Finally, finally, finally, after one month and twenty-one days, the curse is over. Thirteen games had to pass for Junior to get back on the winning side, and luckily they did it in a key match, the first leg of the quarter-finals of the most important competition that they are playing this year. With this outcome, the Sharks maintained their undefeated start to this season’s Copa Sudamericana (four wins and three ties) with a hard-fought 1-0 victory against the Brazilian Chapecoense.
At the beginning, the recent bad results did not seem to affect the Sharks, who were dominant across the opening half. As usual Junior kept possession but the pressure of the non-winning streak was shown in their lack of accuracy when they had to shoot. Fortunately, the Soledad native, Leiner Escalante, was not to be denied his first chance of the game, as he fired in a goal just before the forty minute mark, following good work by midfielder Sebastian Hernandez to ensure the Rojiblancos three points and cement a positive spirit in the team.
Things continued in a similar fashion after the restart but the score didn’t change. Vladimir Hernández and Iván Vélez twice missed the target from close range while Michael Rangel was smartly denied by the visitor’s defense. Towards the end of the match, Chapeonse had a couple more chances to score but Capitan Sebastian Viera saved the lead becoming once again Juniors MVP.
The only bad part of the win were the injuries of the striker Edison Toloza and the midfielder James Sanchez. Both suffered from muscle strains on their right legs and their time to return to the pitch is still to be determined.
Official club report on their injuries:
— Club Junior FC (@JuniorClubSA) October 20, 2016
Next Wednesday, October 26th the Sharks will be playing the second leg in Brazil, where they should make smart use of the small lead if they wish to pass to the Semifinal of the international tournament. Before that, next Saturday they will battle Deportivo Cali, on their last chance to get a place in the playoffs of the Aguila League. Right now Junior is in the eighteenth position of the League and must win all the six games remaining in the regular season to have a hope to make it to the postseason.
Due to this hard picture on the league, Coach Hernandez is most likely going to sacrifice his chances on Cali using mainly subs and keeping the elite squad fresh, rested and ready for the game in Chapecó. That bet, as risky as it sounds, is the sanest option for the new manager, who by now is aware that if he doesn’t win any titles (some people request at least two) this semester he will we forced to leave his chair empty for the next season.
In addition to the Sudamericana Cup and the Aguila League, Junior is also playing the Colombian Cup, in which it is right now qualified for the final of the tournament. The Sharks are the current champions of this championship and will face Atletico Nacional on the crucial series to revalidate last year’s title.