Hello fans! El Bolso has been busy this week, but I just had to say a few words about this week’s Libertadores Cup action. Could Nacional capitalize on a chance to clinch a spot in the knockout rounds? Let’s find out!
Step by Step
Going into the week, there were several scenarios that meant Nacional would move past the group stage for the first time in 3 years. Of course this would all be a moot point if crooked/incompetent refereeing hadn’t cost the Tricolores wins in their first 2 games (I know I say this every week, but hey, it’s been relevant every week, right?), but still. One of those chances blew up in smoke on Wednesday night, when second place Rosario Central failed to beat Palmeiras at home. A win by the Argentines would have eliminated the Brazilians, but it was all Rosario could do to rally late in the game for a 3-3 tie. Nacional would have to take care of its own business on Thursday, when it played a “road game” against last place River Plate (no, not that one).
You see, River’s home stadium isn’t up to snuff for international competition (like most Uruguayan professional fields), so the game was played at the Centenario stadium, where Nacional plays most of its road games and some home games as well. Besides, any game played in Montevideo is going to feel like a home game to Nacional because its fans are sure to outnumber the opponent’s supporters. It’s kinda like when Mexico plays the US in… er… well, any decently populated US city. A tie or a win assured the Tricolores of a spot in the group’s top two. Meanwhile, River had to win and hope for lots of help in order to make it through. They were basically playing for honor. The pressure was all on Nacional to finally make some noise in the biggest club tournament in the Americas. It didn’t help that eternal rival Peñarol dominated the headlines this week by inaugurating a state-of-the-art, brand spanking new stadium (finally turning the page on almost a century of mooching fields from the government and other teams) and… um… other newsworthy achievements.
A Game for the Ages
Ok, maybe not so much, but it in fact was a pretty entertaining match, which is to be expected from the only 2 teams in Uruguay that don’t rely on brute force and eternally chasing the long ball down the field. Juan Ramón Carrasco and Gustavo Munúa like their teams to work on possession and precision passing, and it showed on Thursday night. River took the lead 5 minutes into take the game as Colombian forward César Taján finished off a great team effort, but just 2 minutes later Nacional tied it on a great free kick by veteran defenseman Mauricio Victorino. Amazingly, it was Nacional’s first free kick goal in official competition since this happened in November of 2014 (remember that, Peñarol fans?). Both teams generated additional chances in the first half, but no more goals were scored.
The second half was more of the same, with both teams pushing forward trying to break the tie. 25 minutes in Nacional took the lead on some solid finishing by Kevin Ramírez (who seems to get better and better each game), and with 10 minutes left Ignacio “Nacho” González, who had come in as a sub earlier in the half, charged the box on a free kick and used his head to perfectly redirect the ball into the far corner of the goal. Unfortunately, this happened on a River free kick, and Nacho was supposed to be defending. Don’t ever change, Nacho. Neither team was able to score after that, so the game ended in a well-deserved 2-2 tie that eliminated River and gave the Tricolores their spot in the knockout rounds.
So now Nacional will face Rosario at home in the group’s last round of games. Both teams are through, but they still have to figure out who gets first place (and an arguable easier matchup in the next phase); the Tricolores will get that with a tie. I would not be surprised, however, if Munúa chose to prioritize the local tournament and give several players a rest, considering that the team is still recovering from a mumps epidemic. At the very least I expect keeper Esteban Conde, Nicolás López, Gonzalo Porras and Santiago Romero to watch this one from the stands, as they’re all one yellow card away from a match suspension and the ledger clears after the group stage. Still, whatever happens next week Nacional will be one of the last 16 teams left standing, something that hasn’t happened for a few years. Plus, our team’s President isn’t about to go to jail! That’s always a plus.
That’s all for me this week, fans. As always, I leave you with your dose of Pasión Tricolor:
- The Charrúa Report: On the Right Foot - March 14, 2017
- The Charrúa Report: Campeones! - February 14, 2017
- The Charrúa Report: 48 Is Enough - January 11, 2017
- The Charrúa Report: Nico and the Sounders - December 14, 2016
- The Charrúa Report: King of the Single Rounders - December 12, 2016
- The Charrúa Report: Senseless - December 6, 2016
- The Charrúa Report: The Bum’s Rush - November 28, 2016
- The Charrúa Report: A Bump in the Road - November 16, 2016
- The Charrúa Report: Is It Priceline Time? - November 12, 2016
- The Charrúa Report: Closer to Fine - October 13, 2016