Reminiscing about La U as an era comes to an end

Whilst as an unashamed Unión Española fan I was initially ecstatic when la furia roja defeated Universidad de Chile in the quarter-finals of the Clausura season my next thought was that we may have very well just witnessed the end of an era in Chilean football. That loss combined with manager Jorge Sampaoli taking the vacant position in charge of the Chilean national team it will inevitably mean that the side that has dominated the local scene and captured the imagination of many outside the country will be a very different side come 2013. With that in mind we here at vivalarojamierda decided to ask a few people what their favourite memory was of Universidad de Chile in the past two years.

Daniel Boyle of I Love Chile arrived in Chile in October of 2011 just when the hype around Universidad de Chile was building. They had just crushed Flamengo 4-0 and expectations were high after after a strong performance in Argentina.

Daniel had made his first visit to Estadio Nacional a few days earlier, seeing Chile beat Paraguay in the World Cup qualifier. A few days later he was back, this time in the galeria. The energy was something he had not seen before.

The massive flags draped down over the supporters are already a thing of the past. On the field, La U controlled the match completely, though I still remember the entire Arsenal side chasing the referee across the field after he awarded the first goal of the match. This match was just one of the victories where los azulescrushed their opposition along the way to their Copa Sudamericana title.”

Whilst for Rupert Fryer of the one performance during Jorge Sampaoli’s reign that instantly springs to mind is the 4-0 hammering of Flamengo in Rio; however, the one that will live longest in my memory is the 6-0 drubbing of Deportivo Quito.

Their high-tempo Bielsan approach was always going to be problematic in the altitude of the Ecuadorian capital, but so dominant were they at their best that you still fancied them to overturn the 4-1 deficit back in Santiago. La U were 3-0 up by the break, having completely smothered their dazed opponents from the off, with Junior Fernandes’ brace suggesting that life after Eduardo Vargas wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

They added three more after half-time, as Angelo Henriquez truly announced his arrival on South America’s biggest stage, and at that point they appeared likely to overcome odds of as much as 50/1 that they would follow up that Sudamericana crown with the club’s first Copa Libertadores. Ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be, but that match will be the one I’ll hold up as the triumphant image of a side that, for twelve months, were undoubtedly the finest the continent had to offer.

For Adam Brandon of cannigiascores all great sides should affirm their greatness by winning something in style. Universidad de Chile did just that in 2011 under Jorge Sampaoli. They won Apertura and Clausura titles domestically and in the Clausura they were without doubt head and shoulders above the rest but it was during that time they also had their greatest moment to date and that was winning the Copa Sudamericana. Impressive wins on the way to final against Brazilian sides Flamengo and Vasco de Gama meant La U headed into the final as favourites against Liga de Quito.

Their star man during their march to another title was the exciting and young local talent Eduardo Vargas. It was a goal from Vargas that gave them an impressive win in the altitude of Quito. The second leg provided little drama but it was a showcase of this side at their majestic best with Diaz, Mena, Rodriguez and Aranguiz pulling the strings in midfield. It also had Rojas, the captain, in a three man defence still finding the time to maraud forward. Up front Vargas (who had signed for Napoli at this stage) grabbed another couple of classy goals to finish top scorer in the competition. It was a performance to match the greatness of the occasion, Universidad de Chile had finally won something on the South American stage

Joel Sked of The Red One was fortunate in that he started following Chilean football just as Universidad de Chile set off on their majestic Copa Sudamericana campaign and in the intertwining eighteen months or so there have been some truly special moments. The 36 games unbeaten; the Copa Sudamericana triumph; Guillermo Marino netting against O’Higgins to take the 2012 Apertura play-off final to penalties; Ángelo Henríquez scoring against Godoy Cruz; the thrashings of Colo Colo and seeing some wonderful players.

But for Joel there was one defining moment more than most that epitomised the ‘Sampaoli moment’, and that was the 4-0 victory in Brazil against Flamengo that prompted the Brazilian press to term La U “el Barcelona de Sudamérica”. They suffocated ‘Fla’ like they done to so many teams, not with brute force but with a mixture of hard work, finesse, speed and flair. Under Sampaoli La U knew only one way and that was to attack. Five players were involved in the first goal with José Rojas – a defender –scoring; Eduardo Vargas netted a trademark goal and Marcelo Díaz and Gustavo Lorenzetti were magnificent as a deep-lying playmaker and ‘false 9’ respectively. They strategically took apart the weaknesses of Flamengo; not with pragmatism but with quick, incisive, penetrative football.

Simply put it, along with the 6-0 thumping of Deportivo Quito, was an era defining game for a once in a generation team. La U were exciting, manic and enjoyable. And that was down to Jorge Sampaoli.

When first we first asked Cecilia Lagos a Sports News Anchor on TVN and Universidad Católica fan what her favorite La U moment from the last two years her initial response was, “When Boca Juniors eliminated them from Copa Libertadores, when Santos defeated them in Recopa Sudamericana and when Unión Española eliminated them from playoffs!”

But when pressed Cecilia admitted that her favourite moment of the Sampaoli era with Universidad de Chile wasn’t just a match, but the whole Copa Sudamericana campaign. For her they put the icing on the cake of a spectacular 2011 season, wining the Copa Sudamericana title, with a display of the best football that has been seen in at least twenty years in Chile, a country with a poor winning history and a constant craving for international football success.

Head coach Jorge Sampaoli became the mastermind of a exquisite and perfect football machine, adapted to every match and rival. Whether he used his classic 3-4-1-2 or the 4-3-1-2 variation, not a player was lame, not a play was dull and not a chance of attacking was wasted in a style that gave birth to the obvious comparison: La U were the South American simile of the FC Barcelona.

The fascination for los azules went beyond the borders of the continent and reached Europe and even Asia. Johnny Herrera, Osvaldo González, Marco González, Pepe Rojas; Matías Rodríguez, Charles Aránguiz, Marcelo Díaz, Eugenio Mena; Gustavo Lorenzetti; Gustavo Canales and Eduardo Vargas was mostly the unforgettable line up that their fans would have wanted to keep forever.

However, as it usually happens in Chilean football with successful sides, the team was dismantled at the end of 2011 and even when La U made it to the semi-finals of Copa Libertadores 2012, they slowly became to what they’re today – a feint copy of a side that will hardly ever be matched.

And what has been vivalarojamierda’s favourite moment in the past eighteen months you may ask. Whilst winning the Copa Sudamericana was surely a highlight including “that” win over Flamengo, for us our favourite moment has to be Universidad de Chile’s 4-1 defeat of Universidad Católica in the second leg of the 2011 Apertura final. It was a win that kick started their 36 match unbeaten run and was a forerunner to the title winning Copa Sudamericana campaign.

La U went into the match on the back of 2-0 loss at the hands of their opponents and thus needed to win the return leg by three goals as Universidad Católica had finished the regular season on top of the table and thus only needed a draw over the two legs to claim the title and their first ever bicampeonato. One of the key components of the Sampaoli era was his willingness to attack at all times and nothing exemplifies that more than this match and in many ways defined the next twelve months for La U. His decision to start the attacking triumvirate of Eduardo Vargas, Gustavo Canales and Edson Puch signalled his attentions right from the get go and it was this choice that went a long way to determine the final outcome.

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