The Argentinian hosts are guaranteed to advance as group winners having amassed an impressive tally of 15 points so far, while their Chilean counterparts will partake in the knockout round playoffs.
Perfection has been the name of the game for Newell’s Old Boys in the 2023 Copa Sudamericana so far, and Gabriel Heinze’s men can be forgiven for already having one eye on the last 16 with a first-placed finish now wrapped up.
Sweeping aside Audax Italiano, Brazilian powerhouses Santos and Bolivian whipping boys Blooming, Newell’s Old Boys have five wins to show from their five affairs in continental football this term, but they left it very late indeed to put Santos to the sword on the penultimate matchday.
A Marcos Leonardo header would seemingly rescue a point for Santos after Juan Sforza’s opener, but with 98 minutes on the clock, a sweeping counter-attack ended with Marcos Portillo sealing a 2-1 win for Heinze’s side, thereby taking the pressure off their shoulders for Thursday’s showdown.
The hosts have been solid if yet unspectacular since that smash-and-grab win over Santos, playing out a pair of 1-1 draws with Union and Huracan in the Primera Division to remain entrenched in mid-table in 11th place, having now shared the spoils in each of their last three league affairs.
Juggling domestic and continental commitments can no doubt be cited as a reason for their mediocre top-flight results, but Heinze has nevertheless overseen a six-game unbeaten run in all tournaments, and they have incredibly conceded just three goals in 13 home matches across all tournaments in the 2023 season.
Similarly, in-form Chilean visitors Audax also came out on the correct end of a 2-1 scoreline on matchday five to punch their ticket to a knockout round playoff tie, surviving a brief scare against basement team Blooming to capture all three points.
Two strikes from Matías Sepulveda either side of a Jose Sinisterra equaliser ensured that Audax Italiano would get a second bite at the cherry in the playoffs, which could pit them against a third-placed team dropping down from the Copa Libertadores, but Luca Marcogiuseppe’s battle preparations have been going rather swimmingly in recent weeks.
Indeed, the visitors travel to Argentina on the back of a five-game winning streak in all tournaments, most recently seeing off Deportes Rengo in the third round of the Copa Chile – prevailing 2-1 for the third game in a row – and a revival in the Chilean Primera Division has allowed them to rise to 10th place following an atrocious start.
Only one of Los Tanos’ last nine games in all competitions has not ended with Marcogiuseppe’e men taking maximum spoils – although they have just one clean sheet to boast from their last six contests – but the 2023 crop will make history as the first Audax Italiano team to ever compete in a continental knockout game.
The Chilean outfit were on the verge of gleaning a point against Newell’s Old Boys on matchday one, but Brian Aguirre popped up with an injury-time winner for the Argentinian outfit in a 1-0 success, so Audax Italiano have one incentive to come up trumps in this otherwise inconsequential meeting.
Newell’s Old Boys Copa Sudamericana form:
Newell’s Old Boys form (all competitions):
Audax Italiano Copa Sudamericana form:
Audax Italiano form (all competitions):
We say: Newell’s Old Boys 1-1 Audax Italiano
Vengeance may be playing on the minds of the Audax crop, but neither the visitors nor Newell’s need over-exert themselves as they endeavour to avoid any serious injuries before the knockout rounds commence.
The visitors have been scoring for fun of late, but they should not get much change out of a well-drilled Newell’s backline, and a cagey affair could end with the two sides shaking hands on a draw – one which will end the hosts’ 100% record in Group E.