Chile’s representatives in the Copa Libertadores were cut from three down to one, as Universidad de Chile and O’Higgins missed out on a last-16 place by the narrowest of margins.
O’Higgins sat bottom of their group going into their final game against Lanus, knowing only a win would be enough to see them qualify for the knockout stages. The team from Rancagua were playing their first real home game in 14 months, after the remodelling of El Teniente for the Copa America was finally complete.
O’Higgins had been playing their home games in Santiago, 85 kilometres north of Rancagua, and their fans took to Twitter and used the hashtag #ConLanusEnRancagua to urge the authorities to allow them to return home for the crucial Copa Libertadores clash, which coincided with the 59th anniversary of the club’s founding.
Their homecoming was approved and the Rancaguans responded to the early vociferous support from the capacity crowd and Gonzalo Barriga had the first chance of the game after 13 minutes, his deflected strike from the edge of the area was brilliantly clawed out by the backtracking Lanús goalkeeper Agustín Marchesín – something that would become a recurring theme.
Yerson Opazo was the next to be denied by the in-form Marchesín, firing a brilliant 25-yard free kick towards the top corner, only for the stopper to pull off a remarkable save and tip the ball round the post. Five minutes before half time and Marchesín was at it again, this time tipping over a Pablo Hernandez volley at full stretch to ensure his side went into the break level.
The second half continued in the same vein as Marchesín continued to pull off save after save; the most impressive coming ten minutes after half time when the Argentinian ‘keeper brilliantly palmed Mariano Uglessich’s header over the bar.
O’Higgins thought they had found the breakthrough five minutes before the end when Leandro Somoza handled Opazo’s corner in the area to concede a penalty. Pablo Calandria, renowned for his ice-cold blood from 12 yards, stepped up and was once again thwarted by Marchesín who dived to his right and kept the penalty out at full stretch.
The draw was not enough for O’Higgins as they finished an agonising one point adrift of second place, and although a series of missed opportunities and dropped points were to blame, a special mention must go to Marchesín who single-handedly ensured his side made it through to the round of 16.
O’Higgns 0-0 Lanús
The second Chilean team to suffer a premature exit was Universidad de Chile, as their draw away at Defensor Sporting saw them miss out on a knock out place on goal difference.
Everything appeared to be going to plan for La U as they capped off a comfortable first half performance with Ramón Fernández’ beautiful 25-yard strike, which swerved and wrong-footed Defensor ‘keeper Martín Campaña to give Los Azules a deserved half-time lead.
Defensor hit back in the second half and got their equaliser just 12 minutes after the restart when Nicolás Olivera’s square ball across the face of goal was bundled home by Matías Alonso.
The point was enough to see Defensor top the group and their equaliser meant that La U’s negative goal difference saw them finish in third place behind Cruzeiro in second – that 5-1 thrashing in Brazil effectively knocking them out.
Defensor Sporting 1-1 Universidad de Chile
That left Union Española as the only remaining Chilean team and they were already guaranteed a place in the knock out stage, whatever the outcome of their final group game against Independiente Del Valle.
It was by far the most entertaining game of the tournament so far as the two teams shared nine goals in an utterly unpredictable game. The first goal came after 12 minutes courtesy of Matías Campos Toro who tapped the ball home from close range after Gustavo Canales had knocked down Cristian Chávez.
Independiente’s equaliser came just one minute later after Fernando Guerrero’s low cross into the box was swept home by Daniel Angulo. It took until five minutes after the interval for the next breakthrough when Angulo latched onto Junior Sornoza’s superb through ball and finished emphatically into the top corner.
That sparked a goal frenzy which saw Angulo complete his hat trick nine minutes later, again linking up with Sornoza whose lay off was tucked away past the helpless Diego Sanchez. Española pulled a goal back straight from kick off after brilliant work from Chavez saw him wriggle his way past three defenders and pick out Campos Toro in the box who tapped in his second.
The home side had their equaliser in the 66th minute when Campos Toro did brilliantly to keep the ball in play and square it across goal and into the path of Independiente defender Fernando León, whose horrendous air shot saw the ball strike his standing leg and trickle over the line.
Española’s comeback was complete seven minutes later after Canales had tucked away a penalty following Andrés Lama’s handball in the area. Their lead was not to last long as three minutes later Angulo was to claim his fourth goal of the game, heading in Sornoza’s corner – the third time that pairing had combined to score in the game. Two minutes later and the winning goal was scored in this manic encounter, with Sornoza adding a goal to his three assists from the penalty spot after Nicolás Berardo was adjudged to have handled in the area.
That was how it remained for the final 12 minutes and although the result saw Española suffer their first defeat of the tournament, they will be delighted to have qualified for the next round as group winners.
Unión Española 4-5 Independiente de Valle