How’s it going guys? Welcome to a brand new Monday Recap on the South American Journeyman. How are things were you’re from? Here things appear to slowly returning to normality with the government finally announcing the scale back of the quarantine; it’s a big step, even though people had been going out more for weeks now. Hopefully everything will go alright.
I’m sorry if last episode was a bit of a dull one, but the season truly played out in a fairly straightforward way. When we left the action, Nacional were top of the league at the Opening Stage with a perfect record, having won all of their 10 league commitments so far. Let’s see how that panned out!
A boring end to a boring championship
As I said last time, with 5 matches left to play, all that was left for us to do was to demonstrate our better form vs Peñarol and countersign our dominance in the championship with enough points to put it out the question. We did…one of those things.
The match against Peñarol was one I was quite looking forwards. For all our dominance in the league, it really didn’t mean much if we weren’t able to topple them. Sure, other teams like River, Defensor Sporting or Wanderers can prove a challenge at times, but are you really there if you can’t impose yourself against the only force in the league?
In the end the match proved, as most Superclásicos so far, a grudge match. Peñarol had their fair chances, we had our own. Hard to say which team came on top, though we did get punished for strikers lack of composure (watch out for this, it may come back to haunt us). All in all, a draw was good enough I guess and we continued our stroll to the Opening Stage title, which is not a title in FM but f*ck that, I’m celebrating anyways.
After that, with no matches until mid July, I decided to take an option that had always tempted me but never had been able to use, a Team Tour. The chosen destination was Paraguay and I gotta say it was great fun. After a wonkers 3-3 draw with Cerro Porteño, solid wins 4-0 vs Sol de América and 5-0 vs Olimpia revived my hopes in a side that had been a bit wasting.
It was a great chance to see some of the youngsters take on big minutes and show what they could do. It’s a shame that the Paraguayan league isn’t on the default DB as it is one of the most interesting leagues in South American, with plenty of historic and interesting teams; if I ever do a save like this, I’ll be sure to be adding a Paraguayan DB.
Some of Nacional’s most promising youngsters. Alvaro Puente has been lacking in development lately but has also been the one with the least minutes, so I’m hoping a tad more protagonism in the latter part of the season will do the trick. Gustavo Molina was signed as a gap stop for some of the midfield positions and has proved a very good addition to the squad. Last but not least, Rodolfo Millacet is the crown jewel of Nacional’s academy; a top prospect with top potencial, he has been getting the minutes and (mostly) paying the faith back
Across the river
We had to wait until May 15th to find out who our rivals in the Copa Libertadores 2nd Round was going to be. Like I said last time, whomever Lady Fortuna put in our way, it was gonna be a tough ask; we had our share of good luck in the Group Stage so a repeat was unlikely, but regardless of who we got, even the weaker sides still in the competition were at our level, or a couple of steps ahead. When it was all said and done, however, it looked like we had gotten the shortest stick: we were gonna battle it out against 4 times winners River Plate.
River Plate won arguably the biggest Copa Libertadores final ever, beating Boca Juniors 5-3 overall, but haven’t been the best in the Libs since then. Could we pile on their continental failures?
For the first leg we visited the Monumental on July 26th. The goal was simple: get out of there with a result we can have a shot at overcoming at home. Apart from a couple of injuries to starting centreback Joaquín Fernández and tricky wingback Lucas Sanseviero, we fielded our best team.
From the get go, River asserted their dominance, with long periods of possession and creating chances whenever they could; they went ahead with a 5th minute goal by striker Geraldo Valencia and never looked back for the next 25 minutes. They had us on our back feet. However, on the 31st minute, a quick counter from a River goalkick lead to a long cross from LWB Caíque for his right hand counterpart who arrived uncontested to the box and got us level. Not 10 minutes had passed when a break in concentration from the River defense allowed João Victor to snatch the ball and put a long pass for youngster Millacet who scored with a fine cross shot to River’s far post and all of a sudden it was 2-1. Half time came and spirits were high. Maybe we were up to this….
In River’s defense, they put us out of our misery rather quickly. With a almost goal every 10 minutes and a battering of 11 shots on target just in the second half, they ended our hopes about as fast as they had come to exist: 5-2 was the result at full time. Result nearly insurmountable, mission failed.
Just a week later, on August 2nd, we faced them again, this time on home turf. The moments previous to the match I didn’t know how to feel. On the one hand, playing at home is always an advantage and this team had proven they could score goals in volume. On the other, could we really get a 3-0 vs River Plate after the way they had dominated us in the first leg? With that mixed bag of hopes and dispair, I set my team to go get a result and hope that luck gave us that final push.
Tried to motivate my guys before the match with a clip from sports movie classic “Any Given Sunday”, but they probably didn’t understand cause the pep talk was given in inches. Stupid Pacino, refusing to use the metric system like the civilized world.
We came out of the gates firing, with Millacet scoring an absolute sitter on the first minute, getting another big couple of chances in the following minutes. We were made to rue those missed opportunities, and more were to come
At the 10 minute mark striker Lucas Varaldo put the scores even, and for all of our 1st half dominance, that was the count until River academy graduate Carrascal put them up 2-1. The dream looked as distant as ever.
We continued pushing, and with 25 minutes to be played, João Victor made it 2-2 with a tap in from a cross. However at that point I had already given up. An 86th minute effort by Fede B. gave us the upper hand but it all came undone just one minute into the extra time with a VAR given penalty. River scored and the match ended 3-3 at the Gran Parque Central. We left with 18 shots, 11 on target, 6 clear cut chances, 2 half-chances and 2 balls that hit the woodwork. The only thing that mattered was that we were out of the Copa Libertadores.
While we were having our ass kicked around by the Millonarios from across the pond, the battle at home continued as the Torneo Intermedio, that funky Cup/League/Preseason-in-midseason that Uruguayans do, kicked off.
We were drawn into the same group as Peñarol, meaning there was another good chance at taking 3 points from them in the overall table…or to give up some of that beautiful gap that our brilliant Opening Stage had created
We started it in fine form, though a bit lacking in fire power. Not so much lack of chances but rather lack of coolheadedness to take the ones we created. Still, with 10 points from 12 possible in the month of July, we had a one point lead thank to their loss vs. Progreso in the first fixture.
The key match was on August 6th, just 4 days after our River heartbreak, and a perfect opportunity for revenge. By this point I’m not surprised when a Superclásico ends up being a grudge match, but this time we were a mile ahead of them. Got the control of the match and never surrendered it, creating chance after chance. The goals, however, didn’t come. Millacet, in particular, missing a few sitters.
It took getting into the 89th minute for a goal. Defending a Peñarol counter, LWB Giménez had himself sent off for a foul at the edge of the area, with carbonero’s winger Dávila scoring from a header off the ensuing free kick. As much as I love this save, I don’t think I’ve endure so many soul-crushing defeats in any other single game. FT Peñarol 1 – 0 Nacional.
After that our defence of the Torneo Intermedio fell apart. A Peñarol draw vs Tacuarembó opened a slight window, should they drop points in their next commitment, but they had it in the bag 3-0 by the end of the first half, with us struggling to break the deadlock at Deportivo Maldonado’s.
As such, Peñarol goes on to the final of the Intermedio vs Group B winner Defensor Sporting while we get 3rd place, losing to Progreso on Goal Difference. It is, however, the statistic two places to the left that worries me: just 5 goals scored from 7 matches, to Peñarol’s 13. Sure, we conceded a fourth of their goals but still. Over the long run, with the Closing Stage coming closer, that’s something we’re gonna have to fix. Particularly if I’m aiming to win the thing without any matter of fuss or doubt: take the Closing Stage, win it all, no playoffs, no second guessing. That’s the goal, and that’s what we’re going for over the coming weeks.
Until then, thanks for reading
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