The 2012 Apertura season finally comes to its conclusion in the next few days with Universidad de Chile and O’Higgins playing off in a two-legged final to determine who will be crowned champion. In honour of this we take an in-depth preview for the matches to be played on Thursday and Sunday Chilean time.
For the third consecutive season it will be one versus two in the final two games of the season with the irresistible force that is Universidad de Chile taking on an impressive O’Higgins, who are looking to win the Primera Division title for the first time in their fifty-seven year history. It is also O’Higgins first ever appearance in final playoff but they will have an uphill task against an Universidad de Chile looking to make it three championships in a row and to atone for their Copa Libertadores exit at the hands of Boca Juniors. Universidad de Chile has an impressive record in recent finals they have reached winning all three of them and as this could be an end of era as the team looks to be broken up and will look to go out on a high. For football nerds out there this is very much a Marcelo Bielsa influenced final with La U’s manager, Jorge Sampaoli one of his chief acolytes whilst O’Higgins manager, Eduardo Berizzo was Bielsa’s assistant during his time in charge of the Chilean national team.
At the end of the regular season the two teams were separated by a margin of five points with both teams losing a combined total of seven games between them. What is equally impressive is that both teams only shared the points on only three occasions. What clearly separates to the two teams in Universidad de Chile’s goal scoring prowess as they scored an impressive forty-four goals in seventeen games which was thirteen more than their opponents in the final.
O’Higgins will be hoping that can repeat their efforts earlier in the season when they inflicted los azules’ first loss of the season with a 3-0 win on home turf in Rancagua. In their run to the final both teams suffered losses at the same stage – the first leg of the semi-final. However how they both overcame that loss marked in its contrast as Universidad de Chile emphatically dispatched arch rivals Colo Colo 4-0 in the second leg to prevail 4-2 whilst O’Higgins had to rely on being the higher ranked team after their semi-final against Unión Española finished 2-2 on aggregate. This is an intriguing match up as we have one team looking to end an era of dominance with a win whilst the other has to overcome the challenge of playing in their first ever playoff final to grab their first ever Primera Division title.
Last three meetings
Round 5, 2012 Apertura Season
O’Higgins 3-0 U. de Chile (E. Guitiérrez (OHI) 35’, G. Suárez (OHI) 49’, R. Fernández (OHI) 58’)
Round 9, 2011 Clausura Season
U. de Chile 3-0 O’Higgins (E. Vargas (UCH) 20′ & 82′, F. Castro (UCH) 50’)
Semi-final, second leg, 2011 Apertura Season
U. de Chile 7-1 O’Higgins (E. Guitiérrez (OHI) 8’, E. Vargas (UCH) 10’ C. Aránguiz (UCH) 14’, G. Canales (UCH) 25’ & 86’, A. Acevedo (UCH) 33’, M. Diaz (UCH) 68’, D. Rivarola (UCH) 86’)
As alluded to in our introduction O’Higgins are making their first ever appearance in the final playoff but their last meeting in the playoffs was in the 2011 Apertura Season sem-finals where Universidad de Chile triumphed 8-1 on aggregate after comprehensively winning the second leg 7-1. O’Higgins will be hoping that there won’t be a repeat performance this time around.
Players to Watch
Ángelo Henríquez (U. de Chile)
When Eduardo Vargas departed La U at the end of last season, many thought it would be new signing, Junior Fernándes who would step up fill his goal scoring boots. Whilst Fernándes has been impressive, he has been upstaged to a large extent by the eighteen year-old, Henríquez. Henríquez, who reportedly will be joining Manchester United in the off season was his team’s top scorer during the regular season with ten goals. The youngster also contributed four goals in Universidad de Chile’s run to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores. Henríquez, even at this young age is a natural striker and a fantastic finisher and will cause plenty of problems for the O’Higgins defence.
Boris Sagredo (O’Higgins)
We here at viva la roja mierda love a player called Boris, especially ones born in Chile, so Boris Sagredo was a natural choice as our O’Higgins player to watch. Sagredo joined O’Higgins at the start of the 2011 Apertura season after spells at Rangers and Iquique after he initially began his career at Colo Colo. Sagredo, an attacking midfielder, contributed eight goals during O’Higgins 2011 campaigns but is yet to find the back of the net this year. Fans of O’Higgins will be hoping he can find his goal scoring form in the final with pace and trickery sure to pose some problems for his opponents.
Who is going to win and why
As with our all final previews we have again sought the opinions of those who probably know more than we do and have asked some others to provide us with their thoughts on who will win the 2012 Apertura final. We are very grateful for Rupert Fryer from southamericanfootball.co.uk, Nicholas Rosano from southamericanfootball.co.uk and goal.com, Joel Sked from The Red One, Cecilia Lagos from TVN, Daniel Boyle from I Love Chile and Adam Brandon from caniggiascores for sharing their thoughts.
Rupert Fryer, southamericanfootball.co.uk
Following the goalless draw that signalled the end of their Copa Lobertadores campaign, it appeared La U’s season was over: Jorge Sampaoli was repeatedly being linked with a move away from the club, and for the first time had spoken publicly about life after La U; Marcelo Diaz had already agreed a move to Switzerland, talk of Ángelo Henríquez’ proposed move to Manchester United was gathering steam, and it seemed a mass exodus looked likely to follow; just days earlier they had slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Colo Colo. There’s always something eerie about games played behind closed doors but that defeat in Macul seemed symbolic of something grander, that perhaps this was the end of an era.
I should have known better. If there’s one thing La U do pretty well, it’s comebacks. The resolve they showed speaks volumes of the character Sampaoli has managed to embed in his squad. Junior Fernandes’ stunning hat-trick going a long to way capping what has been an impressive first season with the club.
Despite a fine campaign for Eduardo Berizzo and O’Higgins, I’d make La U clear favourites to grab their third straight league championship. If La Celeste do wish to upset the applecart then Argentine duo Enzo Gutiérrez and Ramón Fernández will have to be in the mood, and Berizzo would do well to urge them to work their left flank. Despite all the praise he has received this season, Matías Rodríguez has been a liability at the back for La U, with goals repeatedly arriving after an opposition forward has stepped into the void left by the Argentinian’s surges forward.
Score predictions: 1st leg: O’Higgins 1-1 Universidad de Chile, 2nd leg: Universidad de Chile 3-1 O’Higgins.
Joel Sked, The Red One
It’s good that the teams finishing one and two in the regular season take part in the Apertura play-off final. However for me there is only one winner – Universidad de Chile.
The way La U came back against Colo Colo in the second-leg after going through arguably the toughest spell under Jorge Sampaoli was tremendous. And with it likely to be a number of players’ last game(s) for the club – and possibly Sampaoli – they will want to finish the best way possible. You could see how much it meant to the players, staff and fans once the full-time whistle was blown after the 4-0 win.
It will be the club’s 100 and 101 games since the beginning of 2011 and it has been showing. But against los albos Rodriguez was back to his driving best, the good Junior Fernándes turned up, Henriquez scored again.
O’Higgins will be tough opponents – 14 of their 21 games in 2012 have been decided by a goal. They have already defeated Universidad de Chile 3-0 this year. Yet I thought they were slightly lucky to get past Union Espanola (who would have finished higher if it wasn’t for the Copa Libertadores) over the two legs but they have fantastic attitude under Eduardo Berizzo and if they can get the ball to their front four quick enough especially if it means Ramon Fernandez has space then they will cause La U a lot of problems. Boris Sagredo is pacey and tricky and could exploit La U’s troublesome right flank.
Yet I think the quality and winning mentality that this La U team have will shine through in both legs.
Score Predictions: 1st leg: O’Higgins 1-2 Universidad de Chile, 2nd leg: Universidad de Chile 3-0 O’Higgins
There’s little doubt in my mind that Universidad de Chile have what it takes to lift a third consecutive Primera Division title. They regained their swagger after a series of poor performances by thumping arch rivals Colo Colo in the playoff semifinals and no doubt have the quality to overcome O’Higgins in the final. While the Rancagua-based side have more than held their own in the Apertura, they cannot boast the quality that La U does, which will ultimately be their undoing over thetwo legs.
Cecilia Lagos, Sports News Anchor on TVN & viva la roja mierda’s self-appointed First Lady of Chilean Football
Once again Universidad de Chile has made it to the tournament finals. No surprise at all as we were all expecting them to do so. Even after being defeated 2-0 by Colo Colo in the first leg of the semi-finals, we knew that without Esteban Paredes and Rafa Caroca, both suspended for the 2nd leg, La U were going to overcome their Libertadores elimination and take the los albos by storm.
On the other hand, the well structured and solid O’Higgins, coached by former Marcelo Bielsa’s aid Eduardo Berizzo, was the first team to defeat La U on the regular part of the season, 3-0 in Rancagua. Then, only two more teams would do the same -Universidad de Concepción and Universidad Católica- but of those three, the Berizzo squad was by far the one who really made La U look weaker. And they have great players like Luis Pedro Figueroa, Enzo Gutiérrez y Boris Sagredo, among others.
I admit it is difficult for me to do a prediction right now, especially because I don’t like predictions. I don’t think this is an easy pair to resolve. Berizzo’s work has paid off this semester: O’Higgins have also qualified for the Copa Sudamericana 2012. I just think and wish La U will not get off with an easy win … if they win. And just for a change I’d love to see O’Higgins become the champions for the first time in their history. They sure can play against La U as equals. Just a little warning: I’d pay attention to the referees and their behavior in these two games towards O’Higgins.
However, I tend to tip the balance just slightly in favor of Universidad de Chile, because of one simple thing: Experience. This is going to be the fourth final for them in 36 months and they’ve won ALL of them. For O’Higgins, their absolute lack of experience in such a high-pressured game, could easily result in anxiety and imprecision when it comes to seize the scoring chances they could build.
Anyway, it should be a beautiful duel between the hunger for the three championships in a row for Universidad de Chile and the illusion and hope of the Berizzo squad for making history and get their very first First Division title.
Daniel Boyle, from I Love Chile
O’Higgins will take on Universidad de Chile in the final of the Apertura season and I strongly believe the weight of games played recently, alongside the elimination from the Copa Libertadores is going to affect La U.
Players like Charles Aránguiz and Marcelo Díaz have been playing two games per week since the clash between Bolivia and Chile. The question is whether los azules played their final too early with their thrashing of Colo Colo.
O’Higgins have reached their first final and will have a strong home support at Thursday’s match at El Teniente. This will be a game of all out attack, with both coaches being firm believers in the methods of Bielsa.
I have a feeling O’Higgins will win this first battle, repeating their surprise victory earlier in the year. I am tipping a 3-2 victory in a high scoring encounter. On the return leg, I expect the loss (if that is what occurs) to spurt Universidad de Chile into action, though both teams will be quite tired from a long season. La U to win 1-0 and take the trophy due to their higher standing on the ladder during the regular season. Marcelo Díaz will get his wish to leave the team with another championship under his belt.
Score Prediction: 1st leg: O’Higgins 3-2 Universidad de Chile, 2nd leg: Universidad de Chile 1-0 O’Higgins
Adam Brandon, caniggiascores
This is a two-legged final that promises to be exciting, emotional and enticing. Universidad de Chile and O’Higgins have both proved they are the best two sides in the Apertura 2012. O’Higgins are in search of their first major trophy and beat La “U” 3-0 earlier in the season in Rancagua so will go into the first leg at least with no fear. The favourites meanwhile are looking to complete a hat-trick of successive Chilean titles whilst waving goodbye to some key players and possibly their manager as well, ex O’Higgins boss Jorge Sampoali. O’Higgins under Marcelo Bielsa’s former right hand man Eduardo Berrizo have enjoyed a terrific campaign and play a bright attacking expansive game. Attacking midfielder Enzo Guttierez has been pushed a bit further forward this campaign and has delivered with the best form of his career and is the danger man for La Celeste. Chilean international midfielder Luis Figueroa is the key to how the underdogs will get on in this final I feel though.
Universidad de Chile recovered from three scoreless games in a row and a first leg deficit to beat fierce rivals Colo Colo 4-0 at the weekend and showed once again they have one of the most talented sides Chile has ever seen. Junior Fernandes and Marcelo Diaz are heading to Europe after this final and will be very difficult to replace. Gustavo Lorenzetti, Charles Aranguiz and Matias Rodriguez have also been linked to moves within South America and further afield so there could be quite a few tearful farewells. In the first leg I think O’Higgins will edge it but back in Santiago in front of a sold out Estadio Nacional it’s difficult to see anything other than another La “U” triumph which may well sign off the end of the most glorious chapter in their history so far.
Score Prediction : 1st leg: Leg O’Higgins 2 – 1 Universidad de Chile, 2nd Leg Universidad de Chile 3 – 1 O’Higgins
It is hard to go past Universidad de Chile yet again in this final. They have been an irresistible force for the last three seasons as they have dominated the talk of both the Chilean football landscape but also that of the continent. With talk that this impressive squad will be broken up over the off season Jorge Sampaoli will be imploring his chargers to go out on a high if indeed it is the end of an era. For us, we feel that it won’t be first time lucky for O’Higgins as the occasion may get to them against a team that is looking to make for not making the final of the Copa Libertadores.
Score Predictions: 1st leg: O’Higgins 2-1 Universidad de Chile, 2nd leg: Universidad de Chile 3-0 O’Higgins.