Bruno Henrique, Dudu lead Palmeiras to 2-0 victory over Colo Colo
There was an obvious fear hanging over the last of the quarterfinal first-leg ties in South America's Copa Libertadores.
Colo Colo of Chile had home advantage. But they looked outgunned against Palmeiras of Brazil, who had won all of their previous away games in the competition. The Chileans would almost certainly make a cautious start, trying to make sure they did not concede an away goal, and hoping their impish playmaker Jorge Valdivia could come up with a piece of magic to break the deadlock.
Palmeiras coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, meanwhile, was likely to be primarily concerned with marking Valdivia and reducing his space. The prospect was, then, for a stalemate, the type of game where everyone would be happy with a scoreless draw.
That fear did not last very long. Palmeiras, committing men forward and taking advantage of the lucidity of midfielder Moises, who first split the home defence with a ball down the right, and then, when the corss came in from the other flank, cleverly laid off for Bruno Henrique to fire past the goalkeeper.
Colo Colo now had no choice. They had to press. Right wing back Oscar Opazo began to advance down the flank, opening up space for Valdivia's passing. The game had already taken on a different complexion.
Now there were three questions. Could Colo Colo's ageing side sustain a rhythm quick enough to trouble the Palmeiras defence? Might they over-reach and leave themselves open to the counterattack? And what would be the approach of Palmeiras?
The Brazilians, built around the intelligence of Moises, would seem to have the resources to pass their opponents out of the game. But they chose not to. Instead the idea was to sit deep, give Colo Colo the pitch, draw their sting and then burst forward on the break.
This has its risks. Both Palmeiras central midfielders were on a yellow card before half-time. The Chileans were able to build up a head of steam, and they caused a few dangerous moments, especially from set pieces.
The Palmeiras plan, though, went entirely as scripted, and inside the last 15 minutes they launched a charge. Willian had his shot pushed onto a post and Dudu blasted home the goal that all but decided the tie at 2-0.
It is easy to make a case for the idea that Palmeiras are capable of more. They have such strength in depth that they are able to bring on Lucas Lima, who two years ago was wearing Brazil's number ten shirt, in second-half stoppage time. It is well worth speculating that Lima and Moises together could dictate an attractive midfield rhythm. But current methods are working well. They now have five away wins from five away matches, in a campaign that has taken them to a number of difficult venues.
In the previous round Palmeiras beat Cerro Porteno of Paraguay 2-0 away from home in the first leg -- and then put qualification in jeopardy when former World Cup midfielder Felipe Melo was sent off right at the start of the rematch. Palmeiras lost 1-0 that night, and spent the last few minutes praying for the final whistle.
A similar lapse is hard to imagine in this second leg. Unless Colo Colo can stage a remarkable recovery the semifinals of the 2018 Libertadores will be an affair exclusively for Brazil and Argentina.