Wonderkid Factory | Part 20 | Copa Libertadores Pain Continues

After a couple of seasons of massive success, Envigado’s board invested in a new trophy cabinet to house the shiny Recopa Sudamericana trophy earned by defeating the mighty Corinthians. But as we see all too often, with great success comes greed.

And there was no denying, the Envigado board, fans and players were getting greedy. When Robinho Lazaró took charge 10 years ago, the club was widely fancied as the overwhelming favourites to be relegated. But he changed all that and, by focusing on the club’s prodigious youth development, transformed them into one of the top teams in Colombia. But now he was faced with players calling meetings for “failing to meet the short-term objective of winning the Apertura title.”

Lazaró understood that aspirations can evolve in light of success. But to expect a title in the circumstances of having to rotate his team heavily to compete on multiple fronts was ridiculous. Furthermore, the fact was that the players themselves were completely to blame for the lack of a title given their poor performance in the Apertura Final. But Lazaró put the annoyances behind him to focus on more continental football and a new domestic campaign.

Another Tough Copa Libertadores Draw

Having failed to pass the second round of Copa Libertadores five times, Lazaró was praying to finally get a decent draw having won their group. But they didn’t get an ideal draw as they would take on Internacional. That said, they did defeat the Brazilians en route to winning Copa Sudamericana last season.

The first leg was in Brazil and Lazaró took a more defensive approach to try and limit Internacional. But when the Brazilians raced into a 2-0 lead inside 36 minutes, he was worried. However, star striker Francisco Ocampo came up huge to score twice in 10 minutes and drag his team level. Internacional got a winner six minutes from time, but a 3-2 defeat at least gave Lazaró’s side something to work with. He rested the first 11 for a league game to prepare to welcome the Brazilians to Polideportivo Sur. But the painful trend continued as they lost 2-0 in the second leg.

Internacional reached the semis, where they only lost on penalties to Paranaense. So in their last six Libertadores second-round clashes, Envigado lost to three semi-finalists, two runners-up and a competition winner.

Into The Finalización Stage

The second half of the 2031 league campaign began with Ocampo and a Jaiber Prince brace sealing a 3-1 win at home to Pasto. A rotated side lost a couple of away games but, with continental football out of the way, Lazaró put all of his eggs into the league basket. And that showed as centre-back Rodolfo Vega headed a brace in a 4-1 thumping of Cortuluá.

An injury crisis struck again, leaving Lazaró with limited defence and midfield choices, which saw them go four games without a win. But one positive note was exciting winger Cristian Gutiérrez, who came through this season’s youth intake, scored his first senior goal in a defeat to Cúcuta. One man who was no stranger to goals was Ocampo. However, the striker had gone 10 hours without a goal and was being outshone by youngster Mateo Acevedo before welcoming Bogotá to town. He ended that drought after 18 minutes then ran wild by bagging a four-goal haul in a thumping 5-2 victory.

A good run of form shot Envigado up into a potential battle for the league top spot. With six games remaining they sat 4th, only four points behind 2nd-place América but seven behind leaders Deportivo Cali. Ocampo picked up another injury but his protege Acevedo replaced him and did what he does best, scoring in a win over Santa Fe then getting a brace in a 4-3 success at Quindío.

Centre-back Vega was having a stunning season as his pair of headers in a 2-0 win over Independiente took him to 10 goals for the season! He scored again in a 3-0 win at Depor, in which Ocampo added the third in the final minute on his comeback. That saw them close in on the top two but hopes of topping the league were dashed by a disappointing 1-1 at home to Santander then an improved 1-1 at Millonarios. So Lazaró rested the first 11 for the final day and the inevitable post-season fixture congestion.

Envigado eventually finished in 5th, six points back from league toppers América. Ocampo had the highest average rating of 7.51 with Acevedo in third with 7.43. While winger Luis Ángel Díaz and midfielder Ronaldo Bermudez got the most assists in the league with 15 and 14 respectively.

Finalización Post-Season

That 5th-place finish earned Envigado a post-season group alongside América, Millonarios and Petrolera. That promised to be fairly tricky, especially as the first four games were played in a one-week period and the entire group was played over 12 days.

Giving the players time off around the final league game worked wonders as Envigado get off to a flyer, with an Ocampo hat-trick inspiring a 5-0 hammering of Millonarios. He scored his 90th league goal for Envigado three days later as they went to Petrolera and won 3-0. But that game kicked off the ridiculous situation of playing five games in nine days. Lazaró kept the first team in for the trip to Millonarios two days later and Díaz and Bermudez goals were enough for a 2-1 victory to move Envigado five points clear at the halfway point.

He had to rotate for an equally tired América two days later and Gutiérrez earned a 1-1. That took them four points clear, meaning a victory at home to Petrolera another two days later would secure a place in the Final. And they managed it with Ocampo bagging a brace to earn a 2-1 win. That allowed Lazaró to rest the first team ready for the Final and they only lost 2-1 at América.

That took Envigado into a Final against Junior, against whom they’d won 15, drawn 14 and lost 13 in 42 meetings, so these are two very evenly-matched sides. First up was a trip to Barranquilla and they made a great start as Ocampo scored inside seven minutes then Malcom Mina Camacho’s penalty doubled the lead after half an hour. Junior got one back but Lazaró’s side held on for a 2-1 win to take back to Envigado a week later.

Frustratingly, they did so without the suspended Ocampo. But his replacement Acevedo gave them another great start as he latched onto Redín’s through-ball, shook off a challenge and hit a delicious shot with the outside of his right foot which, in reality, should have been saved. Junior offered absolutely nothing and as Lazaró dropped the tempo Envigado strolled to another title.

Envigado FC won a 3rd consecutive Finalización title!!

Reflecting On Another Successful Season In Envigado

Another Finalización title took Lazaró and Envigado to a total of 6 league successes, with 2 Apertura titles in 2026 and 2030 and 4 Finalización titles in 2024, 2029, 2030 and 2031. That’s in addition to 6 cup successes with 1 Copa Sudamericana in 2030, 1 Recopa Sudamericana in 2031, 1 Copa BetPlay in 2027 and 3 Súperliga BetPlays in 2025, 2030 and 2031.

That’s seen Lazaró become the second-best Colombian manager of all time, only behind Gabriel Ochoa, who won 13 national titles with América, Santa Fe and Millonarios between 1963 and 1990. Lazaró trailed Ochoa by 150 points in the Hall of Fame, so his new objective was to become Colombia’s greatest-ever manager with an eye on improving in Copa Libertadores.

Statistically speaking, this season’s star man has been striker Ocampo. He scored 29 goals in 36 games in all competitions, as well as seven assists and a club-high average rating of 7.51. As a result, he defended his Liga BetPlay Player and Young Player of the Year awards. He also came 3rd in the South American Footballer of the Year award!

Pushing him close was his potential replacement Acevedo, who scored 28 in 46 and came second in Young Player of the Year. Lazaró’s star man had to be centre-back Vega, who scored 11 in 49 and got an impressive average rating of 7.24. But the fans disagreed, with 47% of them voting Díaz, who got 29 assists and 11 goals in 55 games, as player of the season. Bermudez came second in that vote with 17 goals and 17 assists in 51 games. Injury-hit Jaiber Prince scored nine and got a slightly disappointing five assists in 33 games, while fellow winger Jonathan Arias got 14 assists followed by midfielder Hernán Darío Lugo (8), Randi Redín (7) and Álvaro Pena (6).

Ten years into life at Envigado, the club’s Best Eleven now features a mix of current and former talents. Ocampo has been added to the squad in place of former striker Marcelo Guzmán along with goalkeeper Frank Marimón and Vega. The team includes current players Mina Camacho, Juan Manuel Zapata, Bermudez and Díaz, plus former heroes like Felipe Parra (still at Toluca), Heidy Juliao (still at Portland Timbers), Josep Mejía (still at Mazatlán), Diego Betancourt (now at New England Revolution) and Diego Rodríguez (now at Chapecoense).

Another Envigado Star Earns Colombia Call

Several players earned call-ups to the Colombia squad last season without being handed a cap. But out of nowhere, left-back Andrés Mira had shown impressive progression and earned his first Colombia cap as a substitute in a 1-1 draw with Ecuador. Ocampo also came on as a sub in that game for his third cap, while Guzmán started and former players Jafe Ostos and Felipe Parra were on the bench.

Lazaró’s efforts over the last few years – despite the supposed failed objectives – earned him another new two-year contract on £2,800 per week, keeping him at Envigado until 2033.

Could his team continue that success into 2032? Join us on Friday to find out!


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