Huracan, Sante Fe get shot at first continental title in Copa Sudamericana
A new name will be on a South American trophy. Neither Huracan of Argentina nor Independiente Santa Fe of Colombia have ever won a major continental competition. Now they meet in the final of the Copa Sudamericana, the continent's equivalent of the Europa League. After next week's second leg in Colombia after Wednesday's first leg of the two-legged final, one of them will be taking a historic lap of honour.
The fact that neither can yet point to a continental trophy is not evidence of lack of tradition. Huracan are a well-established Buenos Aires club, whose domestic league win in 1973 is a landmark in the development of Argentine football. Coach Cesar Luis Menotti moulded a wonderful team, still remembered with great affection. Their win propelled Menotti to the national team. He won the World Cup in 1978, Argentina's first triumph, and they have sat at the game's top table ever since.
And Santa Fe have the proud right to declare themselves Colombia's first champions, winning the inaugural professional league in 1948. After a 37-year-old dry spell, the club are living a fine moment. They have won some more recent league titles, and reached the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League equivalent, in 2013, as well as the quarterfinals this year.
For services performed to football, both sides deserve to lift a continental trophy, but only one can win this clash. Where might the battle be won and lost?
1. This is a contrast in coaches
Eduardo Dominguez was playing for Huracan earlier this year. At the end of his fourth spell with the club he became the coach. At 37, he is another of an interesting breed of young Argentine coaches. In this final, seen by many as the biggest game in the club's history, he is up against a vastly experienced opponent. Uruguayan Gerardo Pelusso, now 61, has been coaching for 30 years, and can point to sound work carried out in Ecuador, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Paraguay and now Colombia. He is a arch pragmatist, whose teams tend to be more competitive than attractive.
Is this a moment for the caution of age, or will the boldness of youth carry the day?
2. Santa Fe's centre-backs vs. the Huracan centre forward
At home in Wednesday's first leg, Huracan will surely try to impose themselves on the game -- especially bearing in mind that the return game will take place at the altitude of Bogota. This makes centre forward Ramon Abila perhaps the most important player on the field.
Strong and skilful, Abila is nicknamed "Wanchope" after the former Costa Rican forward. He can be a real handful -- in the semifinal he overwhelmed the River Plate defence. He'll try to repeat that form in the final.
The interesting aspect here is that Abila is coming up against the most impressive part of the Santa Fe side. Centre-back Fernando Meza, 24, is quick and classy, and good enough to be called up to the Colombia squad. His defensive partner Yerry Mina, 21, is a fine prospect, a giant figure who is especially impressive in the air. Watching the promising pair try to keep Abila quiet should be highly entertaining.
THE BEST OF ESPN FC
- Bell: Liverpool fans make themselves heard
- Cox: Leicester improving | Why Poch should stay
- Okwonga: Man United's market | City's title hopes
- Laurens: PSG's pre-UCL issues | Hertha's curse
- Highlights (U.S. only): Stuttgart 1-3 BVB
- FC TV: Champions League W2W4 | LVG wrong
- News | Transfer | Toe Poke | Fantasy | FC TV | Podcast | MLS
3. At the other end
Santa Fe's main striker Wilson Morelo is very quick and can punish Huracan if they push forward with reckless abandon. But he needs a supply line. The Colombians suffered a significant setback when they recently lost patience and fired support striker Luis Quinones, a rough diamond who is throwing away what could be a glorious career with repeated acts of off-field indiscipline.
His talent cannot be easily replaced, especially as Omar Perez, the team's key Argentine playmaker, is 34, lacks dynamism and has been struggling for fitness. It will fascinating to see how Pelusso marshals his attacking resources.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.