December 5, 2012 by Sean Charles
Tonight we see the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s second most prestigious continental club tournament. Of the 47 teams that have participated, it has now been whittled down to the final two standing – Tigre versus Sao Paulo. As with the Copa Libertadores, this final is split into two games. The first leg in Argentina tonight and the return next week in Brazil, a home game for each.
Here are some of the moments worth watching from the journeys of both teams so far:
In last season’s Copa Libertadores, Chilean giants Universidad de Chile were for many the most entertaining side to reach the later stages of the tournament. After selling three star players in the summer – Angelo Henriquez (Man Utd), Junior Fernandes (Bayer Leverkusen) and Marcelo Diaz (FC Basel) – the Chileans had lost some of their bite but nonetheless remained a strong side. Sao Paulo drew them in the semi-finals and a thrilling encounter was setup. The Brazilians went to Santiago and returned with a 0-2 lead before dismantling Universidad de Chile 5-0 in Sao Paulo, an emphatic scoreline to say the least. This screamer from Rafael Toloi being the pick of the goals over the two legs:
Tigre’s quarter final games against Paraguayan champions Cerro Porteno turned out to be just as thrilling. After a tight 1-0 defeat in Asuncion, Tigre took them back to Argentina and played out perhaps the most thrilling game of the tournament. Tigre sprinted into an early three goal lead and looked as though they were going to cruise through. However, Cerro Porteno fought back, scoring two goals taking the aggregate score to 3-3. When it looked like the Parauayans were going to scrape through via the comeback, Tigre struck to make it 4-3 on aggregate. The Argentinians were then reduced to ten men and a hectic final 10 mins ensued. The score however remained as it was and Cerro Porteno were out. The two stand-out goals in this tie are these from Ruben Botta first goal in the first video) and a free-kick from Jonathan Fabbro:
The semi-finals both out to be incredibly tense and dull games. Sao Paulo were held 1-1 in Santiago against Chileans Universidad Catolitca but won 1-0 in Brazil. Catolica’s ultra defensive approach in the second game gave them little chance of qualification and once it went 1-0 to Sao Paulo in that leg, they looked shell-shocked at being forced to take the initiative and attack.
In the other tie it was more or less the same. Tigre were held 0-0 at home against Colombians Los Millonarios. Many expected the Los Millonarios to prevail in the second leg as they play at high altitude Bogota and that often proves a more than difficult obstacle for teams not acclimatized to playing at such a height. Tigre however defended deeply, only attacked when they had to and most importantly, scored the opening goal of the game. Millonarios side lacked any true creativity and once Tigre sat even deeper with the one goal lead, they struggled badly. It was only the dying minutes when altitude began to really factor in and severely limit the movements of the the Argentinian players did Millonarios score in the 92nd minute to make it 1-1. It was too little too late though and they bowed out disappointingly on away goals in front of their own crowd.
Sao Paulo have considerably the more star studded team boasting worldwide names such as Luis Fabiano, Jadson and Lucas Moura. They also possess other players on the cusp or recently capped appearances for the Selecao – players such as Rhodolfo, Rafael Toloi, Casemiro, Osvaldo, Denilson (formerly of Arsenal fame) and Wellington. So far in this tournament the most crucial element of the Brazilians’ side has been the central defensive partnership of Toloi and Rhodolfo. A partnership that again will be called upon to produce big in front of the bright lights tonight.
Tigre’s journey to the final has been one made up more of the triumph of the will. However, the one Tigre player that will be expected to possibly make the differnece tonight against a much stronger opponent is Ruben Botta. A player with a volatile attitude at times but capable of greatness and may just produce something special if in the mood tonight.
Tonight’s final may not be a dream meeting of the two best sides on the continent but it is still a huge event for both of them and once the atmosphere kicks in, every team in South America will wish they were playing in this tonight.