Friday, January 30, 2015

Unión Española – Universidad de Concepción (14-01-2015)


I was lucky that the semi-finals of the Copa Chile were held during my stay and one of the games was in Santiago. So, on a Wednesday evening my friend C. and I took a long metro ride (using two different lines), followed by a short taxi ride to the Estadio Santa Laura (full name: Estadio Santa Laura – Universidad SEK). To prevent another fiasco we had bought our tickets online in advance – we paid Ps 10,900 (ca. $17) for seats on the long side of the pitch (the second most expensive tickets).

Estadio Santa Laura is a big ugly concrete structure that was built in 1922 and holds 22,000 people. It is situated in a working-class residential area in Independencia, a commune in the north of Santiago. We were dropped off on the wrong side of the stadium and had to walk almost 10 minutes around the stadium before we got to the main entrance. To my surprise, the main entrance looks like a (cheap) Disney castle.

After a check of our ID, a pat-down by private security, and a wave through by policemen, we entered ‘the castle’ and made our way to the consignment stand. With a kick-off at 21.15 we had all the time in the world. We went for the obligatory meat sandwich – C. chose what Chilean call ‘Italiano’ (i.e. with tomato, mayonnaise, and avocado), whereas I preferred simply pico de gallo.

With about 10 minutes to spare we made our way to our seats. The stadium looked pretty empty. We would later hear that the official attendance was 1,873, of which some 30 were ‘away’ supporters. Given that Concepción is some 500 km south of Santiago, and about a 9-hour drive, I assume these fans lived in the capital.

Despite the fact that the stadium was pretty empty, there was a decent atmosphere with many people in jerseys and the fans behind the goal singing for most of the game. Around us were mostly working class families that often knew each other. Several seemed to be related to Union players, including some very involved player wives and mothers.

The hosts started out well. After some 5 minutes they had an attack over left, which led to a good cross that was headed in from ca. 7 meters: 1-0. Afterward the game was fairly equal, with each team creating some chances and half-chances. Union was the better team, but played quite slow and predictable with often poor passing.

In the 28th minute Concepcion has a great counter attack, which leads to a rebound that is thundered wide. In the 35th minute they take a beautiful free-kick that is saved gracefully by the Union goalie. In the last minute the visitors have another good counter, but shoot wide. Half Time score: 1-0.

After an uneventful half-time, with no special program, it is actually getting a bit chilly in the stadium (note: I am in shorts and t-shirt, as it has been 35 C during the day). Concepcion starts the second half with pressure, which leads to a good shot at goal, a great free-kick, and a surprise volley in the first five minutes. Five minutes later the Union goalie makes another good safe.

Union gets only a few counter chances, but in the 65th minute a long kick by the goalie is missed by a Concepcion defender and finished coldly: 2-0. At this time the game seems over, as Concepcion tries, but Union gets the better chances. But then, in the 80th minute, a Union midfielder looses the ball stupidly and puts a Concepcion striker alone in front of the goalie: 2-1. Five minutes later a Concepcion player is fouled in the box: penalty. To the delight of everyone, except the 30 away fans, the Union goalie stops the penalty with a great safe.

In the last minutes both Concepcion and Union have chances to score, but neither does, and so Union wins the game and goes to the Cup Final.

In the Cup Final Unión Española will face CD Palestino, which we saw the Sunday before. In terms of atmosphere, it is hard to believe that both are in the same division. Despite the empty stadium, the game of Unión Española had the atmosphere and setting of team in the highest division of a country, whereas CD Palestino felt more like a second (or third) division team.

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