By Des Norris
After a long, hard-fought tournament spanning 10 countries and 44 teams, the curtain will be drawn on the 2019 Copa Sudamericana this Saturday with one of the unlikeliest finals in living memory.
While historically speaking Independiente del Valle and Club Atlético Colón don't have much in the way of continental pedigree, this season at least, both clubs have shown themselves worthy of playing in the showpiece event of one of South American soccer’s most prestigious competitions.
In the first corner, Independiente del Valle.
When, in April, a nervy penalty shootout against Unión was all that stood between Miguel Angel Ramirez’s men and a place in the second preliminary round of qualifying, few would have fancied them to go all the way to the final. But then again, the Ecuadorian side has made a habit of defying expectations in recent years.
Founded in 1958, Los Negriazules languished in Ecuador’s lower divisions throughout their history until earning promotion to the top tier for the first time less than a decade ago. Not content with only mixing it up with the big boys domestically, the Sangolquí club became the first Ecuadorian side in history to reach the final of a continental competition when, after seeing off the likes of River Plate and Boca Juniors, they finished runners-up of the 2016 Copa Libertadores.
This year, they will look to do one better and become the first Ecuadorian side to scoop a South American title.
Thanks to the brand of smash-mouth, counter-attacking soccer favored by their young coach, Independiente del Valle have once again overcome the odds - as well as Brazilian giants Corinthians - to reach a second continental final berth in just four years.
Star striker Alejandro Cabeza is the team’s danger man. With four goals in 10 appearances, the 22-year-old is tied in second place to be the tournament’s top scorer.
In the other corner, Colón.
Like their upcoming opponents, the Argentinean minnows’ journey began way back in April in the first round of qualifying. And just like Independiente del Valle, Colon also used their underdogs tag to their advantage against a Brazilian heavyweight in the semifinals, when they sent Atletico Mineiro packing.
Los Sabaleros also boast their own candidate for the Sudamericana Golden Boot crown in 34-year-old attacking midfielder Luis Miguel Rodriguez, who will be aiming to add to his four-goal tally in Asunción. El Pulga, who has also provided four assists in this year's tournament, is the beating heart of Colon, and the focal point through which every attacking move flows.
⚫🔴 Pulga Rodríguez has had quite the #Sudamericana! @ColonOficial's talisman has 4⃣ goals ⚽ and 4⃣ assists 🎯 so far.— CONMEBOL Sudamericana EN (@TheSudamericana) October 25, 2019
👉 On November 9th at @Asuncion2019, he'll look to add to his total. pic.twitter.com/fCDPvWgUnk
When the referee, Raphael Claus, blows the final whistle on Saturday it will mark a historic moment as the Copa Sudamericana's winners' circle inducts another member, and one club make a continental title the first piece of silverware in its collection.
How and Where to Watch the Copa Sudamericana Final: Independiente del Valle vs. Colon
- Date: Saturday, Nov. 9
- Time: 3:20pm ET / 12:20pm PT
- Location: Estadio General Pablo Rojas, Asunscion
- TV channel: beIN SPORTS ESPANOL, beIN SPORTS (on delay), beIN SPORTS CONNECT