Aventuras Américas | Part 98 | Católica #4: An Inspired Signing

100-year-old Football Manager Robinho Lazaró had begun life back at Universidad Católica pretty well. He’d seen some positive signs and managed to bring in decent money for some of the club’s older players.

He continued on that front in the Chilean summer, selling four more players for a further profit of £3 million, including somehow getting £475,000 from Viktoria Plzen for terrible 34-year-old keeper Tomás Chevrot and selling midfielder Francisco Cárdenas to Juan Aurich for £1.8 million.

That gave Lazaró a transfer kitty of £13.5 million to work with. His first transfer back at the club was a bit of a doozy, bringing in winger Cristhian Gómez for £96,000 from Paraguay’s River Plate, and he’s already worth over £6 million – but a slight concern was a locked-in minimum fee release clause of £6.5 million. He was joined by two Brazilians in promising goalkeeper Sílvio Luiz, who joined for free from Fluminense, and centre-back Pires, who arrived for £2.5 million from Bragantino.

Lazaró accidentally allowed his only ball-winning midfielder to leave in the summer, which meant a bit of a rethink for the three midfield positions and a shift in positions. He moved striker Davián Lemus back into midfield as a roaming playmaker with winger Jason Méndez becoming a deep-lying playmaker and Esteban Estay taking on the leading striker role to accommodate Gómez.

Chilean Super Cup

Lazaró had another shot at more silverware as Católica faced league champions Universidad de Chile in the Super Cup. Just like their last league meeting, Católica were the better side with 14 shots to five only for their opponents to score from a direct free-kick. But new club captain Luis Romo got them level to force a penalty shootout. And this time Católica had the last laugh, winning 5-3 on penalties – and Pires was player of the match on his debut.

Católica won the Chilean Super Cup, taking Robinho Lazaró to 45 career cup successes!!

Copa Libertadores progression

The new season began with a big game as Católica drew another of Lazaró’s former clubs América de Cali. They had a mass of players injured for the away leg and lost 2-1. But they got a few players back for the home leg and it showed as they responded with a 3-1 win to progress led by a brace from Romo and Gómez scoring a late winner on his debut.

That took Católica through to the third qualifying round against Peruvian side Juan Aurich. They struggled to a 1-1 draw at home and yet again had Romo to thank as he scored twice in the first 16 minutes in Peru. And a late strike by 17-year-old full-back Omar Isla sealed a 4-3 aggregate win that sent Católica through to the group stages for just the second time in 20 years!

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Lazaró faced another former side in the group stage. Católica were drawn with Alianza Lima, Argentinos Jrs and Uruguayan side Nacional. They began in Argentina and got well and truly thumped 4-1 but the reliable wing duo of Gómez and Romo earned a 2-0 win at home to Nacional.

That set up a doubleheader against Lazaró’s former employers Alianza. First was a trip to Peru with Lazaró’s starting 11 all fit for the first time and they earned a solid 1-1 draw before midfielder Ignacio Ithal’s first goal of the season nicked a 1-0 home win. A draw at Nacional could be enough to seal qualification but they lost 2-1, leaving them two points clear of the Uruguayans going into the final game. That meant a tense night in Santiago as Católica played out a 0-0 with Argentinos Jrs while Alianza beat Nacional 2-1 – which confirmed qualification to the knockout stages for the first time since 2058.

The second round teed up a clash with Brazilian side Goianiense which, if by some miracle, Católica won, they’d likely face Lazaró’s last club River Plate. But Católica had a horrible record against Goianiense, losing all of their five competitive meetings. And that trend continued firmly in the home leg as Goianiense’s striker bagged a hat-trick inside 23 minutes. But Católica did at least get back to 4-2 thanks to Romo and Gómez then earned a creditable 2-2 draw in Brazil.

Chilean Cup defence

A better chance at silverware was Católica’s Chilean Cup defence. They got a tough start, beating Colo Colo 5-2 on aggregate in the third round then two 0-0 draws with UdC ended with Católica sneaking through on penalties. So they were now hot favourites to reclaim their crown. A 2-0 win away to nine-man Unión Espanola saw them with one foot in the Final but they had five of their starting front six away on international duty for the second leg, which Lazaró thought was absolutely ridiculous! However, his youngsters stepped up as striker Jorge Aceval, who Lazaró had never even heard of, bagged a debut brace and created the other for winger Braulio Varas to seal a 5-1 aggregate success.

Annoyingly, there were even fewer players available for the Final against Huachipato a few days later due to a B Team fixture clash. So Lazaró had just 15 players available! And he lined up:

Luiz; Vidal, dos Santos, Pires, A Maldonado; Kharoub, Soto, Méndez; Navarro, Zuabi; Aceval
Subs: R Maldonado, Pereira, Villegas, Basanez

Huachipato missed a sitter after five minutes and that set the tone for a dreadful game of football. Católica had one highlight all game and Huachipato’s striker missed three more great chances late on. And it predictably went to penalties. Hapless young striker Rodrigo Maldonado missed Católica’s third penalty but Luiz saved his bacon by stopping the fourth. Both sides scored their first sudden-death spot-kick but Luiz was the hero as he saved Huachipato’s seventh.

Universidad Católica defended the Chilean Cup!

League bid begins

Católica began the season with a huge game at home to champions UdC. The visitors dominated a feisty game that saw both sides reduced to 10 men and got their revenge with a 2-0 win. But Católica recovered well with Gómez and Romo braces inspiring a 4-1 win at Everton de Vina.

That kicked them onto a strong start, including the super-impressive Gómez bagging back-to-back hat-tricks to send them top after six games. Gómez kept that stunning form going, including another hat-trick and a goal that was credited as an own goal then a free-kick that rebounded for the fifth in a 5-0 thumping of last season’s second-place side Unión Espanola.

Halfway through the season, Católica’s only loss was in their opener and they’d only drawn two. That put them eight points clear of Palestino with UdC 13 points back in fourth heading into a two-month break. The league resumed in the midst of the Copa Libertadores knockouts with a trip to UdC. A win here would be a huge statement in Católica’s title bid, but they lost 2-0 in a toothless performance. They got back on track with a 3-2 win at Temuco led by a goal and two assists from Gómez, who broke the Católica record for the most player of the match awards in a season (now 10).

Católica continued in good form but so did UdC. And a 2-1 defeat at home to third-place Palestino, with Romo and Gómez both injured and then receiving two red cards, saw UdC close the gap to six points with nine games remaining. Two games later, the duo of Gómez and Romo were on the scoresheet in a 2-1 victory over local rivals Colo Colo, while UdC dropped points to move Católica eight clear. Gómez starred again with a goal and assist in both a 3-1 win over Huachipato and 4-0 win at Rangers de Talca.

Five games from glory

Católica held an eight-point lead heading into the final five games as Lazaró sought his 42nd league title. And they had a pretty easy run-in.

Game 1 – Unión La Calera (12th, away): Católica started poorly, conceding after 27 minutes and looked to be heading for defeat. But an inspired/enforced sub saw midfielder Juan Pablo Soto score his first goal for the club on 82 minutes then Méndez nicked all three points in injury time. UdC lost 1-0 at Antofagasta, making the gap 11 points.

Game 2 – Unión San Felipe (9th, home): That put the title within touching distance, but Católica blew their first chance to win it with a dire 0-0 against San Felipe while UdC beat Colo Colo 1-0.

Game 3 – Copiapó (13th, home): UdC won the day before Católica. But they showed no nerves as they dominated Copiapó with Romo scoring just before the break then Alvaro Maldonado and Ithal strikes earned a 3-0 win.

Universidad Católica won their first Chilean title since 2079!!

They rounded out the season by defeating Coquimbo Unido 3-2 then losing 1-0 at Unión Espanola. That saw them finish nine points clear with 72 points with 23 wins, three draws and four defeats, scoring a league-high 72 and conceding 23. And UdC’s 66 points was the highest-ever points tally without winning the league – but they sacked their manager anyway!

Gómez ripped the league up, top-scoring with 27 goals, which was eight more than anyone else, as well as a league-high 10 assists, 13 player of the match awards and a new record 8.13 average rating.

Season Review

Lazaró thought Gómez was going to be a great signing but certainly wasn’t expecting the return he got from the Paraguayan winger. He scored 33 – which was four short of the all-time club record set in 1994 – and got 14 assists with a 7.80 average rating from 43 appearances.

Romo also impressed with 19 goals and 13 assists in 46 appearances, followed by Estay scoring 16 and getting nine assists and Ithal scoring 10 and assisting 10.

Lazaró celebrated his 101st birthday in May 2085 but, apparently, Football Manager can’t count past 100! He thought he’d wrapped up his career in style, winning the Chilean title to cap another treble. That leaves the Colombian/Brazilian with a career total of 46 cup victories and 42 national titles. What a legend!

But what now for the 101-year-old? Could he find one final club to complete his epic journey with and take the Aventuras Américas series to 100 posts? Join us tomorrow to find out!

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