The first stage or “etape” of the Ecuadorian Serie A was wrapped up on Sunday with Barcelona claiming top spot. In a dramatic last weekend the Guayaquil giants actually lost away to Deportivo Cuenca 1 – 0 however won the first stage of the Championship due to a superior goal difference.
Liga de Loja finished with the same points total but with an inferior goal difference of 11 and had to settle for the runner-up spot. Considering they were only promoted last year and have fraction of the bigger teams resources Loja can be mightily pleases with their position despite the last day heartbreak (especially as they gained Copa Sudamericana qualification).
The real last day losers were Independiente Jose Teran who were pipped both for the title and a Sudamericana place. The provincial team from Sangloqui had led the table for the majority of the “etape” but were leapfrogged by Barcelona, Loja and Emelec after Sunday’s games.
Again despite finishing the league equal with Emelec they were bumped to 4rth as a result of an inferior goal-difference. This wasn’t helped by Emelec thumping Olmedo, 5 – 0.
The league now moves into the 2nd stage which will be the same format as before. At the end of this term the two stage winners will play-off for the total championship.
The 1st stage has been fairly disastrous for the Quito teams with Liga de Quito, Deportivo Quito and El Nacional finishing 6th, 7th and 8th respectively. Deportivo have already made moves in the transfer market in order to retain their championship and Liga have also brought in new faces but Nacional have still to invest.
As stage winners Barcelona qualify for both the Copa Libertadores (which has recently finished for this year) and the Copa Sudamericana . Liga de Loja and Emelec qualify for the Copa Sudamericana along with Deportivo Quito who qualify as the winners of last season’s second stage(starting at the end of July).
Pantomime villain Joey Barton recently received a 12 match ban for his behaviour on the last day of EPL season. The severity of the punishment has been debated at length but what is not in doubt is the recidivist nature of this repeat offender and his apparent refusal to learn from his mistakes.
From stubbing a cigarette in the eye of a youth player, attacking team-mates and opponents to serving 77 days in prison for common assault the QPR midfielder has a litany of misdeeds and he seems intent on adding to them in the future.
That being said despite having a record “as long as his arm” Barton still has a fair way to go to match the exploits of one of the most colourful goalkeepers of modern, football history: José René Higuita Zapata.
The goalkeeping idol impressed and horrified with equal measure and why he didn’t have his problems to speak off the pitch, in the main he was forgiven because he never failed to dazzle and entertain when playing for his country and many clubs.
For many the abiding memory of Colombia’s Rene “El Loco” Higuita will be his “Scorpion Kick” against England in the old Wembley Stadium in 1995. The game was inching along to a 0-0 draw when Jamie Redknapp mishit a shot/cross from the right hand side. Higuita, maybe bored with the evening’s events, needed only to catch the aimless ball but instead opted to dive forward and clear using the soles of his boots. It was a marvellous footballing moment which left the crowd and TV spectators enthralled and would become Higuita’s signature play piece .One that he would happily re-enact many more times in the future; mainly for the press.
“Some people say you have to be a little crazy to be a good goalkeeper,” Higuita told a journalist years later.
For “a little crazy” (or poco loco) we should read as mad as a bag of ferrets.
Alike many South American footballers a young Rene grew up in poverty. He was raised by his grandmother in a barrio of Medellin during a time when Colombia was plagued with violence and was fast turning into the world’s number one narco-state.
At 19 he made his league debut for Millonarios of Bogota, the historical giants of Colombian league football making 16 appearances and scoring 5 goals (a feat he would regularly go on to replicate).Despite this successful first season he opted to return home to Medellin and join his beloved Atletico Nacional who were being funded and largely controlled at the time by the infamous Pablo Escobar.
His new team-mates included the likes of Faustino Asprilla, Leonel Alvarez, Andres Escobar and Albeiro Usuriaga, who would all go on to be integral parts of the coming Colombian football renaissance. Under the tutelage of legend Fransisco “Choco” Maturana , Atletico became the first Colombian team to win the Copa Libertadores when they beat Olympia of Paraguay in one of the most famous of finals.
After clawing back a 2-0 deficit the 2nd league of the final in Bogota was tied 2-2 on aggregate and so moved onto penalties. The shoot-out presented the opportunity for Higuita to become the hero and it was an opportunity he did not waste. By this time Rene was a regular penalty taker so he stepped up to score Colombia’s third and save five of the opposition’s kicks, four of which were in sudden death. His last sudden death, penalty saves allowed Leonal Alvarez to claim the winner.
COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL 1989
When Choco Maturana took over Colombia for Italia 1990 he used Higuita and his Atletico team-mates as a base of the squad. Combined with Carlos Valderrama and Freddy Rincon they had an impressive squad of hungry, young players.
A 2-0 win against the United Arab Emirates, a 1-0 loss to Yugoslavia and a 1-1 dramatic, last ditch draw against West Germany saw them qualify for the next round for the first time. Their reward was a last 16 tie with the tournament surprise team Cameroon.
Almost as much as the “Scorpion kick” Rene Higuita is remembered for his mistake against Cameroon and their captain, Roger Milla.
To modern day supporters his daredevil antics near the centre circle appear foolhardy and selfish but that is to ignore the benefits of having a goalkeeper who also acted as a sweeper and creative influence upon the team. In addition to this he was an attacking option and a potent threat from set-pieces. Although his goal scoring record could not match a centre forward (or Jose Luis Chilavert) it puts many a defender or midfielders rate to shame. To have such an all-rounder must have been quite a weapon in your armoury especially as he was an accomplished shot stopper and top level goalkeeper to boot.
HIGUITA FREEKICK VS RIVER PLATE
His national manager (Choco Maturana) was certainly aware of these benefits claiming at the time:
“(Higuita) gives us something no one else has, and we take full advantage. With Rene as sweeper, we have 11 outfield players…. Jan Jongbloed, the Holland keeper in the 1974 World Cup, also operated as a sweeper. With a difference. The Dutchman came out just to boot the ball into the stands. Higuita can do much more.”
Unfortunately, this time Higuita came unstuck and was robbed of the ball far up the pitch leaving his goal open for Milla to slide home the decisive winner. He was made to look stupid as he scrambled back to his goal, this time his audacity and adventurous spirit resulted in Colombia’s elimination.
Despite their World Cup disappointment Colombia continued to blossom as an international force. Second and fourth places in the 1991 and 1993 Copa America’s were coupled with a first place position in the 1994 World Cup campaign.
A 5-0 final game defeat of Argentina, in Buenos Aires was the cherry on the cake. Now everyone had to sit up and take notice of the “Cafeteros”. Many, including Pele were touting them as favourites for the World Cup in USA.
But before this disaster had struck for Higuita struck in the form of Pablo Escobar and his corrosive, influence upon both the Colombian people and its football.
The fascinating documentary “the two Escobars” highlights the relationship between Rene Higuita and the infamous drug king-pin. The Zimbalist brother’s excellent piece of work directly correlates Colombia’s period of success with the Narco-lord’s age of rule and “El Loco” was right in the middle of this relationship.
FULL ESPN DOCUMENTARY “THE TWO ESCOBARS”
During the early nineties Colombia was actively trying to combat the narco -traffickers and improve its dreadful international reputation.
Escobar had been given a pseudo jail sentence by the authorities instead of extradition to the USA and a likely death penalty. His jail was a self-regulated palace located high in the mountains far away from the media spotlight. He still continued to control his empire and his power was such that he would summon the Colombian national team to play private matches in the “prison” courtyard/pitch. Whether the players wanted to play in these matches is debatable but I doubt many would openly defy the demands of noted gangster and mass-murderer.
Higuita on the other hand seemed to enjoy a close relationship with Escobar: in much the same way as many of the 1960’s London based footballers mixed with the Krays and other cockney villains. When people grow up in poverty it creates a bond which is hard to break and forges lifelong friendships. While this may be incomprehensible to the more fortunate and higher classes it is normal for those less lucky. Regardless the goalkeeper felt no reason to publicly deny his and Escobar’s amity.
In 1993 when he decided to visit his old friend in prison the press were waiting for him. Footage of Higuita running from the reporters was beamed around Colombia and the world severely embarrassing the Colombian government and forcing them into action.
When Higuita was employed as an intermediary in a Medellin kidnapping case the authorities seized their opportunity to punish and exact retribution. Higuita received payment ($50,000) for his “go-between” duties and as a result it was argued that he had profited from the crime instead of informing the authorities.
The result was a seven month jail sentence which immediately ruled him out of the next year’s World Cup.
Without their goalkeeper USA 1994 was disastrous for Colombia. They were caught out against a counter-attacking Romania and the brilliant Hagi losing 3 – 1. Then came the 2 – 1 defeat to the USA and Andres Escobar’s own goal. In the end the 2 – o win against Switzerland was meaningless and they were home before the postcards.
It could be argued that a nervous Oscar Cordoba failed to inspire where Higuita had before, but considering the pressure they were under from personal and family death threats it was amazing they even entered the pitch. The murder of Andres Escobar shortly after further highlighted how poisonous life was for people at this time.
It was harsh lesson for Higuita. The government had deliberately made an example of the goalkeeper but at the same time they contributed to their football team’s demise. Although Carlos Valderrama was their captain Higuita was their leader and inspiration.
In much the same way as Alesandro Pirlo with his penalty against England, a leader can engender confidence in his team with acts of audacious skill and bravado. Nowadays commentators near wet themselves when a goalkeeper races up the pitch to try and meet a last minute cross or corner with a header. Higuita on the other hand could take the ball from his own box and dribble past the opposition or lay-off passes before even reaching the half way line.
With all that was hanging over them Colombia needed their talisman to bolster their shaken nerves. Incarcerating the footballer with trumped up charges was merely a smokescreen for the authorities’ displeasure of his relationship with Pablo Escobar.
His term of jail ended his World Cup career as by the time France 1998 he was much older and past his prime. For many of his former team-mates it proved also to be a tournament to far contributing again to early elimination. In 68 appearances he scored 3 goals for Colombia and played in the two Copa Americas and only one World Cup.
Although Rene ventured abroad during his career: Mexico (Tiburones Rojos de Veracruz or the Red Sharks of Veracruz), Spain (Real Valladolid) and Ecuador (Aucas) for single seasons it was Colombia that saw the best of Higuita with a variety of clubs, but most notably Atletico Nacional. He finally retired in 2010, after a couple of come-backs, with a total of 380 appearances and 25 goals a few and became a goalkeeping coach of Real Vallodolid then Al Nassr FC of Saudi Arabia earlier this year.
In a recent interview he professed his desire to continue in football saying:
“All athletes who play professional football have fun, and want to continue providing knowledge and keep having fun. I have the tactical, technical and physical knowledge, along with years of experience. God willing, some day I’ll have the opportunity.”
If he can somehow influence a next generation of players with his type of approach to the game through coaching or mentorship then maybe all is not lost.
He will always be associated with his acts of madness or genius by either admirers or detractors alike but what is of no doubt is there is a severe dearth of mavericks like him in the modern game.
Just like Maradona, Best and Gascoigne, Higuita was a flawed genius and it is probably these human deficiencies combined with their ability to marvel and astound that make us love and miss their likes all the more.
Someone, in their wisdom decided to have this week’s game on Friday afternoon at 12pm. The result was a crowd of barely 2,000 even with tickets slashed to encourage attendance. Luckily I finished my classes at 11.40 so I walked 5 minutes over to the stadium to take in the matinee performance.
The rotund, old woman that sells the tickets outside was offering $2 Tribunas or $3 populars but as she tried to force them into my hand I noticed the $10 Palco VIP tickets underneath. I was feeling flush so decided to invest and walked into the mouth of the stadium and up the stairs.
After choosing the wrong stand entrance I was ushered higher and higher until I reached the various boxes and executives suites, all of which were a far cry from the luxury of the EPL or even SPL. I do not want to appear snobby because I know Ecuador does not have the wealth of Europe but the countries footballing organisations generate enough funds from a fervent supporter base to reinvest in what is the national stadium.
Only last month the national team attracted well over 40,000 for their World Cup qualifier versus Colombia and with tickets a minimum of $25 it’s clear that the money is there.
The Atahualpa Stadium was officially in 1951 and I doubt much has been done to it since. Despite this the stadium engenders charm and reminds me of old pictures of Hampden Park with its one single covered stand and the rest open to the beating sun.
It’s clear the stadium is steeped in history with its many marble plaques commemorating teams and players of old but it wouldn’t take much to improve its dilapidated and run down appearance.
The palco VIP box was empty and soulless and with a huge dirty, glass screen hampering vision and deafening the sound of the match so totally useless for a proper match experience. So I trundled back down the stairs and asked to be allowed into the cheaper seats with my over-invested ticket. Lesson learned.
Macara or Club Social y Deportivo Macará are based in the central city of Ambato and share their stadium with Club Deportivo Técnico Universitario also of Serie A. Known as El Idolo de Ambato (The Idol of Ambato) or Celestes (Sky blues), because of their the shirts, Macara were promoted to the first tier last year after finishing runner-up in Serie B.
Previously their golden period was in the 1980’s when they had several South American stars. Despite this they never managed to win any trophies.
Before today’s game Macara lay in 10th position with 21 points, 3 ahead of their city rivals while Deportivo Quito, after an indifferent start had recently climbed to 7th.
Deportivo started the match by far the brighter with captain,Luis Saritama dominating the midfield and linking up well with Danny Luna. In the opening period both teams had half chances but it was the home side that capitalised on their early dominance by taking the lead on 15 minutes. Congo did well to run down an over-hit pass deep into Macara’s half then cut back a neat ball to Luna at the edge of the box. Instead of shooting form distance Luna dummied the ball to his captain who controlled the ball then placed a beautiful long range shot past a helpless Christian Mora. It was an excellent strike from Saritama and indicative of his current form and confidence.
Macara almost secured parity barely a minute later when their striker, Rodriguez was put through on goal but he ballooned his shot far over the crossbar. The game then got bogged down in midfield for a spell with stray passes and tackles limiting chances. Although Quito were creating the better opportunities, Julio Bevacqua as centre forward was looking slow and cumbersome with his poor first touch spoiling chances to shoot.
Quito doubled their lead in 28 minutes again through Luis Saritama. He dribbled into the box then played a short pass to Folleco who then shimmied past two defenders and smashed the ball high into the Macara net. It was deserved on the balance of play and put Quito firmly in control of the match. Despite this Macara continued to threaten and only some fine acrobatic saves from Adrian Bone denied the sky blues their needed goal. At half time Quito were in command but needed a 3rd to finish the game.
Macara started the 2nd half with a greater intensity and started to pepper the Quito goal with many shots and crosses. Luckily Bone was in fine form and commanded his box when his defenders looked sluggish and lackadaisical. On several occasions the Quito keeper was quick to leave his lines and smother the ball or run down shots. After one such block Quito raced up field to score and end the game as a competition.
This time Folleco turned provider with a high cross to Bevacqua who headed down into the goal. At first it seemed as if Mora had saved but he couldn’t prevent the ball from slipping over the line.
At 3 – 0 Quito could afford the opportunity to try out the young Jose Miguel Andrade who impressed in the last 20 minutes but was denied a goal first by the woodwork then by an awful offside decision.
In the end Deportivo Quito ran out comfortable winners thanks largely to their captain Luis Saritama and some impressive goalkeeping with Adrian Bone.
The win boosts Quito up into 5th position while Macara still linger 3rd from bottom.
Independiente Jose Teran lost at home to Deportivo Cuenca yesterday to damage their championship hopes and hand the ascendancy to Barcelona. The Guayaquil giants have been relentlessly pursuing Independiente for several weeks without taking 1st spot but their 3 -0 win combined with Independiente’s loss awarded them 1st position.
While Independiente benefited from a late winner last week they had to suffer the same punishment against Cuenca who prolonged their excellent away win record courtesy of a Walter Chalá strike in the 83rd minute. It was tough luck for the Sangolqui side as they had enjoyed the bulk of possession but failed to capitalise on their dominance.
Results for week 21
OLMEDO 2 – 0 LIGA DE QUITO
BARCELONA 3 – 0 TEC.UNIVERSITARIO
MACARA 0 –2 EMELEC
MANTA FC 1 – 2 DEPORTIVO QUITO
INDEPENDIENTE 1 – 2 DEPORTIVO CUENCA
EL NACIONAL 1 – 3 LIGA DE LOJA
Liga de Loja continued their surprise championship challenge by hammering El Nacional in the Atahaulpa. Brazilian striker, Renato was in sparkling form and grabbed a 2nd half hat-trick for Los Albos del Sur (The Whites of the South) to move his team into 2nd position.
In the face of continued criticism and talk of drinking problems within the squad Liga de Quito did nothing to deter their detractors by collapsing away to bottom place, Olmedo. The 2- 0 defeat (Jacob Murillo and Hugo Prieto scoring) drops Liga into 6th position, 7 points behind Barcelona.
Current champions Deportivo Quito breathed life into a faltering campaign by defeating Manta 2-1 which in turn boosts their position to 6th. Deportivo will face Leon Huanuco (PERU) in the coming Copa Sudamerica and have to recapture last year’s form if they want to ensure International competition.
Upon reaching the end of this term’s fixtures the league will start again in a double round-robin format and continue till December. The winners of each stage term will play off to become champion with the rest vying for Copa Libertadores and Sudamerican spots. As it stands the top 3 teams will qualify for the Sudamericana (along with Deportivo Quito) while the first term champions will qualify for the Copa Libertadores.
It was my intention to get up to Sangloqui, home of Independiente Jose Teran on Sunday. However because the bus journey back to Quito takes over an hour I would have missed the European Championship final at 1.45.
As a result it was to be visit to the Atahaulpa Stadium to watch El Nacional vs Liga de Loja.
Along with Barcelona, El Nacional are the most successful team in Ecuadorian football with 13 Serie A titles and have represented Ecuador in the Copa Libertadores a record 22 times. They are administered by the Military and alike Chivas Guadalajara of Mexico and Atletic Bilboa of Spain they only play nationally born footballers giving the nickname of Puros Criollos or the Pure Natives.
This term El Nacional have been fairly dreadful and before yesterday’s game they were languishing in 7th position (last year they finished 3rd behind Emelec and Deportivo Quito) , far off the pace but ahead of city rivals Deportivo Quito. They were coming off a 2-1 home defeat to current leaders Independiente last week and needed to salvage at least a point against Loja.
Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Loja or simply Liga de Loja come from the southern based city of Loja and have the nickname of La Garra del Oso or The Bear Claw in English.
Despite only being promoted in 2010 Loja have surpassed all expectations this term and sat in 2nd position before yesterday’s game.This is a major achievement considering their relative wealth and a capacity stadium of only 15,000. Last week they secured a credible home 0-0 draw to Barcelona and were looking to pressurise fellow “minnows” and leaders Independiente.
Although I got to the stadium 5 minutes late I could have waited till half time and still not missed anything. Barely a shot was mustered nor chance created leaving both goalkeepers largely untroubled. A paltry crowd of 3,000 did their best to rouse the teams but in general it was another sedate affair. The Loja fans filled the far right hand corner and were more voluble and greeted their team with the obligatory shower of toilet rolls after the break.
Both teams started the 2nd half with a greater intensity and Loja were denied the opener when Renato burst down the middle straight from the kick off but was scythed down mid shot. Nacional immediately responded with neat build up play down the left hand side through Caicedo and Pita but the final cross sailed over the crossbar.
The Loja goal-keeper, Fernando Fernandez managed to hurt his foot while scrambling for a cross which delayed the proceedings for 4-5 minutes. It was hard to see how he hurt his foot but if I learned one thing form Ecuadorian football it is the players never need a 2nd opportunity to go down and receive medical treatment.When Fernandez finally recovered he spread a beautiful ball down the left wing to an on-runningJonny Uchuari who skipped past a defender and crossed for Renato, who volley home from 5 yards in 53 minutes..
The goal sparked the match into life. Almost immediately Nacional raced up field and attacked the Loja goal. A defected cross found Marcos Caicedo at the edge of the box and he smashed the ball past the helpless Fernandez to bring back parity.
From then on Loja really started to take control of the match.Time and time again the Nacional defenders were slow to react and lax in their marking. Despite towering above the little Brazilian, Renato the Nacional defence were unable to cope with his incisive runs and bursts of speed. The Nacional right back, was suffering a torrid time from tormentor in chief Uchuari who was skipping past challenges and laying on chances for attacking partner.
In 60 minutes Renato doubled his tally when he met a simple through ball high and down the middle. He had time to control the ball but instead chose to a dive and head past the marooned Danny Cabezas.
Nacional tried to rally but seemed bereft of ideas and lacking in attacking options.Their main attacker, Anangonó was full of running but in all the wrong directions and his first touch was at times horrific. The Loja defence easily marshaled any Nacional threat and resolutely blocked any long range efforts.
Renato wrapped up the game and an impressive hat-trick on 73 minutes again from a pass down the middle. He collected the ball with one touch then dispatched it past Cabezas with the next, giving no time for the keeper to react. It was the best goal of the three and deservedly secured Loja’s victory.
The win continues Loja’s unlikely championship challenge at moves them up to 2nd position behind Barcelona while Nacional’s loss sees them tumble 9th or 4rth bottom.