and assist against Racing on the weekend.

Had Ligüera been a few centimeters taller, he could have reached Ramírez cross not too long after coming on, but it slid out for a goalkick instead. After 87 minutes, Nacional got their huge chance to get the equaliser after all: Polenta won the ball nicely and crossed into the middle to find a wide open Ramírez. His rough luck on the night continued as he volleyed it wide, which was in fact far more complicated than hitting the net. It ended with the surprise away win, 0-1 to Zulia.


Two things stopped Nacional from taking the win at home today. Firstly, their incredibly poor midfield and defensive performance in the first half that was rightly punished with a 0-1 deficit. Way too much space was left for Arango, Oroczo and Co. Secondly, they lacked their usual creative spirit including the necessary cutting edge chances. Even though they looked dangerous in the second half, should have had a penalty and nearly scored right at the end, they did not do quite enough overall. Zulia deserved the win thanks to a brave away performance in Montevideo.

Man of the Match

Juan Arango was simply outstanding in Zulia's midfield today, particularly during the first half. He was always there when needed for his teammates to be the recipient of any kind of pass. In addition, he assisted the only goal beautifully and showed that you do not have to be 18 to be a successful football player in 2017.


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