Robinho Lazaró collected his second trophy in his homeland Colombia as his América de Cali won the Apertura stage of Liga Betplay Dimayor. That takes the manager to a total of five league wins and one cup success in his near-nine years of management. However, the Apertura doesn’t, in Lazaró’s mind anyway, count as being the national champion.
The season break saw América lose attacking midfielder Alfredo Riascos. He wouldn’t sign a new contract and River Plate agreed on a pre-contract deal, so Lazaró negotiated a £350,000 deal for him to move immediately. He was replaced by paying Bogotá FC £500,000 for Alexander Páez, who needs to retrain as a shadow striker but looks like an excellent prospect. They also added a solid, much-needed midfield option in Sérgio Gómez for £350,000 from Pereira.
Into the Finalización stage
The final stage began with a 1-0 win at Envigado, despite battering them with 23 shots to five, then Páez got his first assist as striker Eder Altamiranda bagged a brace in a 2-0 win over Expreso Rojo. And the strong form continued as they went 10 games without conceding in all competitions!
However, the hard work of the Colombian league began to catch up with América as a tired team lost 3-1 at La Equidad and drew 2-2 at home to Boyacá Chicó. But some much-needed rest saw the team respond well as they won four consecutive away matches, including a 4-0 thumping of Bogotá.
Lazaró’s 400th match as a manager saw América ridiculously lose 3-2 at home to Huila despite having 25 shots, 3.2 xG and hitting the woodwork five(!) times. They bounced back with a slightly undeserved 1-0 victory over rivals Millonarios thanks to a delicious Antonio Augusto free-kick. But they really returned to form by thumping Pereria 4-0 led by midfielder Juan Felipe Salazar, whose assist saw him break the club record for most in a season (17).
That set América up for a strong end to the campaign, including an absolute battering of Santa Fe, winning 6-2 away with both Antonio and Matheus Augusto scoring braces.
A Augusto bagged another brace in a 3-0 win over Tolima and scored again in a strong 2-1 win over Nacional in the final game of the regular league. That took him to 10 goals in his last eight games!
A strong end to the season with eight games unbeaten saw América finish top of the Finalizácion table, a huge seven points clear of Millonarios and Nacional.
Copa Libertadores knockouts
América got a tough draw in the second round of Copa Libertadores up against Brazilian giants Santos. The home leg was first up and América played well but couldn’t finish their chances, but Lazaró was happy with a 0-0 to take to Brazil. But they conceded twice in the first six minutes away and were a little bit unlucky to lose 3-0 and again exit at the first knockout round.
Targeting the Colombian title
Everything that had gone before this season – winning the Apertura title and topping the Finalización table – meant nothing if América didn’t win the final group then win the final playoff. They got a decent group but started slowly with a 0-0 at Huila. But they improved to thump Independiente Medellín 5-1 thanks to a hat-trick from centre-back Andres Garzón plus Salazar’s two assists and nine key passes!
A Augusto missed that game but made up for it by bagging a hat-trick as they thrashed Huila 4-0. However, they got absolutely robbed in a 1-0 loss at Jaguares de Córdoba then threw away a two-goal lead to draw 3-3 at Independiente Medellín despite an Altamiranda hat-trick.
That left América top on eight points, one clear of Jaguares and two ahead of Medellín going into a final game at home to Jaguares. They started well as Altamiranda sent young winger Danilo Robles through for a rare goal after 40 minutes. But Jaguares equalised with a nonsense penalty then saw off all of América’s pressure for a 1-1 draw despite 21 shots to eight!
However, that was just about enough to sneak América through to the Finalizácion Final with nine points. Surprisingly, their opponent will be Independiente Santa Fe, who dominated Group E with 13 points to finish seven clear of Nacional, who sacked their manager, Millonarios and Junior FC.
A big chance at glory
Lazaró was now two games away from lifting the national title in his home country. And the signs were good, given he’d beaten Santa Fe all eight times he’d faced them, including 4-0 and 6-2 in their last two meetings.
The away leg was up first and Santa Fe’s improved form showed as they took the lead after 12 minutes with a lovely finish by their left-winger. The hosts were far the better side but gifted América an equaliser with an own goal and failed to take advantage of their opportunities after the break, so it finished 1-1.
Three days later, the two sides met again in Cali this time. That man Antonio Augusto was at it again to give América the lead, drilling home from a narrow angle after 23 minutes. Santa Fe scored a screamer to equaliser but Augusto stepped up to restore the lead in first-half injury-time. América had dominated the game and continued to after the break, as Salazar slid Altamiranda through to double their lead. Santa Fe offered nothing until they had a goal disallowed on 82 minutes but América did more than enough to deserve the win, with 24 shots, 15 on target and 3.09 xG.
América de Cali were Champions of Colombia!!
Altamiranda was the top scorer with 29 goals in 46 games, which was eight more than Millonarios’ Villamizar, and Salazar set a new league record 25 assists, which was nine more than anyone else. But winger Augusto was the main man in the Finalización stage, winning the top goalscorer award with an impressive 17 goals in 24 games.
But the star man of the league was Batata, who averaged a ridiculous 7.72 in 48 league matches (in addition to last season’s 7.74 in 37) and got a league-high 10 player of the match awards. That saw him defend his Colombian First Division Player of the Year award with Altamiranda in second and Augusto in third. While Altamiranda won the Best Rookie award and Lazaró was Manager of the Year.
América’s main man is absolutely Batata, who has again been sensational this season. He averaged an amazing 7.72 and got 12 player of the match awards in 54 matches in all competitions, despite only scoring and assisting four. He is an absolute freak of a defender! And he won the fans’ player of the year with 69% of the vote.
Altamiranda has been a fantastic signing, top-scoring with 31 goals and the second-most assists with 13 at an average rating of 7.47. Antonio Augusto has been almost as good a signing, with 20 goals and seven assists, while the impressive Salazar racked up 27 assists in all competitions. His midfield partner Bruno González has been quietly efficient with six goals and 10 assists, while defender Aristizábal popped up with eight goals.
Next step on Aventuras Américas
With a heavy heart, Lazaró knew he had to bring an end to his time at América de Cali. He’d loved his two seasons and 142 games at the club and they had a mass of young talent that would be an absolute thrill to manage for many years to come. However, that wasn’t his concern and, with the Colombian title added to those of Chile, USA and Uruguay, it was time to look elsewhere.
With those leagues wrapped up, Lazaró still had to target Argentina, Brazil, Canada, México and Peru. So still well over half of the leagues on his list, as well as targeting continental and international success.
Upon resigning, on 2 December 2030, the only realistic option available was Alianza Lima, so he sent in a job application. It took exactly one month for the Peruvians to offer an interview, which Lazaró gladly attended. And they quickly came back with an offer that would take Lazaró to Peru.
Join us next time to discover the situation that awaits Robinho Lazaró upon arrival in Lima!