The regular season draws to a close in the Colombian Primera A this weekend, with Clausura playoffs just around the corner. Just five teams have already qualified for the eight quarter-final positions on offer, with another five vying for the last three spots this weekend. Our preview will look ahead to the final round’s biggest games, analyse the form teams and ask whether this is finally Atlético Nacional’s year.
A look at the table: Who can still qualify?
Qualified: Atlético Nacional (1st), Millonarios (2nd), Tolima (3rd), Pereira (4th), Junior (5th)
In contention: Petrolera (6th), Dep. Cali (7th), Envigado (8th), Jaguares de Cordoba (9th), Bucaramanga (10th)
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Petrolera and Deportivo Cali find themselves in the driving seat with one game to go; they can theoretically still drop points and qualify, so long as results elsewhere go their way. Envigado, on the other hand, are level on points with both Jaguares and Bucaramanga. Their goal difference is only marginally better than their rivals, so anything other than a convincing win will likely lead to a nervy reliance on their opponents faltering.
All five teams will be confident of gaining a win in their last game; each apart from Petrolera are facing an opponent in the bottom six. Petrolera face Junior, who sit above them in fifth place. Junior have already qualified, so Petrolera will be hoping that they rest some players in advance of the playoffs – particularly Venezuelan forward Luis Gonzalez, who has six goals and three assists this season.
A look at the form: Who are the favourites?
If recent results are anything to go by, calling a favourite is almost impossible. Just two of the top 10 teams – all those that could possibly qualify – have recorded consecutive victories in their last five matches.
One of those teams is Atlético Nacional, who despite topping the league, have drawn their last three league games 0-0. The other team is Deportivo Cali, who actually have won four of their last five games and will be hoping to carry that form into the Clausura tournament – providing they get the result against Once Caldas at the weekend.
A team hoping that their recent form will count for nothing in the playoffs is Millonarios. Before their recent draw, they had lost their last three games and found themselves in danger of being dragged into the fight to qualify. They face Atlético Nacional at the weekend and a strong showing will boost confidence heading into the quarter finals.
An inside look: Atlético Nacional
Atletico are the league leaders and cannot be caught – they find themselves nine points clear of Millonarios ahead of their clash this weekend. They have lost just once all season, back at the beginning of October. They also boast the league’s top scorer: Jefferson Duque, who has a phenomenal nine goals and five assists this season – averaging almost a goal or assist per game. They have all but won the Copa Colombia, having reached the final and destroyed Pereira 5-0 in the first leg, a game in which Duque scored a brace – with the second leg to be played on the 25th of November.
But Atlético Nacional have been here before. In the earlier Apertura season of this year, they also topped the league and boasted an incredible record. They were unduly knocked out in the quarter final stage of the playoffs, ending their season with nothing to show for it. They have not won the Primera since the 2017 Apertura – an absolute age for one of the biggest teams in South America, let alone Colombia.
Form goes out the window in playoffs, but Atlético Nacional will be hoping their wait for a league title can come to an end.