In terms of prestige and importance, the Recopa Sudamericana means just about as much to South American audiences as Chelsea’s Super Cup clash with Atletico did for fans outside of London or Madrid (or, as it happened, Colombia thanks to a brilliant triple from Falcao). Wednesday’s second leg, however, brings together two of the continent’s most talented, electrifying teams - and no-one from either Santos or Universidad de Chile will be taking the game lightly as they attempt to add another honour to ever-growing trophy cabinets.
Although the opening match in Santiago’s Estadio Nacional ended in a 0-0 stalemate, there was certainly no shortage of action. Neymar had the best chance of the game with a penalty, but in torrential rain the young star skied his effort to leave the tie well open as the two sides prepare for action in the Peixehome of Vila Belmiro.
The Brazilians naturally start as favourites with Youwin to pick up a new continental title, after their efforts to repeat Copa Libertadores glory in 2012 faltered at the hands of bitter rivals Corinthians at the semi-final stage last time around. Neymar has been in terrifying form since returning from the Olympic Games, putting Palmeiras to the sword having barely got off the plane with both goals in a 2-1 victory last month. Wednesday, however, does mark the start of life without midfielder Ganso, who sealed a shock move to Sao Paulo this week. A 3-1 drubbing at the hands of Portuguesa proved that it will not be easy to replace the rangy No. 10; and Argentine Patricio Rodriguez, who arrived without much fanfare from Independiente in the winter, now has the weight of expectations on his shoulders as he takes up the team’s creative burden.
For La U, meanwhile, that unforgettable Copa Sudamericana triumph in December 2011 already feels like a long time ago. Eduardo Vargas, Diego Rivarola, Junior Fernandes and Marcos Gonzalez are just some of the stars that have come and gone since the Azul Azul won their first-ever South American title – perhaps most importantly, however, coach Jorge Sampaoli and his ideas have stayed put.
The Rosario-born disciple of Marcelo Bielsa knows exactly how he wants his team to play, and credit must go to the players who have delighted in putting his plans into action over the past 18 months. Sampaoli’s team play high-octane, high-pressure attacking football that cannot help but bring to mind the kind of pioneering system put into place by Pep Guardiola, and with a turnover of staff that would horrify fans at Camp Nou, three consecutive national titles, a Sudamericana and a heart-breaking semi-final defeat to Boca at this year’s Copa Libertadores represents an astonishing achievement for a side that has often had to live in the shadow of more successful neighbours Colo Colo.
Santos do have a slight advantage after fighting out a tie in Chile, but there is everything to play for in the decider. Both teams are capable of thrilling fans with their football, and all going well the pair have the potential to play out a match that can serve as a shining advertisement for the game in South America as a whole. So detractors beware: the Recopa Sudamericana may not be the most popular or widely recognised tournament on the continent, but the chance to watch two of the most exciting teams in world football today is an opportunity that should not be missed.
Buenos Aires-based Dan Edwards is a freelance journalist specialising in Argentinian football, you can follow him on Twitter here