A 1-1 draw away to Vasco da Gama has left Universidad de Chile on the verge on reaching their first continental final. A victory, or even a goalless draw, in Santiago tonight would send Jorge Sampaoli’s team through to the Copa Sudamericana decider, and given their formidable home record, and their opponents’ troubles on their travels, they are expected to get the result they need.
Universidad have emerged victorious in all four of their home games in the competition thus far, 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. Vasco, meanwhile, have lost all three of their away matches in the Copa Sudamericana.
La U captain Jose Rojas has nonetheless insisted the tie is wide open. “It would be nice to reach the final, but we’re aware it will not be easy,” said the 28-year-old defender, who was handed the armband earlier this year.
“We know that we’re a long way off qualifying. But hopefully we can play a nice game, which, as is our tradition, means going in search of a goal from the first minute.”
Vasco are also engaged in a two-way fight for the domestic title. In order to conquer the Brasileirao for a fifth time, O Time da Virada (The Comeback Team) need to beat fiercest enemies Flamengo in the final round on Sunday and hope leaders Corinthians lose to their own arch-rivals Palmeiras.
And while some feel Vasco could be preoccupied by O Clássico dos Milhões (The Derby of the Millions), Rojas has laughed off talk of them fielding an under-strength XI in the Chilean capital.
“Anyone who says they will not put out first-teamers, that they will play reserves or a mixed side, is talking rubbish," said the man who has spent his entire career with Universidad, aside from a short spell at Independiente in Argentina five years ago. “Everybody wants to be in the final, and they will therefore field their best players.”
Universidad reached the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores in 1970, 1996 and 2010, but were beaten by Penarol, River Plate and Guadalajara respectively.
If tonight’s match finishes 1-1, it will go directly to penalties without extra time. The winners go on to meet Liga de Quito, who completed a 3-0 aggregate victory over Velez Sarsfield last night, in the final, with the champions earning a place in next year’s Copa Libertadores.
The Copa Sudamericana, CONMEBOL’s equivalent of the UEFA Europa League, was inaugurated in 2002. Argentinian clubs won five of its previous nine editions, with 2008 kings Internacional the only Brazilian outfit to get their hands of the trophy.