The 2008 Copa Libertadores has begun as it will surely carry on, with a shock. San Lorenzo didn’t exactly excel themselves over the summer, and had a bad result against Newell’s on the opening day of the Clausura, but before last season, when their hosts tonight dumped River Plate out in the group stage, Venezuelan teams simply didn’t win against Argentines.
That now appears to have changed for good, with the Venezuelan champions outplaying Ramón Díaz’s men easily in the first match of Group 1, in spite of Andrés D’Alessandro making his debut for the Ciclón. Caracas started strongly and D’Alessandro, only confirmed for the match squad at the last minute, had an inauspicious beginning to his San Lorenzo career, passing poorly and finding himself quickly – and very roughly – closed down by the opposing defenders.
Díaz opted for too cautious a formation, and Néstor Silvera was left isolated up front. Only the odd shot from well outside the penalty box – D’Alessandro and Aureliano Torres both had a go but were denied by goalkeeper Vicente Rosales – threatened the home goal, and by and large the hosts weren’t looking uncomfortable.
It all started to go horribly wrong for San Lorenzo just prior to half-time. In the 39th minute, Caracas midfielder Ronald Vargas took down a poorly-cleared ball and and shot, and Agustín Orión in San Lorenzo’s goal couldn’t do anything to keep his effort out. Already it was looking like a disappointing return from the opening 45 minutes, but Cristian Tula then compounded things by getting himself sent off just a minute before the break for a very hard challenge on Pablo Bastianini in the middle of the pitch. For the second match running, San Lorenzo were a man down before the break. One man and one goal down, it was time for Díaz to work his motivational magic if he could.
At half-time, Adrián González replaced Diego Rivero, but he couldn’t do a lot to help Silvera with his side now short in the middle of the pitch anyway. D’Alessandro didn’t look his usual dynamic self, and couldn’t get close enough to help Silvera out either, but for all of San Lorenzo’s lack of bite, Caracas still weren’t really making the extra man tell.
In the 24th minute of the second half, though, they did so at last, Orión pushing away an attempt from a corner, but only as far as Rafael Castellín, who stabbed home to double the lead and all but assure Caracas of victory. When Juan Manuel Torres committed a stupid foul near the corner flag to reduce San Lorenzo to nine men with a minute remaining, the writing was already on the wall. There’s plenty of time to turn a bad start around in the group, but Los Santos would have hoped for a lot better on Tuesday night…