Robinho Lazaró was allowed the luxury of about a week for his head to recover from the baffling concept that is the Colombian Liga BetPlay Dimayor. His América de Cali side played 74 matches in the 2029 season, and looked set to play just as many in the coming campaign if they wanted any chance of success!
As the calendar ticked over to a new decade, 23 players left the club at the end of their contracts, including starting midfielders Moreno and Tapia after a slight administrative error (aka forgetting to renew their deals). But four players arrived in striker Eder Altamiranda, holding midfielder Juan Mendoza, winger Germán Castaneda, who’ll retrain to play on the right, and attacking midfielder Donizete Filho, who was nowhere near as the scouts suggested.
The big deal of the summer was to get last year’s star man Batata back on loan for another year from Palmeiras. He was joined by two fellow exciting Brazilians in right-winger Antonio Augusto, who became Lazaró’s biggest-ever signing for £1.2 million from Vasco, and striker Matheus Augusto for £165,000 from Coritiba. Lazaró also attempted to strengthen the midfield with 19-year-old Bruno González, who came in for £625,000 from Wanderers in Uruguay, and Martín Alzáte for £500,000 from Tolima.
The potential at the club was boosted by a youth intake that boasted four elite talents and three top talents. The pick of those were centre-back Julian Nájera, attacking midfielder Gustavo Vasquez, goalkeeper Diego Sánchez and midfielder César Martínez, who’s going straight into the first team for cover.
Second season in Colombia begins
Lazaró’s second season in his homeland began with a dominant game at home to Envigado, but they only won 1-0 despite having 21 shots to the visitors’ zero! They also won their first away game 1-0 at Huila, before an early rival clash with Nacional, who Lazaró hadn’t beaten in four meetings and, more worryingly, América had beaten once in the last 20 meetings and six times in 45 meetings throughout this save! And that trend continued with a 2-0 away loss.
A slightly unconvincing start saw them fail to score more than once in their opening five games. That was until they played terribly at home to La Equidad and failed to have a shot in the first half. But Altamiranda came off the bench to grab two assists that inspired a 3-1 win. That saw the goals begin to flow, including a 2-0 win over Lazaró’s preferred team Independiente Medellín, in which Martínez became the youngest player in club history, and a 3-0 win at Boyacá Chicó, in which Altamiranda bagged a brace and González got his first goal for the club.
An absolute joke of a game saw international call-ups and injuries leave América with eight first-team outfield players at home to Bogotá. And they got mugged off 1-0 despite having 14 shots to four. However, Lazaró turned to the Data Hub for answers, and a couple of little tweaks – pushing the defensive line higher and shooting on sight – saw things pick up and took them top of the table after 14 games.
However, injuries suddenly struck to rule all their strikers and attacking midfielders out for a month! That saw performances dip, although 20-year-old centre-back Cristian Aristizábal scored his first goal for the club with a delicious curled effort to down Independiente Santa Fe 2-0.
Altamiranda had been on great form until his injury, and remained in top form on his return, including a brace in a 3-0 win over Águilas Pereira in which winger Danilo Robles and midfielder Juan Felipe Salazar surprisingly both scored their first goals of the season. And the Apertura league finished with a 2-2 at Millonarios in Lazaró’s 100th game at the club.
América finished in fourth in the Apertura table on 37 points with five defeats in their 20 games. But they finished just two points off winners Millonarios. However, we all know it doesn’t matter!
Copa Libertadores group
Lazaró’s second taste of Copa Libertadores saw América drawn in a group with Sao Paulo, Paraguayan side Libertad and Chilean team Antofagasta.
They opened up at home to Libertad, who had Joelinton making his debut, and scored twice in the first six minutes. Joelinton then scored, which means the game is broken, but exciting defender Jhon Alexander Quiróz scored in injury-time to grab a deserved win – considering América had 31 shots to four!
They got absolutely robbed 1-0 in Chile before a heavily rotated side fell to a late 1-0 loss at Sao Paulo. The Brazilians then scored their first shot (obviously) at América but immediately had a player sent off, and América took charge to thump them 4-1 led by an Alfredo Riascos hat-trick that doubled his tally in an injury-hit start to the season.
Revenge was obtained on Antafagosta with a dominant 2-0 win. And an excellent first-half performance in Paraguay saw them lead 3-0 but hung on to win 3-2 and qualify for the knockout stages.
Apertura latter stages
The Apertura group began really well as América won 3-1 at home to Santa Fe then won a really entertaining game at Tolima 3-2 led by an Altamiranda brace. They then nicked a 2-2 at Millonarios, as Robles and Martínez’s first goal for the club overturned a two-goal deficit.
Altamiranda bagged a hat-trick in an excellent 4-0 win at Santa Fe then a late Riascos goal nicked a 1-0 win over Tolima to seal qualification for the final. And a fully changed 11 beat Millonarios 2-0, in which 15-year-old Sánchez kept a clean sheet and 16-year-old Nájera was player of the match on their debuts!
América’s surprise final opponent was Junior FC, against whom they always had a close battle. However, they took control in the away leg with a surprise Artistizábal brace and sealed the deal at home with Robles goal.
América de Cali won the Liga BetPlay Apertura (which apparently does count as a league win)!
Batata: Best defender ever?
Batata has backed up his brilliant form last season playing in the wide centre-back role. He averaged a sensational 7.69 in 26 league games and 7.88 in four Copa Libertadores games through the first half of the season. Even when the team plays badly he still puts in strong performances and, in fact, he’s only had one match where he got below a 7.0 (and that was a 6.9!).
The fact that he only has two goals and two assists means it’s difficult to know why he consistently plays so well! The main areas where he excels in the key statistics are possession won and interceptions made, in which he has about 50% more than any other player in the league, and winning the most headers. He also has the second-most blocks and key headers, the third-most clearances and covered the fourth-most distance, but is way down the list on tackles won and tackles won ratio.
Other news saw star attacking midfielder Riascos come out as gay in an interview with a local newspaper. And interestingly, that’s likely to see the club gain a commercial revenue boost due to it increasing demand for Riascos shirts. So it’s a shame he doesn’t want to sign a new contract!
Away from the playing staff, Lazaró completed his Continental Pro licence, which completes his mission of becoming a real, proper Football Manager. He now has a 3-star and a bit, or Good, reputation.
Join us next time as Lazaró looks to extend América de Cali’s strong finish to the Apertura into the more important Finalicázion stage!