Regular contributors of The Lone Star, Joel Sked, Neil Zimmerman and Daniel Boyle take a look back at the Clausura season that was.
Colo Colo’s 30th title . . . and the start of something good?
While the 2013-2014 Apertura went all the way to a decider after Universidad Católica and O’Higgins finished level on points, the Clausura saw a clear-cut deserved winner. From start to finish, with Universidad de Chile and Católica under interim management and Unión Española and O’Higgins expected to be distracted by the Copa Libertadores, Colo Colo were the team to beat.
And while O’Higgins picked up their first ever top-flight title when they beat UC in the decider at the Estadio Nacional, Colo Colo finally won that elusive 30th title – five years on from their last success.
Following two wins and a draw to start the campaign, Héctor Tapia’s men went on to win seven in a row, scoring 27 goals. Tapia had them playing expansive, possession based football with the team lined up in a 4-2-1-3 formation which got the best out of the players at his disposal.
One of the key aspects of the success was the successful signings of Julio Barroso, Jaime Valdés and Esteban Paredes. Along with Paraguayan goalkeeper Justo Villar and Argentine creator Emiliano Vecchio, who were already at the club, the quintet formed an impressive spine.
There were also signs of Los Albos being the home to line of talented youngsters, some of whom were afforded time on the pitch ahead of more expensive and experienced players.
But more than anything, the appointment of Tapia was a master stroke. Along with assistant Miguel Riffo, the young coaches, who both played for the club, are positive and meticulous. They want to coach, see their team play well and win. They are talented in their own right, and if the club can sort out the differences between the coaching staff and sporting director Gutiérrez, then Colo Colo could be on course for a period of domination not seen since in Macul since Claudio Borghi was in charge and led the club to four successive Primera División titles as well as a Copa Sudamericana final. (JS)
History in the north
History was made at the end of the Clausura season as Cobresal qualified for the 2014 Copa Sudamericana for the first time in the club’s history.
Their last, and only, venture into continental football was 28 years ago when the mineros participated in the Copa Libertadores. They would not make it out of the group stage despite finishing undefeated; five draws and a win. What made their qualification for the 1986 Copa Libertadores was that it only came seven years after their formation and six years after turning professional.
When you delve further into the background of Cobresal their achievement is made even more remarkable. Their average attendance for their nine regular season games and two play-off games was 612 – swelled by visits from Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica plus the first-leg of the play-off final.
Why such a small attendance? Well, Cobresal play in El Salvadaor, a copper mining town with an approximate population of 7,000 in the Atacama Desert, a 1,000km drive north of Santiago. Their average attendance is about 8.74 per cent of the town’s population.
One of their former players, Franklin Lobos, was one of the 33 miners to be rescued in the Copiapó mining accident in 2010.
There is a slight caveat to their qualification. They made the Liguilla play-offs to determine Chile’s fourth and final representative for this year’s Copa Sudamericana despite finishing 10th. Due to other teams above them having already qualified for the Sudamericana or unable to qualify for the tournament due to their participation in this year’s Copa Libertadores they joined Palestino, Universidad de Concepción and Cobreloa in the play-offs.
However, their success should not be downgraded. This is a club which has had its flirtations with relegation since the league was reduced from 20 to 18 teams ahead of the 2009 season. Following an 18th finish in the 2013 Campeonato Petrobas, which acted as a transition season for the league to match up with its European counterparts, they only just avoided relegation to Primera B.
Under José Cantillana they have never really been in serious danger of entering a relegation battle after a ninth place finish in the Apertura was followed by a 10th place finish in the Clausura. His passionate and tireless encouragement on the sidelines, often clad in a bright orange Cobresal polo shirt to go with an orange watch, has been replicated in performances on the field.
At times players get a bit too passionate with 10 red cards picked up over the two campaigns but more than anything the team are organised with centre backs who defend, a powerful full-back in Patricio Jerez, protection in midfield offered by Eduardo Farías to allow the three other midfielders help Álvaro Navarro provide the ammunition for Ever Cantero.
The Paraguayan is a tricky customer to pin down. He is a defender’s worst nightmare; potent in front of goal, he can play on the shoulder of the deepest defender as well as being more involved in the build-up and running the channels. Quick feet allow him to pounce on any chances that come his way – a one in two record is testament to that.
The celebrations in front of the large travelling support at the Estadio Municipal de La Cisterna highlighted the incredible feat achieved by the small club from the north. (JS)
Salas is back – no not that one
Despite a 3-2 away win against Everton, Huachipato finished the 2013/2014 Apertura at the bottom of the Primera División. The result came three days before the first anniversary of Huachipato’s 2012 Clausura triumph under Jorge Pellicer – their first title win since 1974.
Following the defeat and the culmination of the first half of the season, Pellicer, shorn of some of the key players in that success, was replaced by former Chile Under-20 coach Mario Salas.
Due to friction with Hugo Tocalli – the Argentine oversees the nation’s youth teams – Salas had been out of work. Having led Chile’s Under-20 to the World Cup in Turkey in 2013, the former Barnechea manager was tasked with saving los acereros from the drop to Primera B.
However, there would be no quick fix. In the first seven games of the Clausura, Huachipato lost five, drew one and won one. The most alarming aspect of the run was the concession of goals; four to Santiago Wanderers, five to Colo Colo and seven to Universidad Católica.
It would be the the 7-1 defeat at the Estadio San Carlos which would prove to be the turning point and it started with a brave decision in dropping number one goalkeeper Nery Veloso, one of the key players in Huachipato’s title win, for Miguel Jiménez. And rather than let their season crumble before them, three of the next four games saw Huachipato edge out 1-0 wins.
Salas took time to mould Chile’s Under-20s into his preferred 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3 formation and so it would prove with Huachipato as the longer the season progressed the more enjoyable the team were to watch. They defended better, helped by the excellent performances of Mauricio Yedro in the middle of midfield, alongside Franciscio Arrué.
With Carlos Espinosa installed as number 10, Huachipato’s attacks were given a greater dimension. The veteran has a similar style to David Silva and David Llanos, a capable lone striker, saw his strike rate improve with eight goals in seven league games taking Huachipato clear of the relegation zone with one game to go.
They confirmed their place in next season’s Primera División with an emphatic 6-0 defeat of Unión La Calera, which followed a 5-2 win over Universidad de Chile, having trailed 2-0 at half-time.
Salas’ aim was achieved. He even rested key players in the Copa Chile against Deportes Iquique to safe them for the La Calera game.
In La U’s search for a new manager Salas’ name was mentioned but he and club were quick to announce his continuation at the club for next season where they will also compete in the Copa Sudamericana following their participation in the Copa Chile final. (JS)
Continental opportunities missed
From a Chilean perspective this year’s Copa Libertadores was most definitely case of opportunities missed. The only team that anything to write home about were Union Espanola, who were the only team to progress from their group, whilst Universidad de Chile and O’Higgins in particular will be left ruing what could have been.
When the groups were first drawn it appeared that Jose Luis Sierra’s Union Espanola had the toughest task of making it out of their group which feature San Lorenzo, Botafogo and Independiente de Valle. But in what was a rarity for this year’s edition they qualified for the knockout stages with a game to spare losing only one match along the way and qualifying in top position and picking up their first ever win in Brazil in the process.
That single loss came in their final group game against Independiente in a nine goal thriller. As with their last participation in the tournament in 2012, la furia roja once again fell at the Round of 16 at the hands of Argentinean opposition, this time going out 1-0 on aggregate to Arsenal de Sarandi.
Of the three teams that represented Chile this year it would appear O’Higgins blew the best opportunity to join Union Espanola in the knockout stages of the competition. Whilst much will be made of Pablo Calandria’s last minute penalty miss in their last group stage game it was two games earlier in the campaign that were the real catalysts for their lack of progression.
The first of these was their home encounter against Paraguayan side Cerro Porteno, their third game of the completion coming after two impressive opening matches, where they threw away a two goal lead early in the second half for a share of the spoils come full time. The other came when they conceded a last minute equaliser to Deportivo Cali with group stage progression all but secured.
If Calandria had scored that aforementioned penalty we may have been talking very differently but in the end it was O’Higgins lack of smarts on the continental stage which inevitably cost them knockout stage action and would have capped off an excellent twelve months for the Rancagua-based club.
And thus we come to Universidad de Chile, a club who is still pining for the glory days of Jorge Sampaoli, and like O’Higgins missed out on progression to the knockout stages by the smallest of margins albeit a rather large goal difference.
In the end La U finished in third place in their group on ten points, a tally which on many other occasions would have seen them progress, but in the end it was a disastrous goal difference that separated them from Cruzeiro in second position.
In the end the Brazilians had a nine goal advantage over los azules, and in fact they were the chief reason behind the Chileans poor goal difference having defeated them in both of their meetings, the first a comprehensive 5-1 thrashing at home before travelling to the Chilean capital for a 2-0 defeat in the penultimate round. Those results clearly illustrated that this was a shadow of its former self and that manager Cristian Romero was sadly out of his depth with the Chilean giants. (NZ)
Figueroa was not impressed by the youth in the side, with many of the young players who had starred in previous years being shipped off on loan or seeing minimal game time, while injury meant that the attacking combination of Sebastián Ubilla and Enzo Gutiérrez was barely seen.
When Ubilla and Gutiérrez signed on for the second half of 2012, each had scored 11 goals in the Apertura tournament. Gutiérrez (10) is yet to reach that figure in blue, while Ubilla has scored 19 across all competitions in a two year period. Both players have missed long stretches through injury and have been joined on the sidelines by other key figures.
Leading figures such as José Rojas, Johnny Hererra and Gustavo Lorenzetti have failed to reach the same heights as during the club’s golden run in 2011, while the smooth passing and team mentality that was present at that time has become a ghost of the past.
With Martin Lasarte ready to slice up his squad, it will be expected that key changes will be made and fresh new winds will be blowing through the Romantico Viajero. (DB)