As you may have noticed, the World Cup is over, and with champions Germany leaving South America crowned winners as the first Europeans to do so in these lands, South America prepares for the closing stages of its most coveted club football tournament, the Copa Libertadores.
This year, the trophy will fall to the hands of a newly crowned winner, as none out Bolivar, San Lorenzo, Defensor Sporting and Nacional, have ever won the competition, with only the first two having reached such stages before.
it must be noted that since 2010 it was decided that the Copa Libertadores semifinals and final should take place after the World Cup, such system has drawn its fair share of criticism since it clashes with transfer windows all over the world, thus making it hard for the final four remaining to retain their most prized assets, thus compromising their position to mount a challenge for the trophy with the same form & squad they had 6 weeks prior to that.
Among the numerous outgoing players, San Lorenzo will find themselves without Alberto Correa (sold to Atletico Madrid) and Colombian World Cup centre-back Carlos Valdes, who will depart the club after a contract standoff, while opponents Bolivar, will miss their captain and goalscorer, Uruguayan William Ferreira. On the side of draw, Defensor Sporting will face Nacional, minus the services of U-20 World Cup finalist Gaston Silva, who recently secured a move to Torino.
Wednesday, July 23 – San Lorenzo Vs. Bolivar:
San Lorenzo de Almagro (aka Pope Francis’s team) have reached the Copa Libertadores semifinal for the fourth time in their history, after beating Gremio on penalties in an extremely close tie. The Argentinian team hold home advantage for the first leg in a tie that will probably be won by the side who manages to make better use of their own soil. The reason for that being, that Bolivar play their football in Estadio Hernando Siles, located in Bolivian capital La Paz, at 3.601 meters above sea level, all which makes an away triumph a very unlikely scenario for El Ciclón, so one can be certain that coach Edgardo Bauza will be looking to win by a comfortable margin.
San Lorenzo are holders of one of the better defensive records in the cup, conceding only once at home (7 in total), and keeping clean sheets in both of their home games during the knockout stages, however, they also have the lowest number of goals scored among all semifinalists.
While Mauro Matos looks certain to lead the line, San Lorenzo -unsurprisingly- lack a genuine goal scorer, luckily they boast a generous number of options up front (even if unproven), so expect any one of Nicolas Blandi, Gonzalo Veron or Martin Cauteruccio to feature from the bench if they are in desperate need of a goals or just looking to extend their lead.
Even despite the aforementioned departures, coach Edgardo Bauza will be able to count upon Pablo Barrientos, who recently arrived from Catania, as well as winger Ignacio Piatti, recovered from previous fitness concerns. Bauza wil also be thrilled to know that Conmebol has lifted a 1 game suspension on his enganche, Leandro Romagnoli, who was sent off in the quarterfinals Vs. Cruzeiro, however, Bolívar have threatened to challenge the match on the basis of the revoked decision.
On the other hand, while Bolivar began their cup participation with an away loss to Emelec, they’ve since gone unbeaten for 9 games on their way to the semifinals, having left behind the likes of Flamengo, Leon (Mexican champions) and Lanus (Copa Sudamericana champions). Nonetheless, while coach Xabier Askagorta has favored a 3-4-3 formation (which transitions to 5 at the back when defending), it’s unknown whether the absence of the departed Ferreira will prompt a tactical shuffle from the basque.
Strikers Carlos Tenorio and Oscar Rodas were brought in to make up for the loss of their talisman, but Ferreira’s tally of 3 goals and 4 assists will not be easily filled. Despite that, Bolivar still possess a genuine strike force in Juanmi Callejon (you guessed it, he is Jose Callejon’s twin brother), who has netted 4 so far, and Juan Carlos Arce with 3 goals to his name.
Fitness wise, Bolivar will be without striker Jaime Arrascaita who is out for the remainder of the cup. On the other hand, both Gerardo Yecerotte and Wilmer Flores are recovered from their own setbacks and will feature in midfield, while shot-stopping wonderkid Romel Quiñonez has recovered form a slight knock and will start in goal. Quiñonez has been huge for Bolivar so far, stopping a crucial penalty in the tie against Leon, and helping mantain a defensive record of 3 goals conceded in 5 games at home, such numbers, while not as good as San Lorenzo’s, must be considered in hand with how much better they perform at home.
This should be a tight contest, both teams have a reasonable interest in preserving a clean sheet, expect Bolivar to sit back looking to counter when San Lorenzo leave gaps, after all, it’s the latter’s match to win, and given the fact they will have to play the return leg in La Paz, you might as well say they are truly obligated to do so.
Tuesday, July 22 – Nacional Vs. Defensor Sporting:
Perhaps the more uneventful of the two ties, Defensor Sporting look ample favorites to book a a place in the final over Paraguay’s Nacional, and when one looks at the way both teams have made their way to semifinals, it seem rightful to think so.
Having participated in the Libertadores only six times prior to this campaign (and failing to make it out of the group stages on each of those), Nacional are by far the outsiders among the semifinalists, especially when one considers they booked their way out of the group stages for the first time courtesy of a late goal against Santa Fe.
They have since continued to make history, beating favourites Velez Sarsfield to secure a spot in the quarterfinals, where they then knocked out Arsenal de Sarandí on a 1-0 aggregate score, on both occasions displaying a defensive solidity and resilience unseen in the group stages, frustrating their opponents for most of the time during games. Rest assured, even playing at home, you can bet coach Gustavo Morínigo will look to keep the scoreline on the low side, maybe even willing to give the ball away with home advantage at his side.
Unfortunately that’s where the good news end, mirroring San Lorenzo, they lack a consistent source of goals, with their lead scorer being midfielder Silvio Torales, who is more of a box-to-box player. To make things worse, they wil be without their leading striker Fredy Bareiro (injured), with Julian Benitez yet to be ruled out too.
In hope of improving their striking department, Nacional signed Brian Montenegro from local rivals Libertad, so he is likely to start on Tuesday, at the top of a 4-2-3-1 formation, that relies heavily on the involvement of wingers Marcos Melgarejo and the doubtful Benitez.
Defensor’s coach, Fernando Curutchet, also faces injury concerns ahead of the match, with both right-backs sidelined through injury, there’s doubt of who will fill the slot between Federico Gino and Enrique Etcheverry. Andres Fleurquin will be a game time decision, and if absent will likely be replaced by Juan Carlos Amado.
Whatever concerns Defensor may face in other areas of the field, they can definitely rely on their attack. Veteran Nicolas Olivera, even though not a guaranteed starter, is the cup’s tops scorer with 5 goals to his name, all while providing 4 assists too, and Brazilian Felipe Guedoz has pitched in 4 goals while assisting 2.
In total Defensor Sporting have scored 15 goals in the cup, conceding 7, but beware, this is not a possession oriented side e.g. Against Atletico Nacional they averaged 33.5% possession, yet they ended up winning the tie 3-0 on aggregate.
Defensor Sporting are heavy favorites to progress here, but it will be interesting to see how this game plays out considering we have two sides who are comfortable letting their opponents have the ball.