By Sedara Oluwadara
You will have to look hard for a more extraordinary story in contemporary football than that of Independiente del Valle, a tiny club from Ecuador.
Some 15 years ago, they were taken over by investors with the idea of producing players to transfer out of the club at a profit.
The project has been so successful that around half the Ecuador national squad were produced or developed by the club.
If that wasn’t remarkable enough on its own, while they continually lose their best young players to bigger teams in the global transfer market, to their own surprise they have found out that they can also win titles while they do it.On Saturday in Cordoba, Argentina, they beat Sao Paulo of Brazil 2-0 to win the Copa Sudamericana.
It’s been just three years since they last won it.To put this latest achievement in perspective, since that 2019 triumph, six of seven continental titles have gone or will go to Brazilian clubs.
In an era of almost complete Brazilian domination, a little club from Ecuador are the mouse that keeps on roaring.
At the end of last year, Independiente del Valle won the Ecuadorian championship for the first time. True to form, they then transferred out their best prospects, and have parted with more since.
The next crop are being prepared for next year.
This current side, then, are a little older and more experienced, with four Argentines and a Chilean in the side that kicked off against Sao Paulo.
The Brazilians were desperate for their first international title since the Sudamericana of 10 years ago, when Lucas Moura was Sao Paulo’s spearhead and current coach Rogerio Ceni was the goal-scoring goalkeeper.
In Saturday’s final, Ceni chose an attacking side, one that misfired in the first few minutes. The formation varied between a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-1-3-2; whichever way you look at it, that lone “1” in front of the centre-backs was overworked and Independiente del Valle found too much space in front of the Sao Paulo back line.
Mobile Argentine striker Lautaro Diaz had already given them a warning when, after 12 minutes, Sao Paulo failed to clear their lines and another Argentine, the clever and technically gifted little midfielder Lorenzo Faravelli, picked out Diaz in the right channel and he blasted a cross shot through the keeper.
That space in front of the Sao Paulo defence was all too evident again when playmaker Junior Sornoza had time to advance, pick his spot and even read the newspaper headlines if he wished before crashing a shot off the far post.Sao Paulo, then, had to chase the game.
As the half wore on, they started to push the Ecuadorians back, with the surging Partick proving a problem down the left flank. Independiente del Valle were often at full stretch, with Richard Schunke in the middle of the back three having to work hard to plug the gaps.After the break, the Sao Paulo offensive was still more furious. They kept up a high press and made it hard for Independiente del Valle to play their way up the field.
After intercepting a poor clearance, Patrick fed left-footed attacking midfielder Rodrigo Nestor, whose fierce shot was turned round at the near post by Moises Ramirez, the lithe and athletic young keeper who is likely to be Ecuador’s third choice at the World Cup in November.This was the decisive part of the game.
If Independiente del Valle could not find a way to get out of their own half, an equaliser appeared a question of time. They started playing long up to Lautaro, and halfway through the second half it brought them the clinching goal.
Schunke played long, Sornoza slipped through to Diaz in the left channel, he squared for Faravelli to end a wonderfully timed run with a subtle finish past the keeper.
If Sao Paulo were to save themselves, they had to do it soon, and a golden chance appeared. Jonathan Calleri, an Argentine centre-forward of their own, forced his way past Schunke in the right channel and bore down on the keeper.
Ramirez stood tall and made the vital block, before just managing to pounce on the loose ball.It was the moment when Sao Paulo crossed the line between desperation and frustration.
Before the final whistle there were a couple of half chances and then two red cards, as Calleri and then captain and centre-back Diego Costa lost their heads, unable to cope with the proximity of defeat.
And so Independiente del Valle were left to celebrate their extraordinary achievement in front of their tiny band of travelling supporters.