The Stage is Set - Who Will Emerge On Top?
The final of the 2008 Copa Sudamericana brings together two high-quality sides in Estudiantes de La Plata and Internacional of Porto Alegre. Both teams spent big money during the off-season and have been rewarded for their investment. Although the domestic form of both clubs hasn't been great, they have demonstrated their capacity in the Copa Sudamericana. We should be in for an entertaining final, not only because of the depth of both squads, but because it is a traditional confrontation between teams from Argentina and Brazil, which always guarantees a spectacle.
Estudiantes' Spectacular Resurgence
Since Leonardo Astrada replaced Nestor Sensini as the coach of Estudiantes, they have been transformed into one of the best teams in Argentina. Astrada has been able to mould together an outstanding squad, who have the potential to lift their first international trophy since 1970.
Although Estudiantes haven't won an international title is such a long time, they will be inspired by Arsenal de Sarandi, who claimed the first title in their history, when they won the Copa Sudamericana last year, after a thrilling final series with Club America of Mexico. Estudiantes eliminated Arsenal in the round of sixteen stage of the 2008 version of the tournament. They also overcame Independiente and Argentinos Juniors of Argentina, as well as Botafogo of Brazil.
It is important to note that Estudiantes' return to glory has much to do with playmaker Juan Sebastian Veron. In his first season back at the club in 2006, he guided them to the Apertura Championship, and since then Estudiantes have been one of Argentina's most consistent teams. This season "La Brujita" has been in top form, and many expect him to win league MVP. A title triumph could also see him crowned the best player of the Copa Sudamericana.
Internacional's Extraordinary Title Run
Internacional's form in the Copa Sudamericana has been nothing less than extraordinary. They eliminated crosstown rivals Gremio, they thrashed Boca Juniors 4-1 on aggregate, and humiliated Mexican giants Chivas de Guadalajara with an incredible 6-0 victory over the two legs. Because of the manner in which they have destroyed such important opponents, they come into the championship decider as the overwhelming favourites.
Inter head coach, Adenor Leonardo Bacchi Tite, counts with one of the strongest squads in the continent, with the likes of Andres D'Alessandro, Nilmar, Pablo Guinazu and Alex. As well as this they have depth in all sectors of the field, but are particularly dangerous in the attack, as are most Brazilian teams.
The Porto Alegre giants are undefeated at home in the competition, having conceded only one goal, to rivals Gremio. They are also very solid on the road, having picked up convincing victories in recent outings. As has been the case with Estudiantes, Inter have returned to glory in recent years. In 2006 they lifted the Copa Libertadores and the Club World Cup, which were the first international trophies in their history.
Matias Sanchez will replace the suspended Rodrigo Brana in the midfield, while Estudiantes' captain, Juan Sebastian Veron, has recovered from injury just in time for the match. As well as this, Leandro Desabato will take the place of Cristian Cellay, after returning from suspension.
On the weekend Tite preferred to rest his starters for the decisive match with Estudiantes. The coach will use an identical side to the one who thrashed Chivas de Guadalajara 4-0 in Porto Alegre. D'Alessandro is healthy after a stomach bug kept him out of action for the first leg win over Chivas.
Estudiantes: Mariano Andujar, Marcos Angeleri, Agustin Alayes, Leonardo Desabato, Juan Manuel Diaz, Diego Galvan, Matias Sanchez, Juan Sebastian Veron, Leandro Benitez, Juan Manuel Salgueiro and Mauro Boselli. Coach: Leonardo Astrada.
Internacional: Lauro, Bolivar, Indio, Alvaro, Marcao, Edinho, Pablo Guinazu, Magrao, Andres D'Alessandro, Taison and Nilmar. Coach: Adenor Bacchi 'Tite'.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Estudiantes- Juan Sebastian Veron
Veron has been in sensational form this season, and is likely to play a key role as Estudiantes look to close in on the title. On the weekend her fired in a free-kick and set up both goals in Estudiantes' victory over Tigre. Since he returned to the club he has been after an international trophy, and this could be the perfect way to put an end to a glorious career.
Internacional - Andres D'Alessandro
Since joining Inter earlier in the year, D'Alessandro has been brilliant. He was Inter's best player as they eliminated Boca Juniors at La Bombonera, and he also scored twice in the win over Chivas in Porto Alegre. He is on fire and will love to win a first title with his Brazilian club. A triumph over an Argentine team would make it all the better.
The first leg of the final of the Copa Sudamericana is likely to be played at a frantic pace. The fact that Estudiantes are at home and will be backed by almost 50,000 fans will mean that they will be urged forward at every opportunity.
With the inspiration of Veron, Estudiantes should have the upperhand, but they will need to be very cautious of Inter, who have the potential to damage them on the counterattack. Expect a thrilling encounter.
Estudiantes 2-1 Internacional
--Gregory Sica, Goal.com