The second week of Copa Libertadores action saw O’Higgins pick up their first win of the campaign and maintain their unbeaten start whilst Unión Española started the competition with a draw in Ecuador.
Union Española had to play the last 15 minutes with ten men as they played out an entertaining draw in their opening Copa Libertadores match away to Ecuadorian side Independiente del Valle.
The match had been a doubt to go ahead after heavy rainfall left vast pools of water covering the pitch just an hour and a half before kick-off, however the water eventually drained away sufficiently to leave the pitch playable.
Union Española started the game on the front foot knowing they needed to pick up points against Independiente to have any chance of advancing from a tough group into the knockout phase. Gustavo Canales had the game’s first meaningful attempt as he bent his free kick from the edge of the box just wide of Librado Azcona’s goal in the 10th minute.
Three minutes later and it was Matias Campos Torro’s turn to narrowly miss the target as he headed Cristian ‘Pochi’ Chavez’ corner just over the bar. Independiente gradually started to play themselves back into the game and they were rewarded for their pressure when Mario Larenas fouled Jonathan Gonzalez in the area to give away a penalty to the home side.
Junior Sornoza stepped up to the spot and confidently rolled the ball into the right corner, sending Española goalkeeper Diego Sanchez the wrong way. The goal was harsh on the away side who had been the better team up until that point and they started the second half much like the first.
It took them only eight minutes to get back on level terms when the increasingly impressive Chavez skipped between two players in midfield, burst past two more on the edge of the box and set up Sebastian Jaime, who drilled the ball brilliantly into the top corner. That sparked a goal frenzy as Independiente restored their lead just three minutes later, Fernando Guerrero scoring low to Sanchez’ right from just inside the box after Española repeatedly fail to clear their lines.
Two minutes later and Española were level again, this time Chavez was rewarded with a goal for his fine individual performance as he placed the ball into the bottom corner after being teed up by Canales on the edge of the box.
After 74 minutes it was Canales’ turn to be in the limelight when he received a harsh second yellow card after jumping up for a header. Manager Luis Sierra soon followed suit as he was sent from the touchline for protesting the increasing number of marginal decisions going against his team.
The win ensured that all three Chilean sides ended the first round of Copa Libertadores unbeaten and leaves Española in third place, two points behind opening day winners Botafogo.
O’Higgins added three points to their opening draw as a late Yerson Opazo free kick gave his team victory at home to Colombian side Deportivo Cali. Cali started the match very much on the front foot and cries of “Cali, Cali, Cali” could be heard around the stadium as the fans responded to their side’s dominant approach.
Nineteen minutes in and Cali were almost rewarded for their pressure after good play between Christian Marrugo and Nestor Camacho allowed the latter to get a shot away at goal from inside the area, but it was saved by O’Higgins goalkeeper Paulo Garces.
Five minutes later and the home side had their first real chance of the game when Luis Figueroa brought a brilliant save out of Cali ‘keeper Faryd Mondragon, who dived low to his right to keep out the shot from inside the area. The next real opening came three minutes into the second half when O’Higgins striker Pablo Calandria had his header from a corner saved acrobatically by the increasingly impressive Mondragon.
Eight minutes later and Calandria was denied yet again, this time beating Mondragon with a shot from inside the area but being denied by the foot of his right-hand post. O’Higgins continued to dominate possession and were finally rewarded when Opazo whipped in an 83rd minute free kick from close to the touchline that beat everyone and sneaked in at Mondragon’s near post.
The win leaves O’Higgins on four points and top of Group 3, however Lanus and Cerro Porteño will play their game in hand next Wednesday.