Atletico Nacional lose early in Club World Cup as VAR used for first time
In the 12-year history of the Club World Cup, it is hard to think of any South American champion that has played as well in the semifinal as Atletico Nacional -- even so, the Colombians lost 3-0 to Kashima Antlers of Japan.
How can such a scoreline be explained? There are a number of possible reasons -- not least that Video Assistant Referees (VAR) were used for the first time.
But one is the glorious unpredictability of the game itself. One of the great fascinations of football is that the best side does not always win. In a low scoring sport, luck plays its part -- as it did in this match, when Jhon Mosquera rattled the crossbar twice before the interval.
Indeed, the first half was such an open affair that the score after 45 minutes could easily have been 6-2 to the Colombians. Nacional had one of those days when the ball simply would not go in.
Fortune deals the cards, but it still depends on how they are played. The true test of a team is how it reacts to going a goal down. Atletico Nacional had the right to expect more from their senior figures in the second half.
After the break Kashima doubled up the marking on right winger Orlando Berrio, who had been tearing their defence to pieces. It should have opened up more space for others, especially playmaker Macnelly Torres. To be fair, though, it is entirely possible that the Colombians were feeling the effects of a punishing year, when their continued success has resulted in a fixture pile up.
They were certainly feeling the effects of one of the consequences of such success; winning trophies in South America usually puts key players in the shop window. Over the course of the year coach Reinaldo Rueda has continually had to reconstruct his side after the sale of important stars.
The centre-back combination he took to Japan -- Alexis Henriquez and Felipe Aguilar -- did not inspire complete confidence. Now at the veteran stage, Henriquez has leadership and intelligence but his lack of pace has become a problem, while Aguilar is too similar. The collective lack of pace has consequences -- as could be clearly seen in the two late goals the side conceded -- but it also prevented the team from pressing higher up the field when they were looking for an equaliser.
Rueda did what he could to compensate, introducing Mateus Uribe to give dynamism to central midfield. Uribe could have scored four times in the first half, and also worked back to end one dangerous Japanese counter attack. But with quicker centre-backs (such as the two previous partners of Henriquez, Oscar Murillo and Davinson Sanchez), Nacional could have pushed up higher and really turned the screw.
It is impossible, though, to escape the conclusion that the single most important factor in the result was the use of video technology. Massively against the run of play, Kashima took the lead just after the half hour from a penalty awarded with the aid of video evidence.
As a free kick came in from the left, Jhon Mosquera brought down Daigo Nishi off the ball at the far post. Much about the award of the penalty was unsatisfactory, not least the time it took to arrive at a decision as referee Viktor Kassai ran across to watch the TV replay, but there was also a strong suspicion that Nishi had pushed Mosquera first, giving an air of farce to the whole experiment.
Advocates of video technology may have to come round to the realisation that it is not a panacea; unless used judiciously, it is a recourse likely to cause as many problems as it solves.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.