With 2014 having just begun and the new Primera Division just about to start we thought that it would be an appropriate time to have a look at some of the talking points from 2013 in Chilean football.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride
Despite being the most consistent team of the two championships held in 2013, Universidad Católica finished the year without a trophy, undeservedly so in the eyes of many and just not their fans. In the Torneo Transición in the first half of the year they finished the season equal on points with eventual champions Unión Española but missed out on the title on goal difference.
In the Apertura in the second half of the season they once again topped the table this time ahead of O’Higgins on goal difference. However the ANFP in their wisdom had decided that from the Apertura season on, if two teams finish the season on the same points the title should be decided by a playoff rather than on goal difference like the previous season. In the final a 34th minute Pablo Hernandez goal proved to be the difference between the two teams as O’Higgins claimed their first ever Primera Division title.
Both seasons were eerily similar for los cruzados winning twelve of their seventeen games in each of them and picking up thirty-eight points in the Torneo Transición and thirty-nine points in the Apertura. Compounding this was their failure to claim a continental spot for next year going out in the liguilla to Iquique and in the end seventy-seven points over thirty-four games but no trophy in the trophy cabinet saw Martin Lasarte tender his resignation and Universidad Católica heading into the Clausura season with former player and youth team coach Rodrigo Astudillo in charge as they go in search of their eleventh title.
Outside the big three
For only the second time since the short tournament format was introduced in 2002 have seen a year where the none of the “big three” (Universidad de Chile, Colo Colo and Universidad Católica) claim one of the Primera Division titles on offer. The only other time this occurred was back in 2003 when Cobreloa claimed both the Apertura and Clausura titles. In fact since Universidad de Chile claimed the 2012 Apertura title three different teams have claimed the Primera Division with two of them coming from outside of the capital.
The 2013 Torneo Transición saw Unión Española bounce back from the heartbreak of their 2012 Clausura final loss as well as the departures of Emiliano Vecchio and Emilio Hernandez in the off season to claim their seventh Primera Division title from Universidad Católica on goal difference after both teams finished the season on thirty-eight points playing in a style that Joel Sked describes as a balance between La U’s relentless pressing and attacking a more possession based approach.
Like Unión Española, O’Higgins found redemption for a heartbreaking final loss, theirs being the 2012 Apertural final loss to Universidad de Chile, as they claimed their first ever Primera Division title with a 1-0 victory over Universidad Católica in the playoff for the title after both teams finished the season level on points.
The hero in the playoff was Pablo Hernandez who scored the only goal of the game and was one of O’Higgins’s key players alongside Pablo Calandria in ensuring their debut title. Much credit must also go to manager Eduardo Berizzo who has a moulded a resilient side who claimed their title without playing a single match at the home ground of El Teniente as it currently undergoing renovations for the 2015 Copa America. This resilience was no more on show than in the final match of the regular season as they scored two goals in the last twelve minutes against Rangers de Talca, including a 91st minute penalty from the aforementioned Calandria, to send the title to a playoff.
That elusive thirtieth title
Ever since claiming their twenty-ninth title in the 2009 Clausura season, Colo Colo have been in search of their thirtieth title and a third star ever since. Last year they came close in the 2012 Clausura season finishing the regular season on top of the table but were summarily knocked out in the first round of the playoffs in emphatic fashion by Unión Española with los albos responding by signing to of their conquerers’ best players in the form of Emiliano Vecchio and Emilio Hernandez.
However 2013 proved to be unlucky for Colo Colo as they never got close to winning that elusive thirtieth title and seeing the departure of three managers in the process, although to be fair to Hugo Gonzalez he was only a caretaker manager after Omar Labruna’s rollercoaster ride in charge of Chile’s biggest club came to an end midway through the Torneo Transición.
Gustavo Benitez returned to the club with whom he won titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998 for the Apertura season. But a poor start to the season which saw los albos find themselves in the rare position of being at the foot of table and had rival fans taunting them with a possible relegation to the Primera B he was relieved of his duties mid-October and Hector Tapia was given the job for the remainder of the season. Tapia’s time in charge saw Colo Colo surge up the table and they finished the season in eighth position and was enough for him to be given the job on a full time basis for the Clausura season.
All hail King Arturo!
Whilst Alexis Sánchez finished the year off the year in style for Barcelona, it was fellow countryman Arturo Vidal who well and truly stamped himself as Chile’s pre-eminent player of the year. At club level he was Juventus’ leading goalscorer as they claimed their 29th Serie A title and had James Horncastle describing him as their most decisive player whilst Michael Cox proclaims that Vidal, who came in at No. 26 in The Guardian’s Top 100 players of 2013, as follows:
Perhaps the most complete player in world football today, Arturo Vidal’s adaptability is outstanding. Naturally he’s a combative box-to-box midfielder, but he is also one of the few players around who could conceivably play in every outfield position. His tackling statistics are astonishing for such a technically gifted footballer while his penalty kicks are extraordinarily precise – always dispatched perfectly into the top corner.
However despite scoring his first ever hat-trick he was unable to help his side progress from the group stages of this season’s Champions League although he did provide some comic relief against Real Madrid.
At national team level Vidal has been rejuvenated since Jorge Sampaoli took charge of la roja nine matches into their qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup. Under Claudio Borghi, Vidal suffered from a lack of discipline both on and off the pitch and came under constant criticism from the local press as to why the national team wasn’t seeing the performances that we were seeing at club level.
But since Sampaoli has taken charge of the national team we have seen Vidal start to replicate those Juventus’ performances as he and Marcelo Diaz have formed a formidable partnership in the Chilean midfield that will be crucial to the team’s progression in the upcoming World Cup.
¡Viva el Sampaolismo!
We could go and on and on about Jorge Sampaoli’s influence on the national team but it is better that you read this piece instead.