Nacional were out of pocket after the first leg of their Copa Libertadores semi-final on Thursday night. The match was only fourteen minutes old when Diego Galván played the smooth criminal, stealing in ahead of Rodrigo Muñoz in the Uruguayan goal. In the second half both midfields were working day and night, with Santiago García missing a glorious chance to equalise early on – the only person he could blame was the man in the mirror. Although there were no further goals, it wasn’t a bad match. With just one goal in it, and Nacional with the home advantage next week, though, the second leg could be a thriller.
Fourteen minutes in there was a niggly challenge in midfield, and before Nacional were ready Juan Sebastián Verón had already taken the free kick, sending it down the right touchline. From there, Leandro Benítez sent in a cross which appeared aimed at no-one. Muñoz was coming out to claim it easily, until, seemingly having started his jump somewhere in the centre circle, Diego Galván arrived, arrowing a diving header into the net past the helpless goalkeeper.
That was pretty much the only action of a first half which saw Nacional defending as far as they could from their own goal, and aiming to starve their opponents of the ball whenever they could. Sebastián Coates had one chance from a header, but nothing really bothered Mariano Andújar. At half time, it was going nicely for the home side.
The only real blow of the match for Estudiantes followed, though. Matías Sánchez replaced Seba Verón due to a knock the latter had picked up during the first half, but it was another half-time substitution who made the first telling contribution of the second half: Santiago García, replacing Alexander Medina in Nacional’s attack, won a towering header from a long-range free kick in the second minute of the half and saw it fly past a flat-footed Andújar… and then past his post and off the pitch.
That was the best chance the Uruguayans would get. Nacional dominated possession during the second half, pouring forward as Estudiantes struggled, without Verón, to keep hold of the ball in their own midfield, but couldn’t get past a defence in which Newell’s Old Boys’ charity loanee Rolando Schiavi looked like he’d been a fixture for far more than the last 48 hours. With about half an hour left, Alejandro Sabella sent Maximiliano Núñez on for Galván, and the result was a bit more penetration from the youngster, though he blasted a great chance to double the lead narrowly over the crossbar.
The second leg will be next Wednesday night in Montevideo, with everything finely poised. Estudiantes have one foot in the final, but with only one goal in it, it’s still all to play for…
Copa Libertadores 2009, semi-final first leg: Estudiantes de La Plata 1 – 0 Nacional (URU) (Thurs 25th June)