Friday, April 29, 2016

River Plate 0 at Independiente Del Valle 2 (Copa Libertadores Round of 16, First Leg) - April 28, 2016

I spent the past few days in Ecuador avoiding sports for the most part. I wasn't intending to see any games while I was here, but a lucky bit of soccer scheduling changed that pretty quickly. Independiente Del Valle, a team based in the suburb of Sangolqui, about 20 miles south of Quito, had advanced to the Round of 16 in the Copa Libertadores, South America's equivalent to the Champions League. IDV is not a traditional power and had never made it this far before, so the match was moved from their tiny home ground with a capacity of just 8,000 to Estadio Olimipco Atahualpa, the national stadium that holds 40,000 and is in the center of Quito. There was no way I could have made the trip to Sangolqui, so the move to a more central venue was perfect for me.

I was told by my hotel proprietor that tickets would be difficult to get, but had no idea how to determine if that was true. I decided to just show up and see what was available. The game was scheduled for an odd 5:30 start, and after a day of touring, rush hour traffic caused my wife and I to arrive a few minutes late. Even then, there were hundreds of tickets on the street, so we picked up a pair for face value ($5 each with no conversion as Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency). When we entered the stadium, we were surprised to find that the place was packed, with nary a seat to be found.

Despite having seats printed on our ticket, we ended up standing near one of the corners, with about half the pitch visible through a chain-link fence. An Ecuadorian gentleman who spoke perfect English  overheard us talking and told us he was in the same boat; there was no way to navigate the crowd to find your seat, so we just stood there for the entire match.

There was no clock on the scoreboard, but I'd guess we missed the first 25 minutes of the game, which was still goalless at the time and finished that way at the half. The halftime break was fairly subdued, likely due to the recent earthquake that devastated the coast of Ecuador, leaving over 600 dead and $3 billion in damage. There was a pronounced national spirit on display, with "Si Se Puede" (Yes You Can) being chanted regularly. As well, a small collection of firemen and policemen paraded along the running track with a sign promoting solidarity of Quiteños. Halftime also allowed us to check out the various vendors who were selling chocolate bars, Halls, cigarettes, strange looking hot dogs, and some local treats. Even during the game, these vendors were everywhere, walking in front of fans through each section as there weren't many aisles for them to use. Meanwhile, some fans brought back big cups of Budweiser from some hidden concession stands, but we didn't want to leave our spot, buying a small bag of chips (with mayonnaise) for $1 instead.

River Plate (in white) are Argentine champions and heavy favourites, but playing in the altitude of Quito is difficult for any visitor, and the club had yet to win in five visits. In the second half, IDV was attacking the net closer to us and they started to put the pressure on, coming close on several occasions. In the 64th minute, the ball fell to Jose Angulo alone at the penalty spot, and he made no mistake, drilling a shot above a helpless Marcelo Barovero. The crowd went wild, sensing an upset in the making.

River Plate had two great chances to tie but Librado Azcona made two spectacular saves, while the hosts missed their own opportunity when a free kick hit the post. It appeared as if IDV would win with the lone goal, but in the final minute of stoppage time, Emiliano Tellechea was fouled in the area and Junior Sornoza scored the ensuing kick (below) to give IDV the 2-0 lead.

That was the last play of the game as IDV came away with the upset much to the delight of the fans. Highlights can be found on YouTube and are worth watching as this was quite an entertaining match.

Update: IDV lost in Argentina 1-0 but advanced to the quarterfinals on the 2-1 aggregate score and played UNAM from Mexico in that round. They won 2-1 at home, lost 2-1 on the road, and won 5-3 on PKs to advance to the semifinals, where they will play another Argentinian team, Boca Juniors. Great story that you will never hear of; imagine a 3rd place team from a country outside the top 5 in Europe making the semifinals of the Champions League?

Next Up

I'm already back in the States and starting my Texas League trip tomorrow before checking out the Jays on the road next week, who had better be out of their early season funk by then. As always, keep checking back for updates.



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