South American Journeyman Recap #19

How’s it going guys? Welcome to a brand new Monday Recap. Hope you’re doing fine yourselves, here things remain pretty much the same, not much improvement on the horizon. At least now we can enjoy the return of the european leagues, get a semblance of normality.

On the FM front, it’s been quite a ride, so let’s take a look at how Castolo’s Nacional has been doing.

An auspicious beginning

So, last time around we had just conquered our first ever official title in Uruguay, beating Peñarol by 2-1 to claim the Supercopa Uruguaya. After a nice and calm preseason including 3-0 victories vs. argentinian sides Acasusso and Atlanta and Uruguay rivals Progreso, the Opening Stage of the Campeonato Uruguayo kicked of in great fashion. I was a bit worried about our debut vs. Montevideo Wanderers seen as they had soundly beaten us 3-0 during preseason, but a good win courtesy of goals by Rabuñal and Benedetti sealed the deal. Another win, by the same result, gave us the shared lead of table, with River de Montevideo once again proving the most likely challenger, with Peñarol suffering from yet another slow start.

Right after that we had our second take at the darling of South American football, the Copa Libertadores. We had been handled a much more approachable group, consisting of Athlético Paranaense (Brazil), Melgar (Perú) and Deportivo Táchira (Venezuela). With the tight schedule consisting of two-match weeks for the whole March and April, I decided some heavy rotation was necessary. The squads ability to perform pretty much regardless of who was out there impressed me; any one of the twenty two players of the squad was ready to go out there and perform. Considering the squad averages 22 years of age, I found it remarkable.

After hard fought draws with Paranaense and Melgar came a battering of Táchira by 0-8 at their own ground. As I said on twitter, I’m not 100% sure but I think it could very much be the biggest win margin by an away side in Copa Libertadores history. With our form absolutely on fire, we enterered April without receiving a goal at the Campeonato Uruguayo.

The hour of truth

As the matchdays came and went, though, we started showing signs of slowing down. It was only logical after all. At home vs Defensor Sporting with conceded our first goal, but got just about enough to claim a 2-1 win. Consecutive 1-0 wins vs Progreso and Torque were proof the goals were drying up, even when another battering of Táchira, this time 6-0 at the Gran Parque Central meant we secured qualification for the Libertadores knockout stage.

Part of it was down to injuries, with Rabuñal, Joao Victor and new signing Nicolás González losing up a full month of action. Other possible culprit was lack of composure at the moment of putting matches down, with a total of 17 chances squandered over just those two matches.

A hard-fought draw at Brazil vs. Paranaense meant a win in the last match of the group stage would be all it took to claim 1st position in our group, in no small part thanks to our goal-tastic wins against Táchira making our Goal Average looking like it was men against boys. Right after that, a fantastic remontada vs challengers River de Montevideo after playing with 10 men for over 60 minutes meant we had a 7 points lead, taking all 27 points available from 7 matches played.

The last stretch

That is how the league stands at the moment, with little stading between us and a perfect Opening Stage, besides usual party poopers Peñarol, with no other top 12 rival left in our schedule.

On the internation front, we’re awaiting the results of the draw, with possible rivals incluiding argentinian sides Huracán, Independiente, River and Boca, brazilians Corinthians or Santos, and chilean Universidad Católica. If I had to ask for any of them, I’d probably say either Huracán or U. Católica, though none of those teams are gonna be an easy task, so I guess we’ll just have to cross our finger.

Much as I predicted a few episodes ago, the jump in quality the team has taken from last season to this means we’re left in that limbo zone where we’re qualifiying but nowhere near good enough to actually challenge for the title. It’s gonna be interesting, however, to have a go at South America’s elite; after such a dominant performance against a weak group, it’ll be a good test of this team to face top competition.

I’m afraid this is as far as I can take you this week, though. With the season proving a smooth sailing parade so far, I guess we’ll have to the Opening Stage’s definition for any semblant of excitement. No tactical mishaps, no soul-crushing defeats, no headache-inducing disasters… just steady, well-earned winning. Sorry I can’t be a constant failure for you guys, some times I win, oddly enough… Maybe next week will prove the ying to this episode’s yang.

Until then, thanks for reading.

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