800 kilometers might seem like a big distance. That’s how far it is from Santa Fe Argentina, home of Colón, to Asunción, host of the 2019 Sudamericana Final. For fans of a Colón side that have never played for a major trophy in their history, that distance is next to nothing.
They’ve biked, postponed weddings, and much more, all to be inside Asunción’s La Nueva Olla on Saturday afternoon. Some estimates say that as many as 40,000 Colón fans will be in Asunción on Saturday, many of them with plans to be inside La Nueva Olla.
On the other side of the equation sit Independiente del Valle, the Ecuadorian upstarts who took the continent by storm in 2016, and have shown they’re here to stay in 2019. The distance from Quito, coupled with IDV’s standing as outside Ecuador’s grandes means that they will most likely be lacking in support inside the stadium Saturday afternoon. But they will not be lacking in support, with many in Ecuador adopting them as their second team during their recent successes.
Just 90 minutes separate each of these teams from what would be the greatest victory in their history.
Colón stormed past Peru’s Deportivo Municipal 5-0 on aggregate in the first round of the competition, then past Uruguay’s River Plate 3-1 in the second round. It took penalties to defeat Argentinos Juniors in the Round of 16, then they were forced to rally past Zulia in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Colón again rallied, with a late penalty from Pulga Rodríguez forcing penalties in Belo Horizonte against Atlético Mineiro. Colón prevailed on spot kicks, with Uruguayan goalkeeper Leandro Burián one of the heroes, and now find themselves here.
Pulga Rodríguez is the heart and soul of this team, but not the only threat. Wilson Morelo is a proven goalscorer in international competitions and his presence must be tracked the IDV defenders. Leandro Burián between the sticks is another leader of this Colón side. He may not see many shots, particularly if IDV elect to play on the counter, but he must be strong when called upon. An experienced midfield led by the Paraguayan Marcelo Estigarribia will hope to control the ball and create chances for Pulga and Morelos up front. The defense, which should feature a pair of youngsters in 20-year-old Alex Vigo and 22-year-old Gonzalo Escobar, will be tasked with slowing down a strong and quick front line of IDV.
The Ecuadorians, much like in their famous run to the 2016 Libertadores Final, nearly were derailed before starting in the competition. Down 2-0 after the first leg against Argentine side Unión in the first round, IDV won 2-0 in Quito and prevailed on penalties. They backed that performance up with a truly impressive 5-0 first leg drubbing of Chile’s Universidad Católica in the second round, eventually prevailing 7-3 on aggregate. In the Round of 16, Caracas were dispatched of via a 2-0 win in Quito before another matchup with Argentine opposition in the form of Independiente. A 2-1 loss away from home was followed by a 1-0 win in Quito, pushing IDV through on away goals. Another impressive away from home followed in the semifinal, with a 2-0 win in São Paulo against Corinthians setting the stage for a 4-2 win on aggregate and a spot in the Sudamericana Final.
As always Independiente del Valle are expected to field a good mix of youth and experience on Saturday. Among the projected XI, 5 are 22 or younger, including the 20-year-old Jhon Jairo Sánchez. Cristian Pellerano, a 37-year-old Argentine midfielder, will man the centre of the pitch, while the defense should feature three youngsters, headlined by the promising Anthony Landázuri. The Panamanian Gabriel Torres is expected to lead the line. His brace against Corinthians in São Paulo should give him confidence going into this one.
The expectation is for Colón to see more of the ball, with IDV looking to hit out with pace and strength on the counter. If you’re looking for an x-factor off the bench, look no further than IDV’s Washington Corozo.
No matter who prevails on Saturday, it will be a feel-good story. Either longsuffering Colón will finally lift a major trophy or Independiente del Valle, a club that does it the right way in every sense of the term, will be rewarded for their unique approach to not just football, but development.