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Copa Libertadores: Finishing Line In Sight

South America’s premier club competition is down to the final four.

As of this week, there are now only four teams left in the Libertadores. With the exception of the clash between Libertad and Velez, the games were tight and only decided by a single goal on aggregate.

Libertad and Velez was the first tie to reach its conclusion. The Paraguayans knew that they needed to press hard if they were to overturn the three goal deficit from the first leg. They were quick out the blocks, forcing a few saves early on from Barovero in the Velez goal. The game was extremely stretched as Libertad pressed and Velez countered which made for enthralling viewing.

The game looked like it would go to the break with both sides level, but Miguel Samudio, who had been tremendous with his bursts of pace down the life side as he charged forward from defence, finally created a breakthrough. His direct run down the left flank in the 45th minute was finished with a ball in to the box that Juan Rojas volleyed and bounced into the corner of the net with the ‘keeper rooted to the spot. The Libertad fans were euphoric, hoping that this would lead to another performance similar to the one that enabled them to knock Fluminense out in the previous round.

It may well have been the case if they had got to half time whilst still in the lead. However, within less than a minute, Velez got an equalizer after some lax defending allowed Maxi Moralez in and he duly finished. This meant Libertad needed four goals in the second half in order to progress. Manuel Maciel provided the home fans with some hope with a tremendous finish on his left foot. Pavlovich’s knock down was then layed off to Maciel who took one touch to get the ball out of his feet, then hammered it home across the goalie with great conviction.

Any chance that Libertad had of advancing was crushed by that man Maxi Moralez again who finished off what is undoubtedly one of the goals of the tournament. Some slick pass and move football down the left wing got the Argentines into the box where Emilliano Papa’s backheel was finished off by Moralez. Guillermo Franco, the former West Ham striker, won and converted a penalty late on after his slow motion fall in the box. Augusto Fernandez put the tie beyond doubt with his shot into an open goal couldn’t be kept out by the Libertad defenders who had got back on the line. The Argentinian Clausara leaders won the match 4-2 and a thumping 7-2 aggregate win.

Elsewhere, in Brazil, Santos took only a narrow 1-0 lead into their second leg at home against Once Caldas. The Colombians had previously beaten Cruzeiro on Brazilian soil so the tie was by no means settled. Potential Chelsea target Neymar opened the scoring in the 12th minute. He drilled the ball home from outside the box after a surging run from Danilo. He lost control of the ball and another promising youngster, Alan Patrick, deflected the ball to Neymar, who finished the attack off.

Santos peppered the Colombian goal with the majority of shots coming from Elano, however he only managed to get 3 out of 7 on target. That figure still managed to equal the total shots on target from the whole Once team. One of those shots being the goal that levelled the game. It was Once’s best player in the tournament Wason Renteria again who won a freekick out on the left after taking an undeserving tumble.

The ball was put into the box and flicked on, ricocheting off Edu Dracena into the Colombians path. Calls for offside from Santos were rightly ignored and Renteria tucked the ball away with great poise and control. This was not enough for Once as they still needed a couple more goals. The game ended 1-1 which put Santos into a Semi-Final match against the victor between Cerro Porteno and Jaguares.

After the first leg finished 1-1 in Mexico, the scene was set for a cagey, tense affair in Asuncion. That is precisely what happened. Roberto Nanni again couldn’t reach the form he had earlier in the tournament and Fabbro just couldn’t seem to initiate a breakthrough. One did come eventually however, and once again it was courtesy of some poor defending. This time the culprits were Jaguares.

Cerro whipped in a corner in the 73rd minute which Ismael Fuentes failed to deal with. His header looped up and back towards the centre of his own goal. The ‘keeper Villasenor was beaten to the ball as he flapped at it, enabling Pedro Benitez to head the ball the home. Fuentes poor night was compounded when he received his marching his orders 10 minutes later. This effectively eliminated any chance Jaguares had of equalizing and taking the tie to penalties. The Paraguayans will face Santos in the Semi’s.

Velez’s opponents were to be either Universidad Catolica or Penarol. The first leg finished 2-0 to Penarol in Uruguay courtesy of some shoddy goalkeeping. Garces still held his spot in goal for the Chileans for the second leg.

Catolica have been solid at home and took the lead in the 18th minute through Fernando Meneses with a superb, placed finish under pressure from the Penarol defence. Lucas Pratto slipped him in with a perfectly weighted ball after taking his time to get his head up. The on loan striker will no doubt be a regular feature at Boca after his performances for the Chileans and the retirement of Martin Palermo.

In the 69th minute the tie was brought back to square one. Jorge Ormeno, who has been fantastic in the last few games for the Chileans, played a short pass into Roberto Gutierrez. He took one touch to get the ball under control, another to roll the defender and his third touch was to slam the ball in to the back of the Penarol net. A 2-0 win for Catolica would have seen the game go to penalties.

However, that changed late on. It was the 85th minute and Luis Aguiar played a ball in from the left towards the back post. Fabian Estoyanoff, the ex-Valencia player, was on hand to tap the ball in to the back of the net. The away goal so late on ensured Penarol’s qualification and a date with Velez in the Semi finals. Luis Aguiar had another good game and may be seen in Europe once his loan spell from Dinamo Moscow finishes.

It was a shame to see Catolica bow out after being such an entertaining in this hugely open tournament. They have done their fans and the whole of Chile proud with their run and performances. The same goes for Jaguares who showed great grit and determination in their campaign. However, it is great to see Penarol in the Semi’s after years of being in the shadows of their great side of the early 1960s. The club has 5 Libertadores titles to its name and four runner-up positions, so it is fantastic to see them still in with a shout of reaching the final. Santos have a great chance of reaching the final, and with the Brazilian Serie A starting this weekend you can be sure their form is likely to improve.

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More Stories Cerro Porteno Guillermo Franco Jaguares Libertad Maxi Moralez Santos Velez Sarsfield Wason Renteria