Colo Colo's Santiago derby win forces Chilean league down to the wire
There was a glut of South American goals in the Premier League this weekend -- including strikes from the Chilean pair, Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas. Meanwhile, one of their compatriots, a Premier League old boy, scored a vital goal back in their homeland.
Jean Beausejour spent four years in England, between 2010 and 14, split between Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic. With all due respect to these clubs, they are hardly giants of their domestic championship -- in stark contrast to his current club. Colo Colo, whom he joined after the recent World Cup.
"Colo Colo is Chile," sing the many fans of the Santiago powerhouse, who earlier this year won their 30th league title. They had been forced to wait a few years for it, though, looking on enviously as their big local rivals, Universidad de Chile, won three titles in a row in such swashbuckling style that coach Jorge Sampaoli was rocketed into the role of national team boss.
The current campaign seems to be boiling down to a dispute between the big two -- although third-place Santiago Wanderers are still in the hunt (and, incidentally, woe betide any away club who turn up in Santiago to face them. Wanderers are in fact from Valparaiso, a picturesque port some 60 miles outside the capital city).
Back in Santiago, though, there was a great deal resting on Sunday's 176th version of the Colo Colo vs. Universidad de Chile derby.
Ten rounds into the championship (of 17 rounds in all), La U (as Universidad de Chile are known) were unbeaten, with nine wins and a single draw. Colo Colo had 7 wins, 2 draws and a defeat. The gap, then, was 5 points.
Any other result apart from a Colo Colo victory would make it very difficult for La U to be overtaken.
As the game wore on, a goalless draw looked likely. It was typical derby fare, full of friction, generating more heat than light. La U's attacking trident -- Sebastian Ubilla and Patricio Rubio flanking centre-forward Gustavo Canales -- was making little impression. Colo Colo, coached by the youthful Hector Tapia, attempted to attack down their strong left side.
Their use of Beausejour is interesting. By nature he is a left-winger, sufficiently versatile to operate as a wing-back if required. Colo Colo, though, are using him as a left-back, where he pushes forward to form a threatening left-sided triangle with playmaker Emiliano Vecchio and rising star Juan Delgado.
It is a bold strategy, though central midfielder Esteban Pavez is ready to slide across and protect the space Beausejour leaves behind him -- and his midfield partner, the veteran Jaime Valdes, knits the side together with the intelligence and quality of his passing.
Colo Colo are so left-sided that the defence of La U was dragged over to block them -- opening up space for the goal that broke the deadlock soon after half-time, a Felipe Flores cross from the right cleverly stabbed home by another veteran, centre-forward Esteban Paredes.
Colo Colo were a goal up and soon a man up as well, with La U captain Jorge Rojas sent off. Derby games, though, are never over until the final whistle, and with some 15 minutes to go, Beausejour put the result beyond doubt, latching onto Delgado's pass, giving a delightful shimmy to cut inside his international teammate, goalkeeper Johnny Herrera, and sliding into the empty net.
There was no further scoring (just another red card for a rattled La U), meaning that the lead has now been cut to just two points with six rounds to go. It is all set up for a grandstand finish.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.