NFL season is complete and my focus shifts to South America international play. I will be publishing articles here on Matchbook between Tuesday and Thursday each week until September.
My debut writing about South American football was set to begin last week. However, I was in London for ICE, the big international gaming show. It was my first trip over to the UK and I am not sure if it was the jet lag, steak and ale pies, numerous pints – or a mixture of all three – which set me back. No worries though, I am back at full health and ready to take on the South American markets.
Copa Libertadores is quirky. The competition is stretched out over the calendar year but play is frequent and concurrent with domestic league play. Teams often end up playing on a split-squad basis with their reserves keeping the club afloat in domestic play and the starters competing as long as they survive at the international level.
To many on the outside looking in, it would seem that international play takes priority but at times this is not true. The two-legged tie between Santa Fe and Santiago Wanderers beginning this week is one of those cases.
Santa Fe (Colombian international powerhouse) is set on making a deep international run and coach Gregorio Perez has made an effort to keep his best players focused on international play at the stake of success within the domestic league. Santa Fe was uncharacteristically a massive underdog this past weekend in Liga Aguila as all starters sat against rival Atletico Nacional – some even flew to Chile on Saturday before the match.
Santiago Wanderers (who actually play an hour north in Valparaiso) are in the opposite situation. After winning the 2017 opening season title to secure a spot in the 2018 Libertadores, the side led by Nicolas Cordova laid an egg and ended up being relegated to the Chilean B league in the 2017 closing season. An embarrassment for the club has left their focus this year on winning their way back to the top tier domestic league at all costs.
The difference in focus along with a big talent gap has left the market this match favouring the visitors, something that is not common to see in the opening legs of a Copa Libertadores tie, especially with Santa Fe.
The Colombian side plays out of Bogotá and relies on a huge altitude advantage (second highest capital in South America). They are undefeated at home in their last ten international matches and have a tendency to take the foot off the gas away from home and play for the draw.
While the market adjusts for the opening leg and bets on overreaction, I am going to take the now inflated price with Santa Fe at 2.50 after the latest movement.
Santa Fe plays an aggressive 4-4-2 with Plata and Morelo upfront. The two forwards in their prime are very strong on the ball and are fearless pressuring directly at the center-backs. This is trouble for Wanderers who play very quickly and send long balls down the wings frequently which leaves themselves thin in one on one matchups on defence.
Santa Fe has no issue generating chances (averaging 14 shots per match in 2018) and I expect them to exceed that mark this evening which will translate to plenty of opportunities for Plata and Morelo to finish.
The coastal Chilean team knows they have little chance at winning in altitude at Bogotá. If they give up an early goal, they will overextend and Santa Fe will run this score up in a hurry.
I have Santa Fe priced at 2.25. Anything priced higher warrants a wager.