Nicolás Miremont –
Anyone, who follows South American football and the Copa Libertadores will most likely have heard about Club de Alto Rendimiento Especializado Independiente del Valle from Ecuador. Or maybe not! But don’t worry, here at FutebolCidade we have you covered with everything you need to know about this year’s Copa Libertadores underdogs.
After a convincing and well deserved second round win against defending champions River Plate from Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, and beating the Mexican team Club de Fútbol Universidad Nacional A. C., better known as Pumas, via penalties in an incredibly fascinating clash in the quarter-finals, Independiente del Valle are now amongst the four best teams in Latin America. They are facing the mighty Boca Juniors Buenos Aires in the semi-finals on July 7 (Quito, Ecuador) and 14 (Buenos Aires, Argentina).
A Club Taking its First Steps
Despite having achieved a reputation and a style of play during the course of the last five years, La Máquina del Valle (The Machine of the Valley) and its fans have not forgotten their roots. They have demonstrated countless times, especially this season, that they are a fantastic group, capable of overcoming tough rivals.
The humble Ecuadorian sensation was established as a club 58 years ago, in Sangolquí, Pichincha, Ecuador. Its founder, José Terán was an avid football fan whose resolve to found a club, was accomplished on March 1st, 1958.
In 1977, two years after José Terán passed away, the club was re-named “Independiente José Terán.” Its red and white uniform was inspired by Argentina’s Independiente de Avellaneda. Later on, in 1995, they were promoted to the second tier of Ecuadorian football. Once again, in 2006 while still playing in the second division, the club was re-named—this time,“Independiente del Valle”. Its colours were changed to black and blue, which they still use today.
We don’t have to go far back in time to their only promotion to the Ecuadorian first division; in 2009 they won the Serie B, and as a result were promoted to the Serie A. Their first six seasons in the Ecuadorian first division went fairly well, with a second place spot in 2013 their best result, followed by a third place earned last season.
Copa Libertadores and the International Stage
How is it possible that a club like Independiente del Valle, which has no superstars, no status as a football superpower, and doesn’t own a mythical stadium, has reached this stage of the Copa Libertadores?
Well, amazingly, most of the teams who have recently reached the final stages of the most important tournament of the continent are not the teams you would expect to be featured on the front page of a major newspaper. Small clubs, which often times face financial difficulties have been able to put on some of the best performances in the tournament in recent history.
The previous editions have been full of surprises. There were four unexpected finalists in the last six finals of the Copa Libertadores. The same applies for the semi-finals. Back in 2014 everyone had their attention focused on the Leicester-like Paraguayan team Club Nacional from Asunción, which went all the way to the final and was runner-up that year after falling to San Lorenzo de Almagro, who had defeated Bolívar, the Bolivian team from La Paz, in the semi-finals.
Something similar happened last year when River Plate struggled to beat the Paraguayan surprise package Guaraní from Asunción.
And why does this happen? First of all, we can’t avoid the fact that South American football does not have much money at its disposal and, therefore, our clubs will never be able to compete with European clubs. For example, a club that loses all six matches of the group stage in the Champions League will still earn $9.8 million, whilst being crowned champion of the Copa Libertadores will only generate a profit of $7.7 million.
This, as you might imagine, has opened a window of opportunity for smaller clubs. Regardless of the size of its budget, every team has its own distinctive feature which makes it unique; an experienced striker, a hostile atmosphere while playing at home, having a stadium located at 4000 meters above sea level, having ultras who try to help you win by waking up your rivals at 3am by setting off fireworks in their hotel driveway (my personal favourite), and even being Mexican (their football is known for being wealthy, their crowds are intimidating, and the trip to Mexico is a long journey for most South American clubs) are a few examples.
Many things must be taken into account if a team wants to succeed; it is not just about stars and goals. Of course, there have been complaints about these issues, for some associations consider these folkloric ingredients as factors that should be buried in the past, as they give home teams an unfair advantage. Up to a point, they are right. These particulars could (and probably do) make a difference. Former Man United star Anderson described his difficulty coping with the altitude when facing The Strongest (BOL) in La Paz in 2015 with the words, “I felt like I was going to die”. [IMAGE Anderson]
Independiente have been quite regular in the last editions of the Copa Libertadores. Having recently stepped up their game after qualifying for the knockout rounds (in 2014 they were eliminated on goal difference in the group stage), the team is now looking solid and confident. Their stadium has turned into a fortress that terrified their rivals, since they had to deal with all the pressure that playing against such a weak team implied. Losing against Independiente was not an option for its rivals when they first faced them. Now things are looking different, now that the Ecuadorians have taken advantage of their rivals’ fear and desperation.
Independiente del Valle and its Source of Inspiration
Football can be a very powerful tool—especially when something so moving occurs, as this humble team reaching the semi-finals. But there is something more, not just mere tactics and bravery.
On April 16, a powerful earthquake shook the northern coast of Ecuador, with its epicentre located between the provinces of Esmeraldas and Marabí. This natural disaster reached a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale, which made it the second most destructive earthquake in Ecuador’s history.
The quake caused 663 deaths, many people were missing and almost 30,000 had to leave their homes and stay in emergency camps. The disaster triggered the empathy of the entire Latin American community.
Soon after the earthquake, Independiente had to play their first match against River Plate and, although the team’s hometown had not been affected, they acted quickly and announced that they would donate their remaining home matches’ income to the disaster survivors and the local administration. This gesture of sympathy came as a complete surprise, coming from a club with such limited resources.
Independiente followed through by playing magnificently, and got a 2-0 win which pretty much secured their place in the quarterfinals. The scenes were truly moving as the whole stadium sang the Ecuadorian anthem and both teams presented banners and played with black armbands as a sign of respect.
The amount raised was around $181,500. This went viral online, and the touching gesture was recognized by the press from around the world. Because of this, the club decided that they would continue the donations.
After beating the champions, Independiente felt like they had already won the cup. They were standing alongside the eight best teams in South America. This meant a huge boost of confidence for the match against Pumas. Even though the match was significantly more difficult (2-2 agg.), goalkeeper Librado Azcona pulled a rabbit out of the hat when he saved Pumas’ third penalty, executed by striker Ismael Sosa who had scored two goals for the Pumas. This time the club was able to donate $200,000.
Will Independiente del Valle win the Copa Libertadores?
Although it is very unlikely, you never know. They have come all the way to the semi-finals, haven’t they? Independiente play Boca Juniors in Ecuador on July 7, and will try to get a comfortable result at home. I would dare to say they have the same chance as the other three teams, they just need to focus on making use of their strengths.
Boca Juniors are not an easy rival. In fact, Boca might be even more dangerous than any European team. Carlos Tévez and his side have had the Libertadores as their main objective ever since he arrived back in 2015. Like they say: “The séptima [the seventh title] is our obsession.”
On the other hand, Independiente del Valle do not have a Carlos Tévez. History and statistics are not on their side, either. But, it is their motivation that keeps them going. Their current record of eight games undefeated in Copa Libertadores speaks for itself. Having eliminated the current champions and a strong Mexican side, they have earned great respect. Hence, they could be very dangerous for Boca Juniors.
— Independiente Valle (@IDV_EC) May 28, 2016
Football is a sport where momentum is extremely important, and both teams currently have it. It should be an amazing and memorable couple of matches. Many suggest that this is as far as Independiente’s hopes go. Others believe the opposite. There are even people who are already predicting a Club World Cup Final between Independiente del Valle and Real Madrid.
Will they do it? Or will they succumb against one of the biggest clubs in the world? It doesn’t really matter any more, for Independiente del Valle have already been the protagonists of a beautiful story. Their solidarity should become a standard example of greatness. They might not achieve renown by lifting the trophy, but their people will always be thankful for what they are doing, and that is the most important thing.
Nicolás Miremont is a born and raised Boca Juniors fan, but his heart has a special place for Manchester United, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Dynamo Kiev. Miremont loves to support the underdogs. Miremont enjoys watching smaller competitions especially those from Eastern Europe, but also his native Argentina. Follow him on Twitter @Miremont_Nico