The Copa Sudamericana reaches the semifinal stage with some of the biggest, most historic clubs battling it out for the title. South American soccer expert Simon Edwards examines the state of play.
The final of this year’s Sudamericana sees a popular rising contender in Brazilian soccer looking to win their first ever major title up against an Ecuadorian power planning to cement Ecuador’s status as a force in South American soccer.
Fortaleza [-108] have never won the Brazilian league, and they were playing in the third tier just six years ago.Once only strong in the Ceará local championships, they have now participated in the Libertadores and Sudamericana a total of four times in the last three years. Liga de Quito (LDU) [+312] have been in the Ecuadorian top flight for much of their history, and have displayed impressive form in continental competitions. They won the Copa Libertadores in 2008 and the Sudamericana in 2009, and went on to finish second in the latter in 2011. They haven’t won the league since 2018, but another continental title would solidify their position as a real Ecuadorian power.These two sides meet in the final with very different stories and styles, but both are motivated to win what would be a truly historic Sudamericana title. I will look at the form of both sides, their tactical approach and history, and then pick out some key points to cover in the final before predicting how I think the game will go.
Style of play and tactical approach
Fortaleza play with Juan Martín Lucero, an experienced Argentine poacher, ahead of Tomás Pochettino, a lively Argentine playmaker who breaks into attacking areas. A lot of their quality comes from wide areas with Guilherme and Marinho, although the latter is a serious injury risk.
If Marinho misses out, it may be Yago Pikachu who fills in. Despite his eccentric name, he is a far more predictable wide player who usually plays as an attacking fullback.
Overall, Fortaleza have a very experienced side of players who have proven themselves consistently in the Brazilian top flight. Almost all of their starters and important players are over the age of 30. The ceiling isn’t exceptionally high, but they are an organized, focused, and intelligent group of players.
This a strong and solid side with collective quality and individuals capable of winning games. A club that, throughout this season, have consistently performed close to the peak of their powers.
LDU have benefited from the advantage of home games at the altitude of Quito with a squad that has a good mix of athleticism, experience, technical ability, and invention.
They have built a deep squad this season with a lot of quality. Leading the line they have Peru's World Cup star Paolo Guerrero, who boasts great intelligence and quality in the box.
Could this be Paolo Guerrero's final swanswong in an illustrious career?
They have experienced Argentine midfielders at the base of the midfield with Mauricio Martínez and Lucas Piovi paired with the exciting Ecuadorian international wingers Renato Ibarra and Jhojan Julio. Veteran national team goalkeeper Alexander Domínguez can be a match winner, but is also susceptible to some rash decisions.
Behind the striker, they have the options of the exciting Sebastián González (20) or the more experienced Alexander Alvarado (24), both players capable of opening up a game. They have a solid, if not exceptionally solid defense with Haitian Ricardo Adé the organizer.
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Route to the Final
They cruised through their group and have continued their good form into the knockout stages. In the Brazilian league they also sit comfortably in the top half chasing the Libertadores qualifying spots.
They opened their campaign with a dominant 4-0 win against Palestino of Chile and haven’t looked back since. The Ceará club won five of their six group games, scoring 17 and conceding just five.
Round of 16 (after two legs)
Fortaleza 2-1 Libertad
Quarterfinals (after two legs)
Fortaleza 5-2 América-MG
Semifinals (after two legs)
Fortaleza 3-1 Corinthians
They had an unbeaten group stage, but have really had to battle their way through the knockout rounds. LDU drew twice against runaway Brazilian league leaders Botafogo, and only conceded two across their six group games.
Round of 16 (after two legs)
LDU Quito 3-3 Ñublense (win on penalties)
Quarterfinals (after two legs)
LDU Quito 2-2 Sao Paulo (win on penalties)
Semifinals (after two legs)
LDU Quito 3-0 Defensa y Justicia
Fortaleza are undoubtedly a team on the rise, with some excellent performances in the Sudamericana and a very strong start to their Brasileirão campaign. They won 12 of their first 26 games, a record only beaten by leaders Botafogo.
Focus has increasingly been placed on the Sudamericana, but pairing this with consistently impressive domestic form demonstrates what a professional and organized group they have.
In their opening tournament of the year, LDU Quito finished third behind the always impressive Independiente del Valle and El Nacional. A good season was almost an excellent one, but their five draws meant they were always off the pace of the leaders.
They have also started the second tournament of the season well with four wins, two draws, and one defeat, conceding only two goals.
Domestically, they have been solid, but their Sudamericana run has increasingly become the priority, and continental silverware would turn an acceptable season into an exceptional one.
The key questions that will decide the Final
Can Marinho return in time, and if he misses out, how does that impact Fortaleza?
Inventive wide forward Marinho injured his knee at the end of September, and the initial prognosis was at least two weeks, and by the first week of October it was 30 days. Fortaleza fans will be hoping for a quick recovery so that he can play some part in the final - but time is against him
Marinho was a big signing for the club in July, and the 33-year-old has added attacking quality with two goals and two assists in four Sudamericana games.
Can Pikachu be a valuable asset in Marinho's absence?
In the semifinal against Corinthians, Yago Pikachu moved forward from his usual attacking fullback position to play on the wing. Pikachu is quick, direct, and dangerous, but he does not have the same unpredictable and creative edge that Marinho provides.
Yago is a very capable deputy, but Fortaleza will be far more one dimensional with Marinho unavailable.
Can Fortaleza disrupt LDU’s array of sharp and smart attacking midfield creators?
Liga de Quito have some extremely talented attacking midfield options who will each pose different questions for Fortaleza.
Sebastián González (20) is a lean attacking midfielder with good vision and a devastating left-footed strike from a distance. Jhojan Julio is a tricky winger with great agility and an eye for the goal. Renato Ibarra is a powerful, explosive, and experienced Ecuador international who has a penchant for passing, while Alexander Alvarado is a small, scheming, and elegant playmaker.
The hard-working and committed defensive midfield pair of Pedro Augusto and Zé Welison will have their hands full, but if they can eliminate space quickly then this will take a lot of potency away from the Ecuadorians on the break.
Can Fortaleza control and manage the game?
Fortaleza have an experienced group of seasoned professionals. Few superstars, particularly with Marinho being an injury doubt, but they are still a side that have proven themselves to be good, solid Brazilian top flight players with a chance to show they are more than that.
This would be a historic title for the club, and a statement for a number of the players who have turned this impressive Fortaleza side into more than the sum of its parts.
If Fortaleza are to win this, it will be through collective play, game management, and by playing to the peak of their powers - something they have done consistently across the year.
Three predictions for the Final
A surprisingly open and entertaining final
While finals are usually nervy and cautious affairs, I have a feeling this one could be a lot of fun. Liga de Quito in particular are much stronger going forward than they are defensively.
While I expect Fortaleza to be a little more measured, a lot of their biggest threats will come from wide areas, and this is something they will target.
If there is an early goal, then I feel this could turn into a shootout with the trailing side aggressively chasing an equalizer, and the leading side tempted to break in numbers with wide open space to run into at pace.
A match-winning performance from 39-year-old striker Paolo Guerrero
Guerrero has brought experience and personality to LDU, but his goal record for the club so far has been slightly underwhelming.
He has no goals in the five Ecuadorian league games he has played. He got one in the Libertadores, and only scored one in 15 games for Racing in Argentina earlier in the year. However, he did score twice in the semifinal, and this final could be his last big moment.
The Peruvian legend has scored 39 in 112 national team games, scored 47 in the Bundesliga, and got 56 in the Brazilian top flight. While he may not be able to run the channels and press as he once did, he is still a complete striker with good movement and a clinical finish.
He has the quality and the motivation to decide this game for the Ecuadorians.
LDU Quito to upset the odds and deny Fortaleza their first international title
Pinnacle has Fortaleza as very clear favorites, but I am backing the Ecuadorians in this one. They have a proven, intelligent, and clinical goal scorer, and a vast array of creative, quick, and inventive attacking midfield options.
LDU don’t have the strongest defense, but they have the quality to either work through Fortaleza with sharp passing, hit them on the counter, or whip dangerous balls into the box for Guerrero to attack. I think an early goal will be key, but if they get it then the space the Brazilians leave in search of an equalizer will be exploited by Quito on the break.
Head over to Pinnacle’s soccer odds to have your say on the Copa Sudamericana and more. Plus, you can read Simon’s analysis of the Copa Libertadores here.