Three Points: San Lorenzo struggle to overcome a valiant Auckland City
Substitute Mauro Matos scored a stoppage-time winner as San Lorenzo sealed their place in the final of the Club World Cup following a 2-1 victory over Auckland City.
Here are three talking points from the game.
1. San Lorenzo made heavy work of it
South American sides often struggle at this stage of the competition. Forced to take the initiative and often without the ideas to do so (perhaps because so much of their training before the tournament is concerned with planning for a final in which they'll be very much second favourites), the Club World Cup semifinal is rarely a pretty spectacle from the CONMEBOL point of view. San Lorenzo manager Edgardo Bauza admitted to the television cameras afterwards that his side's performance had been poor, but insisted: "the result is what mattered today."
And so it does. The aim of the game -- always, regardless of which club is representing CONMEBOL -- is to reach the final and get that much-wanted shot at taking down the champions of Europe. What San Lorenzo can't have bargained for is that Auckland City, who'd progressed all the way from the Oceania-host nation playoff round, would still have enough in their legs to run them so close. When Spanish backpacker-turned-footballer Angel Berlanga slotted home Auckland's equaliser midway through the second half, it was the very least the Kiwi side deserved.
In part that seemed to me to be due to a strange gameplan from Bauza which set this match up as practice for the final. Rather than seek to control the match with Nestor Ortigoza's intelligent passing from deep and a slow build-up, San Lorenzo left more advanced playmaker Leandro Romagnoli on the bench (he was about to be sent on when Auckland scored) and set out on the counter-attack from the start. Presumably, that's how they'll set up against Madrid in the final, but in the rush to get the ball forward, Ortigoza was virtually a bystander, showing nothing of his quality on the ball. The winning goal eventually came, but only after a seriously nasty shock and a performance which will give Bauza a lot of thinking to do between now and Saturday.
2. A lot of improvement to come
The good side of the above argument, of course, is that San Lorenzo need to get a lot better if they're to do much on Saturday, but are well capable of improving significantly. The onus in terms of expectations will shift away from them, and that should end up helping -- if not to win the trophy, then at least to give a better account of themselves, considering expectations, than they managed against Auckland.
Plenty of Argentine football-watchers were surprised not just by Romagnoli starting on the bench, but also by Mauro Matos, who came on in the second half and scored the winner in extra time, not starting. Unless Matos was carrying a minor knock -- and there were no reports of one -- it seemed a baffling decision, because whilst they have other talents in their attack, Matos is the best line-leader and the most reliable goalscorer in the squad.
The midfield pairing of Mercier and Ortigoza will surely remain for the final, but Ortigoza in particular will want more help from his teammates and will have to step his own game up considerably. Mercier did a reasonable job of breaking up Auckland's moves through the middle, but it barely needs stating that Real Madrid's midfield will present rather more of a challenge in that respect. Does Bauza stick with a similar lineup for the final, then, or will he decide to sacrifice an attacker, perhaps with Martin Cauteruccio making way for Matos, in order to better protect the back line?
The danger is that by beefing up the midfield, San Lorenzo might be forced to sacrifice some of the pace on the break offered by Pablo Barrientos (scorer of the opening goal) or Gonzalo Veron (no relation to Juan Sebastian, in case you were wondering). Without pace, it's difficult to see them getting at Madrid's defence... but then again, without reinforcing the centre, it's difficult to see them living with Madrid's attack. So does Bauza stick or twist ahead of the final the club have been awaiting with bated breath ever since they lifted the Copa Libertadores?
3. An unexpected man of the match
It's fair, I think, to say that if you'd been asked before kick off to predict which player would be the best in the match, you'd probably have gone for someone Argentine (particularly considering that Ortigoza, whilst a Paraguay international, is as Argentine in terms of his birthplace and upbringing as any of his teammates). Probably more of a surprise, though, was that the match's most impressive player was indeed an Argentine -- but not one who was playing for San Lorenzo.
Emiliano Tade's career as a footballer was an unexpected one. Born and raised in the Argentine province of Santiago Del Estero, Tade moved to Buenos Aires to study law, but grew frustrated and wanted to see more of the world. A move to New Zealand followed, and in spite of arriving in his new homeland unable to speak English, he found work and quickly started playing in the local league. Tade has experience of the Club World Cup but neither Auckland nor he, had ever been past the preliminary round until this year. When backpacking in Rome with his sisters earlier this year, Tade bumped into San Lorenzo vice-president Marcelo Tinelli and manager Bauza, telling the latter, "I'll see you in Morocco," before having to explain who he was!
Whether or not it was due to his desire to impress against one of the 'Big Five' from his homeland, Tade ran himself into the ground against San Lorenzo's defenders, looking lively throughout and causing particular problems during the second half, when San Lorenzo should have capitalised on the advantage they'd taken shortly before the break, but instead found themselves unable to exploit the space Auckland left in their search for the equaliser. The 26-year-old Argentine fluffed his big chance, chipping wide late in the ninety minutes when a better-placed lob might have given Auckland an incredible 2-1 lead, but apart from that it was hard to fault either his work rate or his movement.
He might not have been able to help his team to the final, but in many ways for Tade, this was his dream fixture.
Sam Kelly is based in Buenos Aires and has been one of ESPNFC's South America correspondents since 2008. Twitter: @HEGS_com