Copa Libertadores Final 1st Leg: How it Unfolded

South American big boys go head to head.

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This year’s match up in the Copa Libertadores Final is one steeped in history. Penarol’s last appearance in the final was back in 1987 when they won the competition. They have not appeared in a final since then but are still the 3rd most successful club in the competition with 5 wins and 4 occasions as runner up.

The teams dominated the Libertadores in the 1960s with Santos winning consecutive titles in ’62 and ’63. Penarol also won in ’60, ’61 and ’66. The Uruguayans finished runners up to Santos in the final of ’62 and also lost in the final of ’65. With so much history to this match between two historically rich clubs, the scene was set for a truly captivating game of football, and that is what was served up.

As the teams emerged from the dressing rooms underneath the Estadio Centenario, a veil of smoke encapsulated the pitch, with the incessant chants of the Penarol faithful pounding from beyond. Fireworks exploded through the mist adding to the majesty of the occasion. The substitutes soaked up the atmosphere with some relishing the event whilst the nerves of others were portrayed by their intense expressions.

Both in teams lined up in a 4-2-2-2 formation. Elano captained Santos due to the suspension of Edu Dracena. The former Man City man has been in tremendous form and earned himself a call-up for the Copa America squad. Ganso was not fit enough to make the bench for the Brazilians but that did not detract from the game.

Penarol were quickest out the blocks as they looked to take advantage of playing in front of their home crowd. Luis Aguiar was carrying the ball well in the middle of the park, always looking to get forward. He laid the ball off to Matias Mier who slid a pass in to Juan Manuel Oliveira but he stretched for the ball but was met by the keeper and the chance went begging. Along with Alejandro Martinuccio, Penarol were proving to be a real problem for the Santos defence.

Neymar seemed to be struggling in the first half. He could not find his touch and his poor control often led to the breakdown of Santos’ attacking momentum. The young Brazilian also showed his ugly side with some disgraceful diving which resulted in a booking. There were still a few touches of brilliance but Penarol did well to stifle him.

Santos grew into the game and a good run in from the right flank by Danilo who set up the left-back Alex Sandro released a powerful strike resulting in a corner. Bruno Rodrigo headed against the bar with the resulting corner. This was their best chance of the half and after it they were limited to a long ball game which was not fruitful for them.

There were plenty of chances with both teams forcing saves from the opposing Goalies. The best opportunities for the Uruguayans seemed to be falling to their defenders. Guillermo Rodriguez got a free header from 12 yards out after a ball from deep. The trajectory of the ball made it hard to generate power and he failed to really work the keeper. Later on the best chance of the half for Penarol fell to Dario Rodriguez attempted to lob Rafael in the Santos goal but the ball just bounced on the top of the net after he was played onside by Alex Sandro.

The Second half was still end to end but there was far less creation. Santos had another decent chance as Alex Sandro’s quick feet got him free down the left and he clipped a cross in to Ze Eduardo who headed the ball back across the goal but also across the far post and wide.

Penarol fashioned another couple of decent chances later on in the game. After a slick passing move Fabian Estoyanoff got free on the near corner of the box but his volley couldn’t find the net and was held by Rafael. Aguiar managed to create himself another chance as he got away from defenders on the edge of the box but it ended up being his own player, Oliveira, who took the ball of him with a shot that he scuffed wide.

As full time approached the Uruguayans were looking far more likely to score than Santos and were still searching for a lead to take to Brazil next week. In the 86th minute Diego Alonso tapped the ball in to the net after a shot was screwed across the box. For a moment the stadium erupted in a cacophony of sound until it was noted that the Referee’s Assistant had raised his flag. There could not have been more than a yard in it but the striker was definitely in an offside position.

So the game Montevideo finished 0-0 but was definitely not a bore draw. There were plenty of chances for both sides but Penarol will feel like they could, and possibly should, have won the match. The second leg in Brazil will take place on Wednesday 22nd June at 20:50 local time. This translates to an early Thursday morning kick off in the UK at 01:50. The stage is set for a superb climax with both sides going for the win. This Penarol side will look to step out of the shadows of the teams of the ‘60s and ‘80s and start writing their own history.

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