ASUNCION (Reuters) – Unheralded Ecuadorean side Independiente del Valle overcame a rain-sodden pitch to beat Argentina’s Colon 3-1 and win the Copa Sudamericana on Saturday in a final interrupted for over half an hour by a tropical downpour.
The game kicked off a new era which will see South American club competition finals follow the European model and be played over one match in a neutral venue but it was an inauspicious start.
Dark clouds gathered over the Nueva Olla stadium at kick-off and a violent thunderstorm broke out shortly afterwards, making the pitch unplayable within minutes.
Play was interrupted on the half hour just after Independiente had taken the lead with the help of the conditions.
A free kick was floated into the Colon area and Fernando Leon’s downward header landed in a puddle and slipped through goalkeeper Leonardo Burian’s hands and into the net.
Shortly after the re-start Independiente struck again when Jhon Sanchez burst down the left and his shot was deflected in off Emanuel Olivera.
Colon’s unhappy evening was complete when Luis Miguel Rodríguez, their top player who has guided them to the final, had a penalty saved by Jorge Pinos after halftime.
Olivera pulled one back for Colon in the 89th but Cristian Dajome sealed it with a breakaway goal in stoppage time.
South American finals have traditionally been played over two legs and there has been criticism over the new format as it is more difficult for fans to travel than in Europe due to the distances and costs involved.
Saturday’s match was well attended by fans who drove from neighbouring Argentina, however.
Independiente only reached Ecuador’s top flight for the first time in 2010, have no mass support and had never previously won a major trophy, although they reached the Libertadores final in 2016.
The Sudamericana is regarded as South America’s equivalent of the Europa League.
(Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)