Wonderkid Factory | Part 4 | League Winners But Not Champions

Despite not signing any players, Robinho Lazaró was quietly building a squad brimming with potential at Colombian wonderkid factory Envigado FC. His young squad continued to defy expectations, securing a third successive post-season in the 2023 Apertura stage.

But after 18 months in charge, the first signing of Lazaró’s reign – and still the only one – was a controversial one as midfielder Juan Pablo Martínez arrived on a free transfer from rivals Águilas Doradas.

Straight into Finalización

Envigado had a one-week break to pick themselves up for the Finalización stage of the 2023 campaign. They began well with a solid 1-1 at Junior FC thanks to a penalty by striker Diego Rodríguez, who then scored back-to-back braces in home wins over Independiente Medellín and Petrolera. Rodríguez scored again in a 2-1 win in another home game against Pereira, in which Jesús Hernández nicked all three points with a 95th-minute strike.

The strong start ended with a 2-0 loss at Tolima, who Envigado still hadn’t beaten in 10 meetings! Hernández’s early brace inspired a 2-1 win over Once Caldas then exciting striker Marcelo Guzmán scored and assisted the other on his second start in a 2-0 win at Bogotá. He’s also scored 42 in 16 games for the under-20s and looks like being a special talent.

Strong form against rivals Águilas Doradas continued with a 2-0 win that sent Envigado top of the league. And that inspired the young team onto a stunning run of form, beating Bucaramanga 1-0 then Cali and Patriotas 2-0 before a 2-2 at Águilas took them 10 games unbeaten – one short of the all-time club record. And they equalled the record with another 2-0 win over bottom side Quindío with winger Diego Betancourth and Rodríguez scoring the goals. But they faced a tough task to break it as they travelled to Millonarios and lost 1-0.

That left Envigado 2nd with four games remaining, with four points separating the top four. They got back to winning ways as midfielder Carlos Paternina scored his first goal for the club as Rodríguez bagged his 30th of the season to down La Equidad 2-0. In that game, they set a new club record low attendance of 2,504 – but that doesn’t come close to the league record low of 18 when Real Cartagena played Doradas in April 2011!

A 4-0 hammering of América led by a Betancourth brace saw Envigado return to the top of the league with two games to go. Guzmán nicked a 1-1 at home to Atlético to tee up an exciting final day with Tolima leading the way on goal difference and Millonarios two points back – but those two played against each other.

Envigado held up their end of the bargain by hammering Pasto 4-0 away led by a Rodríguez brace. While Millonarios did them a favour by beating Tolima 3-1, so Envigado finished top of the Finalización table! However, this being Colombia, that of course means absolutely nothing! However, this massive overachievement should mean that Envigado qualify for next season’s Copa Libertadores for the first time in club history.

Finalización post-season

Envigado got a group with Junior, Independiente and, yet again, Tolima! They began with a 0-0 at home to Junior before the unthinkable happened – they beat Tolima 2-0 away with goals from Hernández and Guzmán scoring late off the bench. However, their final four games took place over eight days!

First up was a big 2-0 win over Independiente with both goals scored by Rodríguez and assisted by Betancourth. Three days later, Carlos Bacca led Junior to a 3-0 win, but two days later 10-man Independiente were defeated by a Santiago Norena header and Rodríguez penalty. That put Envigado and Junior level on 10 points heading into the final game, but Junior had a superior goal difference.

Another two days later (with one day of rest!) an exhausted team started terribly as Tolima scored after seven minutes. An angry team talk fired the boys up and Mejía got them level just after the break but they couldn’t find a winner and Tolima scored anyway to win the group. Junior went on to lose to Millonarios in the Final.

Envigado also finished the overall Colombian league in third place, some way behind Tolima – who presumably were absolutely knackered by the end of the season as they didn’t win any of their final five games – and Millonarios, who both racked up over 100 points. However, the first-place finish in Finalización represented an all-time record high for Envigado, which is pretty impressive!

Rodríguez finished the campaign as the second-top scorer in the league, with his 27 in 47 only bettered by Tolima’s Rentería bagging 28 in 47. However, he won the second phase top goalscorer award with 19 in 23. Goalkeeper Felipe Parra topped the clean sheets chart with 25 and midfielder Juan Manuel Zapata got the second-most player of the match awards with six.

Season Review

For some reason, we don’t get the end of year season review feature in Colombia, which is a little bit annoying. But this has been a fantastic season for Envigado – finishing in the top three overall and winning the second phase league tournament (which obviously doesn’t count as a trophy success!)

Rodríguez led the way with a new club record 36 goals in 56 appearances plus 6 assists and a 7.20 average rating. He was followed by Hernández scoring 9 and assisting a club-high 13 with a 7.11 average rating from 55 games.

Behind them, midfielder Josep Mejía scored and assisted 7, most of which were in the first few games of the season, Hurtado scored 7 but only got 1 assist, Guzmán and Norena scored 5, and 6ft 5in winger Betancourth got 7 assists and scored 4. Guzmán, by the way, bagged 59 goals in 27 starts for the under-20s and will be pushing for more first-team minutes next season to try and fulfil his massive talent.

Coukd Lazaró continue to overachieve with this exciting Envigado squad? And will there be even more promising youngsters following in Guzmán’s footsteps? Join us on Monday to find out!

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