2018 Clasura Semi-Finals (Episode 24 – Shep: Managerial Globetrotter)

Finally, I’ve got my Bucaramanga back.

Football is a harsh mistress. One day, you can be on top of the world after a unprecedented triumph but by the next day, you’re already deep in planning and worrying about your next game. It’s relentless, it’s unforgiving and it can chew you up and spit you out. That doesn’t mean the high of beating Junior has worn off just yet but my undivided attention has to now be on besting Rionegros Aguilas to reach the Clasura final.

Our semi-final opponents have been solid in the Clasura, finishing on the same points as ourselves but below us on goal difference. We have a 100% record against them already and if we can beat Junior and score five past them, we can certainly beat these. The priority is the away goal to take back home but a win is obtainable.

If we get through to the final, we’re going to play four games over the next two weeks so rotation is going to be key for a title push. My line-up today is mainly my starting eleven with a couple tweaks to keep the bigger players for the second leg. Nelson Ramos is in goal as our best man between the sticks. Marlon Torres is captain today with Cufre and Vallecilla either side of himself and Gonzalez. Rovira sits in front of them with Cardenas and Quintero playing behind Mojica. Neumann and Rangel, who is still yet to score a goal in the Clasura, are up front.

I’m not expecting a victory and I’m not expecting us to kill the tie off by the end of the ninety. I am expecting however a hard-working performance that shows our last couple results were no fluke.

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Seven minutes after kick-off, a diagonal ball is cut out by Vallecilla and we start a two touch movement up the pitch that leads to Rovira playing Rangel down the left. He cuts a pass back through Viafara to Mojica. He turns, looks up and puts a perfectly weighted ball for the run of Quintero to control and smash past Valencia for 1-0. Finally, I’ve got my Bucaramanga back.

Eleven minutes later, Cufre is took out by a great Viafara slide tackle but he gets back up and pulls out some gorgeous footwork to escape two red shirts. He proceeds to knock an equally gorgeous cross into Neumann but his looping header is tipped over the bar. The corner doesn’t come to anything but just after the half hour mark, Vallecilla is leading the counter on the right hand side. He picks out Rangel inside who spots Neumann’s run to his left and chips a ball over for Andreas to deal with. The ball is brought down exquisitely with his first touch and twatted emphatically into the top corner with his second. Take a bow son.

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In the 43rd minute, Rionegros come at us for the first time all game with Vasquez pulling out back-to-back Cruyff turns. The first one Cardenas reads but the second one nearly breaks his ankles. He does well to find Arango inside the box but Ramos pulls out a big save to his right to keep his clean sheet in tact. Half-time comes shortly after and I couldn’t have asked for a better first half. Neumann and Cardenas are starting to tire but I decide the leave them on until they ask to come off. They won’t be playing in the home leg or even on the bench as I want them to have a week worth of rest if we get through to the final.

It takes quarter of an hour for the second half to get properly underway when Mojica played in by Rovira but his shot is too central. Rangel tries to arc the rebound header over the keeper but he isn’t too troubled and can catch it while backtracking. In the 67th minute, Camilo Perez is too relaxed in possession and Rangel nips in to steal. His lofted ball lands kindly for Neumann who uses a big touch to sprint away from the last man before squaring across goal for Mojica to drill into the bottom left. At 3-0, it’s safe to assume this game is dead in the water. The assist from Neumann was his last touch of the game as he, Cardenas and Cufre may way for Romero, Jeferson Torres and Harold Gomez. Vallecilla switches to his more familiar left back position.

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In the 84th minute, Rovira and Vallecilla are linking up nicely with the former stopping the chorus of ironic cheers from the away end by passing it to Quintero on the edge of the box. He tries his luck with a curling low effort but Valencia gets down to parry it away from goal. We hold onto the ball and see out another amazing result away from home. A 3-0 win to take to the Alfonso Lopez is a dream scenario and the mood has completely flipped over the last couple weeks. Mojica and Neumann had blinders today with a goal and an assist each and I have to say Harrison Mojica is really staking his case for me to pursue a permanent deal. He’s been the sole bright spark during our torrid spell and has continued to prove his worth to this team today.

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CD Lugo, a second tier Spanish side are in touch the following day to offer £600’000 for Aguirre. I ask them to consider adding an extra £100’000 expecting a pause for thought but an instant agreement is made and I give Aguirre a ring to let him know the news. We haven’t really spoke much since I hung him out to dry for the Pasto goal but he sounds happy that a big chance is coming his way. Personal terms are to be discussed of course but things are looking positive for him.

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Now in the press conference, I make a risky move by taking a big dig at Rionegro ahead of the reverse leg. Something along the lines of mentally frail and unable to win big games. A little bit of fire into the mix before they visit won’t hurt.

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I have to apologise straight away as I forgot to take a note of the ties again. Being a manager is time-consuming and after you pour all your energy into something every day, you can forget a lot of things.

Deportes Tolima were held to a 1-1 draw at home but managed to win 2-0 in the away leg, advancing to the final with the aggregate scoreline 3-1. Unless we lose by three goals or more, we will play them in the final. We really can win this.

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Aguirre is in goal despite our recent bust up and his potential transfer away. He knows that’s a big game for him with a Lugo scout reported to be in attendance so a clean sheet and/or a good game could help push this transfer through. Rodriguez and Gomez are the wide defenders today with Palacios and Quinones at centre back. I’m being a bit of a home wrecker by starting Fabio against his parent club but he’s our player for now and he’s never let me down before. Gabby takes his place in holding midfield while Jaimes and Rovira partner each other in the middle for the first ever time with Salazar in front of them. Rolls Royce are up front and in a game which has little pressure for us to score goals, I really hope Rangel can get a goal here and before his loan finishes. Like Rodriguez, he’s someone who has been an important part of our side this season, even without many goals.

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In the 6th minute, a Gabby header back into the box is headed out by Hinestroza. Quinones gets there first to head it back to Gabby. He chips a pass over a couple Rionegro players to Salazar who hits a low driven shot from 25 yards just wide of the post. Just as I’m thinking it’s another game which is going to go our way, Romero is dispossessed in the 10th minute. Hinestroza drills it forward to Velaquez who uses a quick turn and through ball to Vasquez to give the attack moving. Arango is played in and Aguirre closes the angle well but the winger smashes the ball through his legs to open the scoring. Game on.

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Over the next 20-25 minutes, the game revolves around set pieces. Free kicks, throw-ins and corners are the main source of attacking presence for both sides but the first one that really threatens is a Bucaramanga corner in the 35th. It’s cleared by Munoz as far as Quinones. The centre back volleys a pass back to Gabby who puts a second and better cross into the box but Romero’s header lands on the roof of the net.

A few minutes pass before Rionegro win a corner of their own which Arango takes. It’s a fast, low corner that Toloza has to run away from goal to reach but he does reach it with a bizarre spinning kick. The ball manages to skim through the bodies but Rodriguez is on hand to boot the ball off the line and deny his parent club a real chance to get back into this tie. Good man, Fabio.

Jaimes has a late chance to bring us level but he gets his feet tangled and the keeper claims it easily before the whistle for half time is blown. We need the time to regroup and motivate the boys as it’s been a decent half apart from the goal. We’ve limited them to only two shots, though one went in and the other was cleared off the line. Jeferson Torres and Morison will replace Rovira and Rangel in the second half to see if they can bring something to the game. We’re only one half away from the final and what a moment it will if we can put this game to bed.

Set pieces continue to dominate throughout the first twenty minutes of the second half and in the 64th minute, one finally leads to a goal. A Bucaramanga corner is whipped to the front post where Morison rises like a salmon to power a header into Munoz’s face and over the line for 1-1. I finally allow myself to begin silently planning for our final showdown with Deportes Tolima as Cufre for Gomez is my final change.

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The rest of the game can be split up into two episodes. The first being the fifteen minutes between our goal and the 80th minute which consisted of Rionegro midfielders chancing their arm from long range and rarely testing Aguirre. I’d think this is the part in which our opposition still had some belief they could score four goals and take the tie.

The second part is from the 80th until the final whistle. We sit very deep and watch as they drop, head-by-head, and stop caring about the accuracy of their passes or the intensity of their pressing. It is depressing to watch? Yes. Do I want to extend a shoulder to cry on considering I’ve just managed my team into their second ever Primera A final? Not a fucking chance.

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Bucaramanga’s first title is just 180 minutes of football away. My first piece of silverware as a manager is there for the taking. Deportes Tolima are the team in the way and I’ll be damned if they stop me, I mean us, from writing our name into the history books.

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