by Marc Serber
When properly executed- the best form of offense is actually defense. A 35th minute header from Danilo was all Corinthians needed to defeat Cruz Azul and leapfrog their Mexican rivals at the top of Group 6 in the Copa Libertadores.
Usually it’s no surprise that the solitary goal comes from a set piece, but on this occasion, the Brazilians deserved more for their enterprise going forward. While Cruz Azul had their chances to steal a point at the end, they have goalkeeper Jesus Corona to thank. Had it not been for a string of impressive saves, the match could have easily ended 4 or 5-nil.
The Sao Paulo side’s success started with their team defense. Forwards Liedson and Jorge Henrique set the tone as Corinthians pressured feverishly to win the ball back high up the pitch, not allowing Cruz Azul to work the ball out of the back.
Cruz Azul’s only counter was to send play maker Christian “El Chaco” Gimenez further up the field and find him with the outlet ball. El Chaco’s two options were then to either look to lead a counter with only one or two men ahead of him, or to hold the ball and wait for his (and the Corinthian) players to join the fray.
As is the problem with playing such high pressure, it’s hard to sustain such a ferocious pace. Corinthians showed signs of slowing down, but Cruz Azul was unable to take advantage of the new found space.
Just as Jurgen Klinsmann is constantly preaching to the US National team, it is how you deal with playing through these periods when the legs are a bit heavy. Corinthians navigated the 10 minute lull and kicked back into a higher gear.
The positions in which Corinthians were operating led to numerous free kicks from the 20-40 yard range and the home side finally made it count. Alex teased a delightful ball into the mix and Danilo rose highest to flick his header just inside the far post.
The home side was back to its usual tricks in the second half. An offensive onslaught forcing Corona to bail out his team on multiple occasions within the first five minutes.
Corona’s most impressive work came in the next ten minutes as he first pushed aside a strong half-volley from Pulinho before denying Fabio Santos at point blank range. The Mexican international was back at it on the hour mark as he turned aside a Henrique effort at his near post. The 29-year-old slalomed into the penalty area and unleashed a stinging drive that looked destined to be the killer blow, but Corona was in top form.
The match opened up a bit for Cruz Azul in the final half hour. As the high pressure became a bit subdued and green acres seemed the place to be, head coach Enrique Meza brought on out-and-out striker Emanuel Villa to push the defensive line further back while allowing his own Brazilian midfielder, Maranhao to position himself in his more comfortable position out wide.
Hope looked lost when Fausto Pinto received his marching orders for a second bookable offense on 71 minutes, but Meza brought on another pure winger in Alejandro Vela and Cruz Azul entered into its best spell of the match.
In the 81st minute, Edixon Perea should have done better with a free header off a Gimenez set-piece.
Vela then hit the post in the final minute and Maranhao drew a good save from Julio Cesar to preserve all three points and a well deserved victory for the home side.
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