Juninho, Dede optimistic on Vasco hopes
© AFP

Vasco da Gama’s quest for what would be a marvellous treble took a hit last night. The Rio de Janeiro giants, who won the Copa do Brasil earlier this year and are two points shy of Brasileirao leaders Corinthians with two rounds remaining, went ahead in the first leg of their Copa Sudamericana semi-final at home to Universidad de Chile, but Bernardo’s goal was ultimately cancelled out by Osvaldo Gonzalez’s 78th-minute effort in a 1-1 draw.

It left Vasco requiring a result in Santiago next Wednesday – a match that will be sandwiched between crucial derbies with Fluminense and Flamengo – in order to book a final against Velez Sarsfield or Liga de Quito, and the odds are firmly stacked against the club that became the maiden South American champions in 1948, when a squad comprising 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ participants Barbosa, Augusto, Ely, Maneca, Friaca, Chico and Ademir de Menezes overcame a River Plate outfit boasting Jose Manuel Moreno, Angel Labruna, Felix Loustau and Alfredo di Stefano.

Vasco have lost all three their away matches in the competition – 3-1 to both Palmeiras and Aurora, and 2-0 to Universitario in the quarters – and won just one of their last five on their travels in the Brasileirao. Universidad have emerged victorious in all four of their home games in the Copa Sudamericana, without conceding a goal in the process, and have won seven and drawn two of their nine outings at the Estadio Nacional Julio Martinez Pradanos in the ongoing Chilean Clausura.

We have to recognise the quality of our opponents. They showed why they reached this stage [of the Copa Sudamericana].
Juninho Pernambucano

Vasco captain Juninho Pernambucano, who has thrived since returning to the club earlier this year, attributed the disappointing result to fatigue, the absence of suspended stand-out Diego Souza and, principally, the quality of La U.

“It’s difficult to maintain the same pace for 90 minutes,” said the 36-year-old, who was capped 40 times by Brazil between 1999 and 2006. “We were missing a key figure in Diego Souza, who would have given us another option. But the players who came into the side did well.

“We have to recognise the quality of our opponents. They showed why they reached this stage [of the Copa Sudamericana]. It was a very good game between two strong teams.”

Juninho, who, along with current team-mate Felipe was part of Vasco’s Copa Libertadores-winning side of 1998, is nevertheless optimistic on their chances of eliminating Universidad. “We’re still alive, even though we know it was a difficult game against a team that showed their quality,” said the man who inspired Lyon to seven straight Ligue 1 titles during the last decade. “Away from home it will be even more difficult, but we are capable of playing well and qualifying.”

Brazil defender Dede, very much Vasco’s man of the moment, added: “It doesn’t feel like a loss. We have one game at home and another away. In the Copa do Brasil we had similar examples [of getting a poor result in the opening leg at home] and still won. Let’s go there, do our best and try and progress.”