Medellin v Equidad
Fresh off the back of Medellín’s elimination from the Copa Sudamericana midweek, manager Julio Comesaña faces Equidad in the semi-final group stage of the Colombian title race knowing victory here is even more important now. Medellín’s embarrassing performance on the international stage, crashing out with a game to play, has angered some fans. But Comesaña has long claimed that the league is his priority and that making the top eight of the previous league stage was always the team’s main focus. That he achieved, but juggling both competitions has led to several injuries and tired legs, so while the bookmakers make them strong favourites to see off Equidad in this group opener, their advantage seems slightly overstated. With Felipe Pardo still way off full fitness and midfielder Raul Loaiza and left back German Gutierrez both out through injury, DIM are not at full strength. But they still boast the best home record in the division and while striker Luciano Pons (10 goals in 17 games) has struggled in recent games, he remains one of the most potent threats to any defence.
Equidad are well known for throwing spanners in the works of better quality and funded teams. Manager Alexis Garcia thrives in such duels. With the most fouls committed in the league and the most yellow cards accrued, Equidad can be crudely understood as Colombia’s purveyors of anti-football. They are canny, dogged and horrible to play against. Like Garcia’s more sophisticated influence, Diego Simeone, players buy into a collective idea. Shows of individual brilliance, trickery or flashes of skill are not what Garcia seeks from his players. And so while skilful winger Faber Gil has often come off the bench and regularly made a huge difference (deciding Equidad’s recent match against Jagaures as a substitute), he remains very much an impact player, distrusted for his virtuosity.
DIM should still have enough to squeeze home. Their xG at the Atanasio Girardot is almost double that of their opponents this season. But balancing so many fixtures has had its toll and Medellin have scored just two goals in their last five home matches. Against an Equidad side who will sit deep, tackle hard and foul persistently, unders looks to be the shrewd call.
Millonarios v Bucaramanga
It’s the group of death. Millonarios, Junior and Nacional, three of Colombian football’s biggest giants, pitted together in the semi-final groups, with all three Goliaths harbouring serious ambitions of winning the title. Anything else would be a failure. League points amassed in the now concluded main stage are now wiped. Millonarios, who finished ten points ahead of Junior, find themselves on level pegging with the other sides. It’s not particularly fair, but that’s the way the Colombian league works.
So far, Millonarios been the stand-out team in Colombia in 2022. They’d be head and tails above everyone else in the division if they had an established number nine with both Diego Herazo or Jader Valencia having struggled badly all season. Millonarios dominate games but continue to edge games by a single margin. For nervous fans, it’s been a constant frustration going into the last ten minutes of games with just a slender lead. But it hasn’t really proved decisive so far. Millonarios tightly control their games and their defence is the best in the division (11 conceded in 20 games). In their last home game, Millonarios once again won just 1-0. But they were never in danger. Alianza Petrolera’s best chance was worth xG 0.06, a fairly innocuous shot flashed wide and over from an acute angle.
If it looks like being a scrap at the top to win the four-team group and progress to the final, Bucaramanga know they are very much the outsiders, the brave David seeking to stick the odd blow on their more illustrious rivals. They have overachieved this season and manager Armando Osma has done a good job in getting Bucarmanga this far in the title race. But it’s not too much of a surprise considering how well Sherman Cardenas and Dayro Moreno have linked up in the attacking third. Despite their advancing years, they have been the real reason behind Bucaramanga’s success. And Osma recognises that for all the goals his leaky defence concedes, Cardenas and Moreno are always capable of dragging them out of the mud.
A bet on Moreno to score at any time is worth considering (4.5 on Betfair), as he’s playing well above his xG and going from strength to strength. But with Bucaramanga looking unable to simply show up at El Campín and frustrate Millonarios by sitting deep, the home win should be a fairly safe call.
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