Two weeks are all that remain. Chile’s three Copa Libertadores representatives have already been eliminated, while Universidad de Chile recently claimed the Copa Chile to secure qualification for the Copa Sudamericana later in the year.
All that remains is to decide who will win the Primera División/Torneo 2013/Torneo Transición/whatever we are calling it and who will be playing in Primera B come July.
The top five – Unión Española, Universidad Católica, O’Higgins, Universidad de Chile and Cobreloa – all won to leave us with the situation where with six points left to play for only four points separate the teams.
At the bottom San Marcos de Arica are staring into the abyss after conceding a late goal at home to Deportes Iquique, drawing 1-1 to leave them all but needing a maximum of six points from the final two games, one of which is against title-chasing Católica on the final weekend.
Below we initially steer away from the title race to look at last year’s champions before looking at a striker finding his feet at the ideal time; one of the best talents in the country at one of the biggest clubs; Colo Colo’s lack of effect on the destination of the title; and the relegation predicament.
Another rebuilding job in store at Huachipato – with or without Pellicer
Huachipato’s 3-1 home win against Santiago Wanderers lifted Jorge Pellicer’s side to 10th in the Primera División. At the start of the season it would have been a disappointing position to be in with only two games remaining. But after the start they endured it has been a respectable return, especially when their stab at qualifying from a tough Copa Libertadores group is taken into consideration – losing only one of four games against illustrious Brazilian opposition.
Since the beginning of March one result stands out as ‘not good enough’ – a 2-0 home defeat to Cobresal. Unsurprisingly March was the month Lorenzo Reyes returned to the starting line-up after injury problems which blighted the opening two months of the year. The midfielder is only 21-years-old but is already club captain and an influential component of the team’s midfield.
After a shakey start against Wanderers where he was guilty of misplacing a number of passes he grew into the game and began to have a significant bearing on proceedings; thwarting the away side’s attacks and prompting moves from deep.
There can be no disputing the fact that Ivo Basay’s men were the better team for long periods of the match as they were the more fluid side and as a result threatened Huachipato more than the home side threatened them. Leandro Torres was excellent as one of the attacking three behind Luis Salmeron, while full-backs Boris Sandoval and Franz Schultz proved why they are among the best attacking pair in the league.
However, when it came down to it Huachipato showed their quality with Braian Rodríguez scoring the second and assisting for the third to confirm the three points. The rangy striker improved when Federico Falcone was brought on to give the team another target and take the hefty responsibility off the Uruguayan.
Rodríguez and Reyes, along with Nery Veloso and Carlos Labrín (and the injured Omar Merlo) form the spine of the team and it would not be of any great surprise if all mentioned are playing their football away from Talcahuano next season.
The former two have been linked to Universidad Católica and Universidad de Chile respectively for what will be the second transfer window running. Both will be keen to move on to a club where they have more chance of picking up silverware (regularly), earning more money, playing in continental competition more often and opening another door for a potential move to Europe or Brazil as is the case of Rodríguez who has already had his name touted after his Libertadores exploits.
And they may be joined by Pellicer who has garnered admirers for his efforts with the Steelers; a thorough and organised manager. Not long ago he was heavily linked with Colo Colo. After the departure of Manuel Villalobos and Cesár Cortés in January which had a detrimental affect the club are heading for an even greater period of transition.
Canales sends a reminder to Sampaoli as UE keep the lead
With five teams involved in the title race any sort of edge is viewed as a positive, even if it gives the slimmest of advantages. Unión Española were the first of the five teams in action at the weekend knowing they had a great chance to extend their lead at the top, if only for a few hours.
After a period of struggle they bounced back last weekend with a 2-0 win over Santiago Wanderers and were expected to follow it up with a comfortable victory over relegation threatened Antofagasta.
They won 3-1 but it wasn’t as comfortable as many would expect. They seemed to have lost a certain verve from last year and earlier in the tournament. The football can appear slower and more laboured at times. Despite claims made about Universidad de Chile in recent years, Unión Española, as noted by many coaches and pundits, are the team which most resemble Barcelona in Chile. And just like Barca have encountered, teams are less willing to attack them with numbers.
La furia roja have had to encounter more resolute and organised defences and for a period they seemed to be struggling to do so, even with the return of Gustavo Canales.
But against los pumas there were signs of the Unión side we have grown to love among the slower pace (not helped by a 12.30pm kick-off). Mario Larenas was back in at left-back and he combined well with Patricio Rubio and Christian Cueva to form a triangle in advanced positions on the left. Oscar Hernández and Matías Abeliras played in the two deep midfield positions which meant the team had two effective distributors knowing they would not have to defend too much.
Rubio created the first after working space on the left to float a ball onto the head of Canales. Canales got his brace before rounding the scoring off with a penalty. Not only was it a boost for the team, which keeps them ahead of Universidad Católica (who came from behind to beat Audax Italiano 2-1) on goal difference, but Canales knows Sampaoli is on the look out for a striker with a qualifying double header coming up.
Despite being born in Argentina he has Chilean citizenship and has already been capped for la roja.
A week of dreams
Two goals in a 3-2 win against your team’s arch-rivals; a last minute winner in the cup final against another of your team’s rivals; a stunning volley to secure three points to keep your team in the title hunt.
Few players manage the above feats in their whole career. The list gets exponentially smaller when you filter it down to see who achieved the triplet of feats in little more than a week. But that is exactly what Argentine Juan Igancio Duma achieved. Not bad for a 19-year-old.
It has been a frustrating season for Duma up until recently after the Argentine forward was one of the breakthroughs of last year’s Clausura.
Including the weekend he had only made eight starts in the league this year, none coming in April. He struggled for form in the early part of the season and did not have one position tied down. La U are famed for playing with three forwards – usually a wide forward and creative forward on either side of a striker (although sometimes it has been a false 9). He was played on the left and right as Franco struggled to find the right balance.
Duma is a wide forward in the ilk of Eduardo Vargas, offering not only width but penetration, sharpness in and around the box and goals of which there has been six in eleven appearances in the league. He showed his striking prowess with a deft header against Colo Colo as well as a run and finish (plus desire) that was reminiscent of Edu Vargas, similar to how he scored the winner against UC in the Copa Chile final.
On Saturday he demonstrated his technical ability and penchant for the spectacular with a stunning controlled volley from the edge of the box. It came to him at an awkward height after an Isaac Díaz but he shifted his feet and guided the ball into the top corner.
He has filled the void of the injured Sebastián Ubilla and then some. The player has an $8m clause in his contract and is keen to stay for the foreseeable future. He will be looking to make it a fortnight to remember with more exploits in one of the biggest matches of the season – a clásico universitario which will go some way to deciding which of the two famous sides will still be in with a realistic shout of the title.
Elementary for O’Higgins in the Monumental
A few weeks ago Colo Colo had just won two on the bounce and were set for a run-in that included matches against Universidad Católica, Universidad de Chile, O’Higgins and Unión Española. We half-jokingly suggested that los albos had an outside chance of a title tilt sitting nine points of the summit of the league.
But then you remember just how bad they have been this season, a case that has been all two evident in the four matches since their last success – 3-2 against San Marcos de Arica – as they have lost three and drawn one. UC and La U earned deserved wins and O’Higgins made it a hat-trick for title chasing teams at the weekend with an all too easy 2-1 win – Colo Colo’s consolation coming in the closing minutes.
In the opening 45 minutes Eduardo Berizzo’s side played a perfect half, keeping the home side at arm’s length with and without the ball. Colo Colo troubled infrequently while O’Higgins were everything Colo Colo were not with the ball, purposeful, quick and penetrative.
Gonzalo Barriga fizzed in the opener before the perpetually excellent Juan Rodrgio Rojas doubled the lead as la celeste strolled through home side’s midfield and defence.
In the second half O’Higgins relaxed and eased to the three points – their first win at the Estadio Monumental since 1989 – which keeps them third and a point behind the top two.
It is the former point that is most galling for Colo Colo. The away side relaxed and they could only make an inroad to the score late on. It was a much changed starting XI but there seems to be, rather than an aura around the team, a stink that will need to be changed by new president Arturo Salah in the upcoming pre-season.
Primera B beckons for San Marcos
Like a dagger through the heart, Manuel Villalobos’s late, late goal has all but consigned San Marcos de Arica to a swift return to Primera B.
The game against Deportes Iquique was not only a must-win but it was a good chance of winning as Iquique are pleading for the season to end. But the draw, coupled with Cobresal’s win over Unión La Calera, has the team looking down the barrel of the gun.
Playing in the top division for the first time in 37 years, San Marcos have been unlucky in that the ANFP decided to change the format of the league resulting in this 17 game tournament rather than the team getting the usual year to fight for their survival.
The goal was heartbreaking for the side from the north who have brought in a passionate core of fans but have been unable to transfer that onto the pitch at emulate fellow promoted sides Everton and Ñublense.
They can only save themselves by winning their final two games away to Antofagasta who are a direct relegation rival and the tougher assignment of beating Universidad Católica who could still be in the title race.
A comprehensive rundown of the scenario(s) where San Marcos can save themselves or be relegated can be found here. Unfortunately, for the European fan it is a complex mathematical situation with relegation decided through the Coeficiente de Rendimiento – the average points per game over the last three and a half years (seven tournaments) is taken into consideration. Since San Marcos have only just returned to the Primera División after a long stay away their final points total is divided by 17 (the number of games they have played in this tournament).
The team finishing 17th in the Coeficiente de Rendimiento – likely to be between Cobresal (currently 17th) and Antofagasta (16th) – will enter a play-off against a team from the Primera B to try and salvage their status.
Antofagasta have produced some excellent results – notably the defeat of Universidad de Chile – but the worst defence in the league has dragged them down, while Cobresal have struggled in recent years but as always are doing their best Wigan impression, winning two of their last four – before that they had lost eight of their last 10, drawing the other two.