Honours even as Huracan, Santa Fe draw Copa Sudamericana final first leg
Wednesday's first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final produced no goals in Buenos Aires -- leaving everything to play for next week in Bogota. Huracan of Argentina and Colombia's Independiente Santa Fe drew 0-0, a result that will please the first leg visitors more than the hosts.
Huracan took the field determined to build a lead in front of their own fans, but were thwarted and frustrated by talented, well-drilled opponents.
The key battle always looked like being that between Huracan's centre-forward and the Santa Fe defenders. Ramon 'Wanchope' Abila is strong, skilful and determined, good enough to strut a bigger stage. And the two Santa Fe centre-backs are highly promising. Fernando Meza is quick and classy, Yerry Mina a giant figure, dominant in the air.
Huracan came out looking to play up quickly to Abila while Santa Fe tried to ensure that he was isolated. Left-back Leyton Balanta reigned in his attacking instincts to keep a close watch on Cristian Espinoza, an interesting right winger who serves as an important supply line for Abila.
In front of the centre-backs, the Santa Fe midfielders sat deep, picking up the dangerous forward runs of Patricio Torranzo. After Huracan's early enthusiasm ran out, the game ran according to Santa Fe's script.
They took advantage of Huracan's mistakes and went quickly on their occasional breaks. The Colombians created all the clear first half chances, most notably when a cross curled in from the left by Luis Manuel Seijas was met by a Daniel Angulo header that thudded against the bar.
With more enterprise, and a few more bodies thrown forward, Santa Fe could surely have scored. But their vastly experienced coach Gerardo Pelusso saw no reason to run undue risks. The away goals rule is not in operation in the final, so his overwhelming priority was to ensure that his team did not concede a goal.
Abila, though, is sufficiently lively to be able to feed off scraps. The first warning sign came in stoppage time at the end of the first half. A free kick played into the Santa Fe box deflected in his direction. He reacted first, swiftly turned left and blasted the ball just over.
There were some similar moments after the interval -- half chances turned into genuine threats by Abila's uncomplicated capacity to shoot on sight. But Huracan could never give him enough support. They might have done better to have introduced the left footed David Distefano at an earlier stage. His presence wide on the left had the effect of stretching the visiting defence, and the man he replaced, veteran playmaker Daniel Montenegro, did not enjoy a productive evening.
There were, then, few alarms for Robinson Zapata in the Santa Fe goal. At the other end, Marcos Diaz was the busier of the two keepers -- and will expect to be so again next week, when Huracan will have to cope with the altitude of Bogota. While Ramon Abila is around, though, they can still dream of rising to the occasion and snatching their first continental title.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.