South America’s most exciting club dump the Brazilian title contenders out of the competition.
Being compared to arguably the worlds greatest ever club team is usually considered an honour. However, Universidad de Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli brusquely sweeps away such connotations.
Having won the Chilean Apertura earlier this year, whereby they overcame another side that have recently impressed in continental exploits, Universidad Catolica, they are now into the final knockout stages of the Clausura as they look to complete the domestic double.
The U –their nickname- earned a comfortable victory over Brazilian title-chasing side Vasco da Gama last night to extend their unbeaten run to 31 games in all competitions.
It is not just the current domination of their domestic league that has earned them such a fearsome reputation. It is also their style of play, operating with three in attack, one central and two wide men.
In much of South America, there is a tendency to opt for the 4-2-2-2 formation which includes two defensive midfielders and two attacking midfielders. This was how Vasco lined up last night and the width offered by the U exploited the Brazilian team’s narrowness.
They Chileans have impressed in this year’s Copa Sudamericana after being treated as a somewhat unknown quantity. Their impressive results include; a 4-0 thrashing of Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro, a 2-1 win away to Arsenal de Sarandi in Buenos Aires and now the elimination of Vasco da Gama.
Vasco were searched desperately for an away goal but struggled the U dealt well defensively with multiple deliveries into the box. due to fatigue up front. Vasco looked hampered by their congested schedule. The in-form 34-year-old Felipe was rested, while it was clear that Juninho Pernambucano was tired. Elton also missed out after being withdrawn early against Fluminense last weekend and Eder Luis was absent through injury.
The young Chilean wingers, Eduardo Vargas and Francisco Castro, along with the midfield, ensured that Universidad attacked rapidly and in numbers, exploiting the lack of a defensive mindset in the Vasco team.
It became too much for the Brazilians and after 31 minutes, when Fagner and Allan failed to clear their lines, Aranguiz squeezed a shot on goal. His effort was beat away by Fernando but record signing, Gustavo Canales, was on hand to slam in the rebound.
Early in the second half Romulo saw two fantastic efforts saved by the Chilean keeper Jhonny Herrera. The stopper has only conceded twice in ten Copa Sudamericana fixtures.
Vasco were reduced to 10 men after 70 minutes when Fagner saw red for an elbow on Canales. The U exploited the space vacated by Fagner down the Vasco’s right and a lovely team goal was finished off by Vargas when he volleyed in from close range for his 8th of the tournament.
Universidad de Chile have now reached their first final in the club’s history as Sampaoli has brought back the “Blue Ballet” of the sides of the early 1960’s.
We have seen previously how the Brazilian national team struggles to cope with wingers in a 4-2-2-2 formation and this was once again the case last night. Brazilian teams rely on their wing backs for width going forwards. Opposing wingers pen them in meaning they must play through the middle, where they are also outnumbered against a 4-3-3 formation.
Comparisons to Barcelona are clearly extravagant but the Chilean side have rightly been recognised for playing attractive, attacking football. The three-pronged attack certainly has quality; pace with the youthful Vargas and Castro, power and height with Canales through the middle. Marcelo Diaz is the heart of the midfield and his expert passing has seen him brought into the Chilean national team. In defence, Marcos Gonzlez and Osvaldo Gonzalez have been called up for international duty alongside team mate Jose Rojas.
The increasing number of home-based players is fantastic to see and certainly echoes the “Blue Ballet” of old. But how long can the club realistically hold on to these players? Will the ‘stay-at-home’ culture currently sweeping through Brazil extend to other youngsters who ply their trade in South America?
They will now take on Ecuadorian side LDU Quito in the final with the two legs taking place over the next two weeks.
It is Liga’s second Copa Sudamericana final in just three years and they knocked out Argentinean giants Velez Sarsfield in the semi-final with a 3-0 aggregate win. The prolific striker Hernan Barcos scored all three for Liga who are also the only team in the tournament proper to have progressed when playing the second leg away from home.
It will surely be a fantastic affair when the two sides face off as Universidad de Chile seek to finally return to the golden era of the 1960’s and win their first continental trophy. Liga however are an experienced continental side and there is no doubt they will be staunch opposition.
Read more from Tom at his excellent blog Purple Patch