Life back in his homeland of Colombia had gotten off to a solid start as Robinho Lazaró’s América de Cali eventually finished runner-up in the Liga BetPlay Dimayor Apertura stage. A seemingly neverending season, in which they’d already played 38 games at the halfway mark, now saw them tackle the Finalización stage of the campaign.
A brief transfer window saw several players leave before their contracts expired, including centre-back Igor Gomes and winger Gerson Solís, for a profit of £300,000. Lazaró struggled to find replacements and turned to youth by promoting exciting defender Edison Murillo and midfielder Brandon Franco. And he gave 18-year-old winger Danilo Robles a chance to step up as Solís’ replacement.
The players enjoyed a much-needed rest before the Finalización stage, which began at Bogotá. And that worked wonders as attacking midfielder Alfredo Riascos – who’s now wanted by Chelsea and Man City! – scored after 22 seconds. Top scorer Alejandro Preciados and Robles wrapped up a 3-0 win.
Despite that, América had a relatively goal-shy start to the stage until Robles starred with a goal and two assists to win 4-1 at the brilliantly named Jaguares de Córdoba. That gave them the confidence to rip apart rivals Millonarios with 22 shots to one and a 3-0 win, as Riascos ran the show with 11 key passes.
A 3-0 win at city rivals Deportivo Cali, led by a Preciado double, took América unbeaten through the first half of the 20 game stage, despite playing seven out of 10 away from home!
Copa Libertadores knockouts
Lazaró’s side had breezed through his first-ever Libertadores group – including thumping the mighty River Plate 4-1! Their reward was a Second Round clash with Argentinian side Talleres. They did well in the first leg in Argentina but got a little unlucky to lose 2-1. They then conceded to Talleres’ first shot and one of only two they had in the entire game but scored twice from their 20, to take the tie to penalties. And the luck continued to stay with Talleres as they won an epic penalty shootout 13-12.
Close Finalización battle
The unbeaten streak ran for 13 games through to a big clash away to Nacional, who América were yet to beat or even score against. But that changed as Preciado and Robles created goals for each other in the first 21 minutes. However, Nacional struck back with two goals from their amazing striker Lucas Saldarriaga, left wing-back Andrés Lenis foolishly got sent off and Nacional nicked it 3-2.
However, they continued to dominate the rest of the league, including a 3-1 win at Patriotas in which exciting 17-year-old Murillo scored his first senior goal. The battle for the top spot in the stage was a close-run thing between América and Nacional throughout. But a 2-1 win over Deportivo Pereira ensured they finished top of the Finalización table which, obviously in Colombia, doesn’t count as a title or any sort of achievement.
However, that again led into a semi-final group in which they had to play three teams twice. The group began by thumping Atlético Huila 5-0 led Robles scoring and notching three assists and a Preciado hat-trick.
América struggled in the group due to players being absolutely exhausted, losing at Millonarios and a very unfair loss at Atlético Huila. However, a fully rotated 11 won 3-1 at Cortoluá, which saw 16-year-old strike Samuel Lizarazo come on to score on his debut, and they got revenge on Millonarios with a 1-0 home win, in which 17-year-old keeper César Mora kept a debut clean sheet.
As a result, despite winning the overall league table for the season with an impressive 125 points from 54 matches, América missed out on the end-of-season Final. Millonarios went on to win it on penalties against Nacional after drawing 2-2 over two legs.
The league’s star man was on-loan defender Batata, who set two stunning league records with an average rating of 7.74 from 37 matches and 14 player of the match performances, which was five more than anyone else! As a result, he won First Division Player of the Year, with Robles third, and Young Player of the Year, with Robles second. Preciado was the league’s second-top scorer with 28 goals and Robles had the most assists with 15. And Batata, midfielder Juan Felipe Salazar and Preciado made the team’s league of the year.
Copa BetPlay Final
In addition to their strong league showing, América also made it to the Colombian Cup Final, defeating city rivals Deportivo 4-1 in the two-legged semi-final. The Final, also over two legs (obviously) was against rivals Millonarios, who overcame Nacional in the semis.
The away leg – which was América’s 74th game of the season – was up first and started well as Preciado tucked home from a corner thanks to some shocking marking. But with the team absolutely exhausted and being reduced to 10 men with an injury, Millonarios came back into it and won 2-1. A fresher squad was much improved in the home leg and made the breakthrough with a Preciado penalty. They dominated even more after the break and finally got their reward as young winger Jown Garces came off the bench to head home a late winner, after a mere 3.33 xG to 0.43.
América de Cali lifted the Copa BetPlay trophy for the first time since 2023 and only the second time ever! And Lazaró claimed his first cup win on his Aventuras Américas!
The Colombian league remained fairly baffling to Lazaró. He felt that playing 54 league games only to have the title decided by teams that win the end-of-season groups – when players are knackered – seemed pretty pointless. While the entire first half of the season was a total waste of time! But Lazaró was happy with the Apertura runner-up, winning the overall league and winning the Colombian Cup.
The star man this season was undoubtedly Batata, who averaged 7.69 in 49 appearances, despite only scoring three times, and earned 15 player of the match awards. Absolutely outrageous! He unsurprisingly won fans’ player of the season (with 72% of the vote) and young player of the season.
Also key was Preciado, who scored 35 and assisted 12 in 50 games, along with Riascos, who scored 25 and assisted 15 in 53 games. Backup striker Márquez chipped in with 18 goals, followed by the impressive Salazar (15 goals and 11 assists) and 19-year-old Robles (9 goals and 15 assists). Also worth keeping an eye on is Garces, who popped up with five goals and eight assists in 28 games but only 10 starts.
The end-of-season promise was boosted by an epic-looking “golden generation” that only lacked good strikers and full-backs.
Join us next time as Robinho Lazaró targets another season of success in Colombia, in which he may need to readdress his targets to prioritise the end-of-season events!
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