COPA LIBERTADORES: Semi-Final Report

CopaLibertadores

WEDNESDAY 4TH JULY – SEMI FINAL – FIRST LEG

OLIMPIA (PAR) 2-0 SANTA FE (COL)

Santa Fe have it all to do in the second leg of their semi-final as Paraguayan side Olimpia put themselves on the brink of the Copa Libertadores final with a 2-0 win. The Colombians fought, and fought but they did not enough, and leave Asuncion knowing it could have been worse if it were not for goalkeeper Camilo Vargas.

Olimpia - Santa Fe (Gallery)

Herminio Miranda scored the opener in the 65th minute with a penalty and substitute Juan-Carlos Ferreyra made it two, ten minutes from time. Both sides played the second period with just ten men after referee Heber Lopes showed the red card to Santa Fe midfielder Gerardo Bedoya and Olimpia striker Juan-Manuel Salgueiro for an off-the-ball incident at the end of the first half. On replays, the decision looked harsh as neither man looked like they should have seen red but the Brazilian referee was taking no prisoners. Amazingly, this was the 37-year-old Bedoya’s 41st sending off in his long and illustrious career.

Ever Hugo Almeida felt Olimpia would miss the attacking prowess of Salgueiro so brought on Ferreyra at the interval. However, the vital substitution by Almeida was to be replacing Ricardo Mazacotte for Alejandro Silva. Silva’s running and accuracy gave Santa Fe all sorts of problems from the first minute of the second half, pushing Olimpia forward to clinch the two-goal advantage before travelling to Bogota for the second leg next week.

Silva was very dangerous in the opening minutes of the second-half, with a 55th-minute strike from outside the box saved by Vargas. Julio Manzur also had a good opportunity but his header, after Silva’s free-kick, went just wide of the right post just past the hour mark.

The crucial moment came three minutes later when Silva was brought down by Vargas in the area and Miranda opened the scoring from the spot-kick.

Olimpia - Santa Fe (Gallery)

Olimpia, backed by 32,000 supporters at the loud Estadio Defensores del Chaco, looked for a second and Santa Fe were left shell-shocked. With just 10 minutes remaining, Eduardo Aranda began a counter-attack, passing the ball to Silva, who assisted Ferreyra. The striker had a simplest of finishes to double the lead.

Ferreyra, who was not fully fit, was replaced soon after by Enzo Prono, who could have made it three in the 86th minute, but Vargas saved his team and also stopped a Matias Gimenez attempt in stoppage time to keep Santa Fe in the tie.

The usually passionate Santa Fe did not look themselves, captain Omar Perez was quiet and star striker Wilder Medina failed to have a shot on goal. Coach Wilson Gutiérrez will have to regroup his team and look to his attackers to get the important three goals next week.

The other semi-final is tonight when the two favourites for the competition meet when Newell’s Old Boys of Argentina hosts Brazil’s Atletico Mineiro.

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WillBurns

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WorldFootballWeekly.com

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THURSDAY 5TH JULY – SEMI FINAL – FIRST LEG

NEWELLS OLD BOYS (ARG) 2-0 ATLETICO MINIERO (BRA)

Newell’s Old Boys took a step towards their third ever Copa Libertadores Final with a 2-0 victory over Atletico Miniero in Rosario last night. A closely fought game was decided by two decisive moments from the ever-dangerous Maxi Rodriguez and the supremely talented, Ignacio Scocco. Maxi’s 61st minute header and Scocco’s curling free kick in the 80th minute give Newell’s a glorious opportunity ahead of the return leg in Brasil but they will be wary given the attacking prowess of this Miniero side.

Going into this game Newell’s, in the aftermath of being crowned Torneo Final winners, had lost 3 games in a row all by a goal to nil whereas Miniero had not played at all for over 2 weeks given Brasil’s hosting of the Confederations cup but both sides fielded very familiar first elevens. Gerardo Martino opted for a side that has served him well this year and Miniero welcomed back Bernard and Jo from Brasil duty to join the likes of Ronaldinho, Diego Tardelli and Gilberto Silva.

The opening 45 minutes was a pretty even and tense affair but the home side perhaps created the better opportunities only to be thwarted by Miniero stopper, Victor. However, the half’s best opening fell to the much-hyped, young talent Bernard. Ronaldinho split the Newell’s defence with a through ball and Bernard’s decision to try and round Newell’s goalkeeper, Nahuel Guzman proved costly as Guzman got down well to pluck the ball off the feet of the prodigious Brasilian.

The second half belonged to Newell’s and although they had to ride their luck to some extent were good value for a two goal lead. Early in the half a Jo knockdown fell to Ronaldinho but he completely fluffed his volleyed effort and sent it high into the stands. From then on it was Newell’s and just after the hour mark they got their breakthrough. A corner from the right was never really cleared by the Brasilian defence and as it was floated back in again, Maxi Rodriguez eluded any marker to firmly plant his header back across goal. Another crucial goal from the ex-Atletico Madrid and Liverpool man, who has proved to be a wonderful signing by Martino.

Shortly after, Maxi almost made it two when his shot rebounded off the post and his follow up effort was cleared from the goal-line. Then Miniero thought they had scored the all important away goal as Jo followed up a saved effort only to see his goal chalked out for offside. The decision was marginal but with the help of a replay looked correct by inches. As the game was heading for a nervy final 10 minutes, Newell’s won a freekick 25 yards from goal and top goal scorer Nacho Scocco stepped up and curled his effort round the wall into the bottom corner. From a man who has missed his last 3 penalties, most importantly his spotkick in the Superfinal last weekend, it was a wonderful moment of redemption. Scocco now has 6 goals in this year’s competition to join Tardelli and Jo at the top of the charts and further enhance his reputation ahead of a probable European move in the coming weeks.

There is still plenty of work to be done when the two sides meet again in Brasil and Newell’s will be without Lucas Bernardi and Pablo Perez, both suspended after picking up yellow cards, but the dream of Libertadores glory is now tangible. Beaten finalist in 1988 and 1992, when manager Gerardo Martino was a player, Newell’s now dream to go one better.

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