With Barcelona claiming the title without playing on Wednesday there was only the Copa Libertadores and last relegation place left to settle.
Despite losing 2-1 Independiente claimed a historic Libertadores place for the first time in their history. The minnows from Sangloqui are regarded as Ecuador’s best young team but it remains to be seen if they can step up to continental level. They will be joined by Barcelona, Emelec and Liga.
Macara put any fears of last day relegation behind them with a thumping 4 – 0 win against Deportivo Quito. The game was dominated by a dreadful refereeing display where he denied a legitimate goal, sent two players off and awarded a dubious penalty. Deportivo looked dreadful without Saritama (released) and Paredes (moved to Barcelona) and deserved the heavy defeat.
El Nacional beat Tecnico Universitario 3 – 1 to ensure their safety and condemn Universitario to the second division.
On Wednesday I managed to get along to the Atahaulpa Stadium for the Quito derby: Deportivo Quito vs Liga. Unfortunately it was a fairly drab game with neither team really creating a lot of chances. The game was not a total loss however as I managed to scoop a fair few beers and see Edison Mendez in the flesh (something that impressed my PSV supporting friend a lot more than me). For such a big derby the stadium was less than half full and number around 15-20,000.
Both goalkeepers had a couple of fine blocks and many punched clearances but in the main they were largely untroubled throughout the game. Liga appear to have a far more physical and taller team but did not really use this advantage.
Deportivo enjoyed the bulk of possession and looked the more threatening but with the notoriously, profligate Bevacqua leading the line, chance after chance was squandered. It’s hard to understand why Deportivo decided to retain Bevacqua when he seems to be so static and uninspiring. He did have one acrobatic chance which was tipped over the bar but barring this fleeting moment of apparent genius he was fairly rotten and was subbed not long after the 2nd half started.
Nelson Acosta (Deportivo coach) continues to tinker with his new side and this time he left Luis Saritama and Jefferson Hurtado on the bench. It was a risk that did not pay off and leaves Deportivo in 2nd bottom position. The Uruguayan has to quickly find his best 11 and start to record victories if Deportivo are to mount a league challenge.
In the nights other games Emelec beat Liga de Loja to take first place in the table. Renato scored the opener in 36 minutes for Loja but a late charge and two goals from Marlon De Jesus secured the points with Palacios adding on more deep into injury time. The defeat for Loja secured their bottom place position.
Olmedo thumped Universitario 4 -1 in Rio Bamba with Garavano , Caicedo , Sanjurjo and Souza getting a goal a piece.
Independiente drew with El Nacional 1 -1 with both goals coming in one minute: Leon Henry for Independiente in 67 minutes and Juan Luis Anangono for El Nacional in 68.
While in Ambato, Macara beat Deportivo Cuenca 2 -0 again with the goals coming in quick succession in the 52nd and 53rd minutes. The win boosted Macara to 3rd position.
Alos on Wednesday night Barcelona played their first game in the Copa Sudamericana drawing 0 – 0 away to Deportivo Tachira of Venezuela which gives them a strong chance of progressing.
Emelec 3 – 1 Liga de Loja
Olmedo 4 – 1 Tec. Universitario
Independiente 1 – 1 El Nacional
Deportivo Quito 0 – 0 Liga de Quito
Macara 2 – 0 Deportivo Cuenca
Deportivo Tachira 0 -0 Barcelona
Team p w d pts
Emelec 3 2 1 7
Barcelona 2 2 0 6
Macara 3 2 0 6
Liga de Quito 3 1 2 5
Olmedo 3 1 1 4
Independiente 3 1 1 4
El Nacional 3 0 3 3
Manta FC 2 1 1 3
Dep Cuenca 3 1 0 3
Tec Uni 3 0 2 2
Dep Quito 3 0 1 1
Liga de Loja 3 0 1 1
On Sunday there is a full match day in Serie A. For the first time I am going to make predictions but given I have never won money in all my years of gambling (in football) I’d take these bold guesses with more than a pinch of salt.
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.
Deportivo Quito and Emelec hammered and eliminated in the Copa Libertadores.
It was a humiliating week for the Ecuadorian teams in the Copa Libertadores as they were both bounced out of the competition with a whimper.
Despite needing only to protect a 4-1 lead in Santiago, Deportivo were thumped 6-0 in an amazing last 16 turnaround contributing to a final 7-4 aggregate score.
The current Ecuadorian champions were awful and constantly cut open by Universidad. Junior Fernandez scored the first two goals then Marcelo Diaz levelled the tie before half time. If anything Deportivo were worse after the break conceding 3 more goals and surrendering the tie in the most embarrassing fashion. Unlike the first tie Quito did not have the benefit of an extra man for the majority of the match and Universidad broke through a porous defence at will.
Emelec fared no better on Wednesday as they were leathered 3-0 in Sao Paulo. The team from Guayaquil had secured a credible 0-0 home win in the first leg and could have progressed with a score draw. However Corinthians were far too strong and controlled the match after Fabio Santos’s 7th opener. The Brazilians missed a plethora of chances before doubling their lead through Paulinho in 64 mnutes leaving Alex to round up the games with 5 minutes to go.
Corinthians will now face fellow Brazilians Vasco De Gama after they beat Lanus 5-4 on penalties.
Despite Deportivo Quito’s humbling it was not the rounds biggest defeat as Bolivar were spanked 8-0 away by Santos. Ganso and Elano each grabbed a brace but it was the Brazilian superstar Neymar that stole the show. Setting up 5 of the goals he also chipped in with a double to become the highest goal scorer for Santos in the post Pele era. It was a harsh lesson for Bolivar who had historically beaten the current Libertadores champions in La Paz last week.
Paraguay’s Libertad beat Cruz Azul of Mexico 2-0 to move to the next round while Riquelme rolled back years to inspire Boca to a 3-2 in Chile against Union Espanola.
Riquelme scored 1 and set up 2 for Boca
Last 16 2nd leg results and aggregates
Santos FC 8-0 (9-2) Bolívar
Fluminense FC 2-1 (2-1) Internacional
Universidad de Chile 6-0 (7-4) Deportivo Quito
Unión Española 2-3 (3-5) Boca Juniors
Corinthians 3-0 (3-0) Emelec
Lanús 2-1 (3-3) CR Vasco da Gama
(Vasco win 5-4 in penalties)
Vélez Sarsfield 1-1 (2-1) Atlético Nacional
Libertad 2-0 (3-1) Cruz Azul
The last 8 is dominated by 4 Brazilian teams reflecting the financial spending available to the South American giant. Argentina has 2 representatives with both Boca and Velez facing Brazilians in Santos and Fluminense. The luck of the draw ensures either a Paraguayan or Chilean team shall progress to the semis while the all Corintians vs Vasco tie means there will be at least one Brazilian team in the last 4.
Fluminense vs Boca Juniors
Corinthians vs Vasco De Gama
Universidad De Chile vs Libertad
Santos vs Velez Sarsfield
First legs to be played 15/05/12 and 2nd legs 22/05/12