Nacional march on, Superclasico semi & all Belo Horizonte final
Article first featured on Outside of the Boot as part of a fortnightly column on the biggest news coming out of South America.
Recoba magic keeps Nacional on course for title
Uruguayan league leaders Nacional were staring down the barrel of defeat to bitter rivals Peñarol when injury time goals from Sebastian Fernandez and Alvaro Recoba gave el Bolso a dramatic clasico victory. Though there was genuine reason for grievance with a blatant handball for Fernandez’s equaliser, there could be no complaints with the winner. 38-year-old Recoba stepped up in the fifth minute of injury time to curl in a brilliant 30 yard free kick and win the game 2-1. It’s not the first time Chino has made a telling contribution in a clasico, having scored decisive goals on three other occasions to down the Manyas.
The victory means that Nacional continue their imperious form and it would be a bold person who would bet against them securing the Apertura title. With eleven wins from twelve games, including a run of nine consecutive victories and only two conceded, Nacional have 33 points and are six clear of Racing de Montevideo in second. Key to their success has been the form of veteran striker Ivan Alonso who has twelve goals, ably supporting by a relatively young squad. Diego Arismendi has earned a call up to the national team, former U20 captain Diego Polenta has returned to the defence and Carlos de Pena has also impressed. Perhaps the most exciting youngster is the 19-year-old rangy playmaker Gaston Pereiro who has three goals this season and is seen as the heir to Recoba’s throne. He even got the old maestro’s face tattooed on his arm this week! This blend of experienced heads and a hungry young core should carry Nacional to a first title in three years.
As for Penarol, the loss was their fifth in a row and manager Jorge Fossati promptly resigned after the game. Legendary defender Paolo Montero has now taken the reigns and will be charged with rejuvenating his ageing side. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as los Carboneros sit fourth in the league and have some exciting players coming through, particularly striker Jonathan Rodriguez.
Sudamericana semi serves up Superclasico showdown
Argentinian giants Boca Juniors and River Plate will meet each other in a mouth-watering two legged semi-final in the Copa Sudamericana. The in-form River defeated compatriots Estudiantes 5-3 on aggregate, while Boca’s revival continued with an impressive 5-1 victory over Paraguayans Cerro Porteño. After the rain-soaked league meeting between the two sides, these two bouts promise to be a much better measure of who is the superior team.
River have been in sensational form this season, sitting top of the league with 32 points from 14 games, and are unbeaten in thirty one – equal with the longest run in their decorated history. Also boasting a watertight defence, Gallardo has also managed to get the team playing with style and swagger and, with Teo Gutierrez and co. in fine fettle, los Millonarios will be firm favourites to progress to the final.
However, since Rodolfo Arruabarrena has taken charge, Boca have enjoyed a massive upturn in results with only three losses in all competitions with Vasco at the helm and seven wins from the last ten games. A youthful vibrancy has been injected with Andres Chavez and Jonathan Calleri impressing up front and Fernando Gago finally rediscovering some form. Even the defence has improved and Boca have a real chance of upsetting the odds.
In the other semi-final Sao Paulo will take on Colombian champions Atletico Nacional. On paper the Brazilians look like they have the edge. Second in the league and a whole host of household names such as Kaka, Ganso, Pato, Michel Bastos, Luis Fabiano and former Arsenal midfielder Denilson all on their books they should have enough firepower to overcome Atletico Nacional. Los Verdolagas – who beat Peruvian outfit Cesar Vallejo in the quarters – though will be no pushovers and under Juan Carlos Osorio they have been consistently strong. Sherman Cardenas is a classy playmaker and Edwin Cardona is an exciting talent who could provide a moment of inspiration and will be key players for the Colombians.
All Belo Horizonte final in Copa do Brasil
Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro will duke it out for more than local bragging rights when they contest the Copa do Brasil final. Both teams ensured their passage to what promises to be an attractive final in dramatic circumstances.
Atletico, having lost the first leg 2-0 to Flamengo, looked like they would crash out after a strike from Everton put them three behind on aggregate. But a miraculous comeback – something the club became synonymous with during their 2013 Libertadores win – saw them win 4-1 on the night and 4-3 overall, sending the Galoucura into raptures. Meanwhile, neighbours Cruzeiro ensured it would be an all Belo Horizonte final after two late goals from Willian silenced the Vila Belmiro to give the Raposa a hard fought 3-3 draw against Santos and another 4-3 victory on aggregate.
Cruzeiro are currently top of the Brasileiro and look as if they will retain their title and, in theory, should be favourites for a league and cup double. However, an exhausting year of football may have taken its toll and give Atletico a chance of giving them a sweet victory over their rivals. Given their propensity for victory against the odds in recent years, only a fool would right off Galo. Perhaps most importantly, the final represents the spectacular couple of years that both Minas Gerais teams have enjoyed on the pitch, as expertly surmised here by James Young.
Talent Radar Spotlight
In the past couple of weeks, two young players at Boca Juniors have both caught the eye. Following an injury to Cristian ‘Pichi’ Erbes, Arruabarrena drafted in Andres Cubas and the 18-year-old has put in a string of impressive displays at the base of the midfield. His positional intelligence, energy, tackling and simple yet effective passing have drawn comparisons with Mauricio Serna and he is rapidly becoming a fan favourite. Furthermore, in the five games Cubas has played (four as a starter) this time Boca have won on every occasion. Born in the province Misiones, Cubas’ family is Paraguayan and there are reports that the Paraguayan FA are already trying to naturalise the promising defensive midfielder.
Another highly rated talent at Boca is 17-year-old Guido Vadalá who made headlines this week after he scored 7 times in a youth championship 8-2 win against Argentinos Juniors. The young forward was named best young player in Argentina in 2013 when he scored 32 goals in 29 games and has, inevitably, been dubbed the new Messi, especially after having trials at Barcelona when he was 12. Capable of playing as an ‘enganche’ or up front he has exceptional speed, technique, dribbling and eye for goal, it won’t be long before he’s gracing the Bombonera with his dazzling array of skills.