Uni. de Chile vs Libertad
Estadio Nacional de Chile
(1-1) 1-1 – Marcelo Diaz 17′; Osvaldo Gonzalez (og) 22′
A packed stadium warmed the atmosphere on a chilly night in Santiago as fans gathered to celebrate Universidad de Chile’s 82nd anniversary and watch them cruise into their third continental semi-final in two years. However they confronted a Libertad side full of Guaraní ‘garra‘ coupled with the astute tactical brain of Jorge Burruchaga meaning it was by no means plain sailing. On a day when Paraguayans were let down by their politicians it was, as ever, a football team that extolled all the virtues of her people showing fighting spirit and dogged determination to deny La U a 13th straight win at home.
Libertad lined up as expected, the same eleven that had taken part in the first leg, and early on it was obvious that they would target right wingback Matías Rodriguez who had been the weak link last time round. José Ariel Nuñez pulled wide to support Luciano Civelli on the left at every opportunity and the latter was handed a golden opportunity after 14 minutes but opted to square the ball instead of shoot with the goal in his sights. The home side had been throwing in crosses with no joy as Ismael Benegas and Cristian Nasuti dealt with the aerial threat easily. But the pace of the Chileans on the ground caught Nasuti out on 16 minutes as Angelo Henriquez was felled by the defender on the edge of the box. The infraction led to the opening goal, as Marcelo Díaz converted the freekick in clever fashion sneaking the ball under the jumping black and white wall.
It was by no means a killer blow for Libertad who knew before the game they would have to score, in fact it took just six minutes to equalise courtesy of their own free kick specialist Victor Ayala. The Paraguayan midfielder’s delivery was threatening and in an effort to stop Pablo Velazquez scoring at the near post the Uni. de Chile defender Osvaldo Gonzalez contrived to head the ball into his own net. The goal spurred on the visitors who continued to be well organised in defence, anticipating each attack and breaking effectively. They had two clear chances to take an unexpected lead before the break, firstly Nuñez saw his shot saved as he couldn’t get the ball out of his feet fast enough to shake the attentions of a defender, later Topo Caceres headed Ayala’s free kick straight at the goalkeeper unable to emulate his goal in the first leg.
The second half seemed to lose a bit of the fizz of the first period and the tempo was slower with both teams wary of each other’s counter attacking capability. Uni. de Chile were unable to find a way past the imperious Nasuti who intercepted everything and was always in the right position to cut out any dangerous attacks. With penalties looming the teams began to show more urgency in the final twenty minutes as the goalkeepers came to the fore first Rodrigo Muñoz pulling off a stunning save from another Díaz freekick and tipping it onto the bar. He made another great save after 77 minutes from a Rodriguez half volley as the Gumarelo defence had left the Argentine free on the edge of the box. The pick of the bunch however was from Jhonny Herrera who denied substitute Rodolfo Gamarra a stoppage time winner his expertly directly header was blocked by an instinctive right hand.
The two 1-1 draws signalled a penalty shootout, the second for Libertad in this competition having beaten Tigres in 2006 on spot kicks. The first four penalties were converted and then Peruvian Raúl Ruizdiaz stepped up and hit the bar with the ball bouncing down towards the goalline, there was a moment of doubt before the assistant gave the goal. Victor Ayala stepped up to take Libertad’s third spot kick and while deadly from free kicks and corners he was unable to put his penalty out of the reach of Herrera. With both teams scoring their fourth penalty a semi-final place rested on Gusatvo Lorenzetti’s nerves, he made no mistake from 18 yards and Uni. de Chile could celebrate their birthday in style. For Libertad there should be no shame in the manner of the defeat, they were excellent defensively but by no means purveyors of “anti-football” as they created a host of chances over the two legs. It is likely they’ll be back next year and if Burruchaga is still there they can go far.
Libertad XI: R.Muñoz; C.Bonet, C.Nasuti, I.Benegas, M.Samudio; V.Ayala, S.Aquino, V.Caceres, L.Civelli; P.Velázquez, J.A.Nuñez
Subs: R.Gamarra for C.Bonet, J.Santana for S.Aquino, N.Camacho for J.A.Nuñez
Charles Aranguiz 1-0
Pablo Velazquez 1-1
Marcelo Diaz 2-1
Topo Caceres 2-2
Raul Ruizdiaz 3-2
Victor Ayala saved 3-2
Matias Rodriguez 4-2
Rodrigo Muñoz 4-3
Gustavo Lorenzetti 5-3
By Ralph Hannah