Numerous Latin American sides such as Colombia, Chile and Costa Rica shined at the recently World Cup in Brazil and performed beyond expectations. Yet the Cinderella stories have also taken place in South America’s premier soccer club tournament: the Copa Libertadores.
Paraguayan team Nacional continued their fairy tale run by winning 2-1 in the semifinal aggregate score against Uruguay’s Defensor Sporting.
The Asuncion-based side entered Tuesday’s semifinal second leg in Montevideo having won 2-0 in the first leg last week. From the beginning of the match Defensor Sporting constantly pressured their rivals with the hope of at least tying up the aggregate score. Nacional goalkeeper Ignacio Don came up big on several occasions especially in the first half when he denied a one-on-one chance by opposing forward Giorgian De Arrascaeta. Despite several good Defensor chances in the opening half Don’s teammates also stood tough yet De Arrascaeta got a measure of revenge when he assisted on Adrian Luna’s goal in the 55th minute.
Following Luna’s tap-in, the Uruguayan team came very close to scoring the key second goal that would’ve tied the series and sent the semifinal to a penalty shootout. Numerous Defensor attacks rang off the goalposts including a Felipe Gedoz blast that would’ve beaten Don but missed by inches and a Robert Herrera point-blank shot that hit the crossbar. In the end, Nacional would hold on by slimmest of margins and the 110-year-old club booked their ticket to the Libertadores finals for the first time in team history.
“This is unique, unbelievable. I hope Paraguayan people can be altogether in the name of the country,” said Don following the final whistle.
“I've always dreamed of playing in professional football and then the Copa Libertadores. Now, I'm playing the finals because we've been warriors on the field,” he added about the unfashionable team that normally plays at a stadium with maximum seating for 4000 spectators.
Hundreds of Nacional fans clad in the traditional red, white and blue colors of the team welcomed the squad back home this morning. Amidst applause and chants, head coach Gustavo Morínigo, Don and his teammates stepped of the plane “with looks of satisfaction” on their faces.
Despite the defeat in the semifinals, the Uruguayan press praised the Defensor team that saw its best run Libertadores run in the team’s history.
“Defensor did everything they could…and they did not fail themselves. It’s an honor to lose this way,” said one article in El Observador.
Nacional will look to become Paraguay’s second-ever champion of the Libertadores but will likely face a tough rival in the finals. Argentine side San Lorenzo holds a seemingly unassailable 5-0 first leg advantage over Bolivar of Bolivia. The second leg will be played tonight in the high altitude of La Paz amid mourning over the passing away today of an important mover and shaker of South American and world soccer:
Fifa vice-president and head of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) Julio Grondona has passed away aged 82. After being admitted to hospital with a heart problem on Wednesday morning.
Grondona's condition deteriorated rapidly in the following hours and he was ultimately unable to overcome his fight with ill-health.
He had been in charge of the Argentine FA for 35 years and was responsible for the construction of the Ezeiza training complex, where the national side are now based.This year’s Copa Libertadores has seen its fair share of upsets that included 2013 champs Atletico Mineiro knocked out in the Round of 16 and no Brazilian sides heading to the semifinals for the first time since 1991.
Video Source – YouTube user Futbolpasionmundial3
Online Sources – Goal.com; Diario ABC Color; FIFA.com; Milenio.com; FourFourTwo