2016 was an amazing year for Atletico Nacional. The team started a long process in 2012 which ended last year with the main goal: Winning the Copa Libertadores after 27 years. It was a perfect campaign of a perfect team who broke records. Nacional was the best team in this tournament since the beginning. They are the only club who played group stage without concede a single goal and they are the team who finished the tournament with the most points in the history – 33.
The second part of the year wasn’t less good, but it ended in a bitter taste. First there was the Copa Sudamericana tournament. Just like the Libertadores, Nacional dominated completely in the tournament and once again reached the final. They were supposed to meet Brazilian side, Chapecoense and in case of a win, Nacional would become the only club in history to win both Libertadores & Sudamericana in the same year. Unfortunately, destiny has it’s own wishes and Chapeco was involved in one of the biggest tragedies in the world of football when their plane crashed when they were on their way to Medellin. Almost all the team was killed, the final was cancelled, of course, and as the greatest gesture ever, Nacional asked the CONMEBOL to announced Chapecoense as the new Copa Sudamericana champions.
They gave up on the local league because they had to travel to Japan in order to participate in the Clubs World Cup of FIFA, the first time ever that a Colombian club take part. The players and the fans had high hopes to meet Real Madrid in the final of the tournament and maybe this was our biggest problem. In the semi final Nacional met Japanese side, Kashima Antlers and was eliminated after a 0-3 loss. They did take the 3rd place after they beat Club America from Mexico, but everyone felt that they could do more.
The plan for 2017 was very simple: To continue the total domination in Colombia and to become a strong force in the continent. The problem? The success of the team. Nacional has a very high reputation in South America regarding football, but even the richest team in Colombia cannot compete with the big money in Brazil, Mexico and sometimes Argentina. in less then one year, check out who left the Copa Libertadores champion: Davinson Sanchez (Ajax), Sebastian Perez (Boca), Alex Mejia (Leon), Alejandro Guerra (Palmeiras), Orlando Berrio (Flamengo), Marlos Moreno (Manchester City) & the top scorer and maybe the biggest loss, Miguel Borja (Palmeiras).
Nacional has the best management in Colombia and one of the best in South America but in this case it seems like president De La Cuesta didn’t bring suitable players instead the ones who left so the club could obtain the Copa. Dayro Moreno & Aldo Leao Ramirez were the key signings, but the holes that left Marlos, Berrio, Borja & Guerra are too big. You can add to this that the president De La Cuesta, who did an amazing job since 2010, decided to quit his job because “personal reasons”, but the rumors speak about differences with Assistant coach and one of the club’s legends, Juan Pablo Angel.
Nacional group in the Copa Libertadores is very complicated and includes Ecuadorian side, Barcelona Sporting Club, Brazilian side Botafogo and Argentine side, Estudiantes La Plata. In their worst nightmares the fans didn’t expect performances so poor from the club: Nacional lost to Barcelona in Ecuador 1-2, lost at home to Botafogo 0-2 and lost in Argentina 0-1. Only a huge miracle will help them to qualify to the last 16 and continue the dream. It seems like the opponents did homework and know how to deal with Nacional’s tactic.
But here’s the weird part. While in the Copa Nacional not only lose but also play awful, things are completely different when it comes to the domestic league. Nacional is the leader after 14 matches with 38 points out of 42(!) when the club equals it’s record from 1971 with 8 wins in a row and it may be 9 in a row if they’ll win Once Caldas at home on April 29th. The problem with the system is that after the regular phase comes the playoff and depite the amazing record Nacional can be eliminated, but unlike South American rivals, it looks like that the Colombian clubs give too much respect for Nacional or play against them in a “not to lose” system instead of trying to actually win the match. Here’s the place to remind that in many matches, Nacional didn’t even play with it’s strongest starting lineup, but with alternate or mixed one.
Nacional has squad with depth. This is why the can control the Colombian league while playing in two competitions, but today Nacional has players that are not good enough to play the high level of the Copa Libertadores. In my opinion, both Aldo & dayro are very good players but in their current form, non of them is a suitable replacement for Guerra & Borja. And this isn’t even the worst part. Key players like Marlos Moreno & Orlando Berrio were replaced by John Mosquera and Andres Ibarguen. While the last one is very talented but isn’t consistent, Mosquera really doesn’t belong to a club like Nacional. And not only him. Luis Carlos Ruiz is a decent player, but surely cannot be the openning ‘9’ of a club who wants to win the Copa. Add to that players like Bernal, Najera and current bad form of our defenders- Henriquez, Bocanegra and Diaz, while Macnelly Torres disappeared from time to time. After all this you’ll get the answer regarding Nacional’s failure in the Libertadores. The only bright points are goalkeeper Armani and Mateus Uribe.
Even though many fans act like this is the end of the world, it’s not. Nacional still has many competitions to fight this semester: Liga Aguila, Copa Aguila and to try to reach the Copa Sudamericana if we’ll finish 3rd in our Libertadores group. oh, and there is another emotional Recopa match to play vs. Chapecoense on May 10th in Medellin, after we lost 1-2 in the first leg. But if Rueda wants to take out from this season, he has to bring back Dayro to his natural position – the center forward. Uribe and Ibarguen should be the wingers while Arias, Ramirez & Macnelly should control the midfield.
Unfortunately and naturally the process is about to end. It reminded me of Colombia 2015 who failed in the Copa America after the big success in 2014. Zuñiga, Armero, Sanchez, James & Falcao, all lost form and it effected a lot on the team. But even if we close to end this amazing era which started in 2012, I hope that the fans will do it properly and stop booing our players just like happened in the last matchvs. Junior, even if they don’t perform well. I bet the want to win, just like all of us. It doesn’t work out all the time. But still we have to support and cheer them, just like we did when they gave us our greatest moment as fans: The 2016 South America’s champions.