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Velez Sarsfield were a goal away from a spot in the Copa Libertadores final with 15 minutes remaining in the second leg of the semifinal tie with Penarol and they had themselves a penalty kick. The home supporters were ready to erupt as the winning goal sat on the penalty spot and Santiago Silva stood ready to send the Argentinean club onto South America's biggest stage for a club. Then, the home field rebelled. Silva slipped as he kicked the ball and it went flying over the crossbar to keep the tie level at 2-2 on aggregate with Penarol's singular away goal the difference as the Uruguayan's celebrated their spot in the final.
Penarol had done their job in the first leg, winning 1-0 and keeping Velez from the vital away goal. Then on Thursday night, Matias Mier tallied in the 33rd minute and Penarol wasn't just ahead 1-0 in the match and 2-0 on aggregate, but they had themselves an away goal and with less than an hour remaining, the spot in the finals looked like it was theirs.
Velez responded though. After Penarol's goal, the home side pressured and pressured. Shots just missed the goal and chances were missed by inches, but in the 45th minute, they finally got their first goal of the tie. Velez got on the end of a free kick and while it was saved, the rebound fell right to Fernando Tobio, who finished into an empty goal.
The goal was followed by some bad blood. Penarol's Carlos Valdez and Velez's Silva got tangled up and neither appreciated the physicality. While the two pushed and shoved each other, the other players on the pitch jumped into the fracas and seemingly everyone had an issue with someone on the other team. Nothing much came out of the scuffle except for intensity that would spill over to the second half.
Even at 1-1 in the match, but trailing 2-1 on aggregate and behind on away goals, Velez needed to make up two goals in the second half to avoid elimination. That goal came in the 66th minute courtesy Silva, who was a handful for the Penarol defense all night. Velez needed just one more goal to complete the comeback.
That chance at a goal came just 15 minutes from full time. The referee pointed at the spot and the winning goal was just 12 yards away. Silva stepped up and took it with confidence, but his plant foot slipped from under him. The ball went over the crossbar and Velez's chance at a spot in the final was gone.
Penarol held on for the final minutes and while just even on aggregate, that goal earlier in the match by Mier was all they needed. It was their away goal that pushed them over the top and into the final where Brazil's Santos F.C. await with the continental championship on the line.
Velez Sarsfield and Penarol are in the same place they started the match at, level, but the two-legged tie has turned even more in favor of the Uruguayans. Penarol began the match leading 1-0 on aggregate after taking care of business at home and they opened the scoring with a Matias Mier score. Fernando Tobio equalized for Velez and brought the aggregate score to 2-1, within striking distance, but Penarol already had the most vital of things, an away goal. With the match at halftime, Penarol just needs to see out the final 45 minutes and not give up two goals to advance to the final, where Santos F.C. is waiting.
Alejandro Martinuccio did the hard work for Penarol's first goal, setting up Mier and sending the sizable traveling supporters clad in black and yellow into a frenzy. Penarol looked as if they had booked a spot in the final with Velez needing three goals to top the Uruguayans.
Velez pushed hard for those those three goals and got one of them just before halftime. They spent 10 minutes pressuring the Penarol goal, just missing time and time again, but finally they broke through. A free kick to the top of the six-yard box was put on goal, where it was saved. It bounced right into the path of Tobio though, who bundled it in and got Velez back in the tie.
It is a tie that has become filled with intensity and bad blood. Not long after the goal, Santiago Silva and Carlos Valdez got tangled up. Neither player appreciated the physicality and it turned into a pushing and shoving match with all of the players on the field involved.
That type of animosity is sure to carry over into the second half, where Velez will have to play with urgency. If they cannot manage a pair of goals, their Copa Libertadores will come to an end and Penarol will roll into the final.
One match left and one spot in the Copa Libertadores final left. Penarol did their job in winning and not allowing an away goal in the first leg at home, but it was only a one goal win. Now they have to play at Velez Sarsfield, who have a chance to erase that one goal deficit and move onto the final in this semifinal second leg.
The Penarol supporters have made the trip to Argentina and along with the Velez supporters are making for an incredible atmosphere. The stadium is awash in blue and white, smoke and flares, signs and flags. That is except for one end that is black and yellow, but they are becoming increasingly difficult to see with the blue and white confetti falling down on them, as well as everyone else in the stadium.
Velez Sarsfied (4-4-2): Marceloa Barovero; Emiliano Papa, Fabian Cubero, Fernando Ortiz, Sebastian Dominguez; Victor Zapata, Maxi Moralez, Augusto Fernandez, Hector Canteros; Santiano Silva, Juan Manuel Martinez
Penarol (4-5-1): Sebastian Sosa; Guillermo Rodriguez, Dario Rodriguez, Alejandro Gonzalez, Carlos Valdez; Luis Aguiar, Alejandro Martinuccio, Andres Freitas, Mathias Corujo, Matias Mier; Juan Manuel Olivera
Cerro Porteno may have made an entire Copa Libertadores run by making neutrals hate them with the most boring football ever, but with their backs against the wall they turned in a thrilling performance. Unfortunately for their raucous home supporters who turned the stadium into a sea of red, blue and noise, it was not enough. Santos FC went up early at Cerro and held on for dear life to draw the tournament semifinal second leg 3-3 and advance to the Copa Libertadores final 4-3 on aggregate.
Things started brightly for Santos. Neymar drew a free kick early on and Ze Eduardo got on the end of it to head it home and put Santos up 2-0 on aggregate. That, along with the away goal, made it look like it was over for the attack-lite Cerro team. They didn't make things easier on themselves when a ball headed back to goalkeeper Diego Barreto by his own teammate turned into comedy. Barreto barely made contact with the pass back, and it went into the net for a 3-0 Santos lead.
Cesar Benitez did his part to try and bring Cerro back before halftime. He got on the end of a corner kick to get the home side on the scoreboard, but it looked like it wouldn't matter much. Neymar scored right before the break and Santos were up 4-1 on aggregate. At halftime, Cerro appeared dead.
Apparently nobody told Cerro they were dead. Juan Manuel Lucero made things mildly interesting 30 minutes before fulltime with a goal for Cerro. They deserved the goal after controlling play and attacking well so when Lucero got the ball right in front of goal and finished, it seemed deserved. Too little, too late, but deserved.
Jonathan Fabbro made it look like it might not be too little, too late though. Fabbro scored a sensational individual goal, dancing on the ball as Santos defenders tried to take it from him. His great footwork opened up some space and he ripped a shot from distance that just got under the bar to make it 4-3 on aggregate. Cerro were alive.
Unfortunately for Cerro, that is all they had. Their one bright and entertaining match couldn't erase a tournament full of negative football and the football gods showed their might. Santos got the result they needed to advance to the Copa Libertadores final and Cerro were sent home.
The worst thing that could ever happen to the football world might be happening. Cerro Porteno might stay alive in Copa Libertadores. The boring and bunkering Cerro might not be dead. They looked dead. They looked very dead. What else do you call a team down 4-1 on aggregate with not much time left? Well, Cerro aren't dead. They're not dead at all. Jonathan Fabbro scored an amazing goal to make the second leg of this Copa Libertadores semifinal 3-3 and cut the aggregate lead for Santos to 4-3. Time is low, but Cerro are alive.
It's tough to say just how great Fabbro's goal was. He took the ball 30 yards from goal and danced around as Santos tried to take it from him. A spin and some fancy footwork cleared just enough space for him so he unleashed a great shot. It just barely got under the post, Cerro had a goal and they were alive.
It shouldn't matter. It probably won't matter. Hopefully it won't matter. Cerro Porteno scored to make the match between them and Santos 3-2 and the tie 4-2 on aggregate with just 30 minutes left to play. If all is right with the football world, Santos will hold on and move onto the Copa Libertadores final, eliminating boring and bunkering Cerro from the tournament for good. We are not sure that all is right with the football world though so Cerro may manage a comeback. We just hope not.
The goal came thanks to Juan Manuel Lucero. Cerro found space along the right side and built up through there, playing quick passes before a cross from the right came in. It was right at the top of the six-yard box where it was knocked down back to Lucero in the center where he was all alone. He brought the ball down, turned, settled and shot for the goal that hopefully won't matter.
Unlike most of Cerro Porteño's matches in the knockout stages up until this point in the Copa Libertadores, this match has been anything but boring. Cerro are in big trouble and in need of four more goals to advance to the final, but at the very least, they've been forced to come out of their shell against Santos FC. However, they're only doing so because Santos has such a big lead, although Cerro has one goal of their own. At halftime of the second leg of their semifinal tie, Santos lead by a score of 3-1, 4-1 on aggregate.
The first goal, which was a virtual dagger, happened just three minutes in. Neymar drew a free kick on the left wing which was taken by Elano, and Ze Eduardo headed home his ball at the near post. With Santos having a 2-0 lead and an away goal, Cerro were in big trouble. They were forced to start playing a more ambitious style, and they paid for it.
Santos added a second in the 28th minute, and it was caused by a comedy of errors. On a long ball forward from the Santos back line, Pedro Benitez hit a strong header back towards his goalkeeper, Diego Barreto. Barreto's effort to push the ball away was absolutely terrible as he got way under the ball, barely grazing the underside, causing it to spin into the back of his net. Benitez was credited with the own goal.
Cerro has pulled one back, but it will almost certainly be nothing more than a consolation goal. Cesar Benitez was the scorer, heading a corner kick into the back of the net to make it 2-1. That goal was quickly erased, though, and Cerro's deficit would go back to three goals just before the stroke of halftime, when Neymar scored to make it 3-1 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate. It would take nothing short of a literal act of God for Cerro to reach the final at this point.
After just three minutes of play in the second leg of their Copa Libertadores semifinal, it looks like Cerro Porteño's dream run in the competition is over. They've managed to upset Estudiantes La Plata and get past a flawed, but entertaining Jaguares de Chiapas team to this point, but thanks to a 3rd minute goal by Ze Eduardo, the superior Santos FC has a crippling away goal and 2-0 aggregate lead.
It may seem harsh to write Cerro's obituary with 87 minutes remaining in the game, especially in a competition as wild as Copa Libertadores, but it's tough to see them coming back from this. Their success has been based on their defense, and they play a very compact and defensive style. Shifting away from that and into a more attacking style of play seems like something that is a bit over their heads, especially against the team that is arguably the most talented team outside of Europe.
The goal came on a free kick, drawn by Neymar, who was fouled hard on the left wing, about 25 yards out from goal. Elano stepped up to take the free kick and delivered a great curling ball to the near post, which was headed in powerfully by Ze Eduardo.
Cerro have already made a substitution, bringing Juan Iturbe into the game for Ivan Torres.
Unsurprisingly, being down one goal hasn't changed the philosophy of Cerro Porteño. They need to beat Santos FC 1-0 or by two goals if Santos score, but they're still putting their defense first, or so their lineup implies. They appear to be playing with their normal 4-5-1 setup that features a double pivot behind Jonathan Fabbro, but it has the potential to become an attacking formation if need be. Roberto Nanni remains out of the lineup, and Fredy Jose Bareiro starts up top.
For Santos, they're still without Paulo Henrique Ganso, but they're not replacing him with Alan Patrick today. It looks like Santos is playing slightly more conservatively than usual, as both Danilo and Adriano are playing, along with Arouca. This could result in something closer to a 4-3-1-2 than their usual 4-2-2-2 "magic box" setup. Despite a setup that might look conservative by their standards, it still features Neymar, Ze Eduardo, and Elano. Here are the lineups.
Cerro Porteño lineup: Barreto, Uglessich, P. Benitez, C. Benitez, Piris, Caceres, Burgos, Fabbro, Torres, Lucero, Bareiro
Santos FC lineup: Rafael, Edu Dracena, Durcal, Alex Sandro, Jonathan, Arouca, Adriano, Danilo, Elano, Neymar, Ze Eduardo
The game kicks off at 8:50 pm ET and can be seen on Fox Deportes in the United States. Santos lead the series 1-0, and the away goals rule is in effect.
We're just two games and 180 (or more?) minutes away from determining the participants in the 2011 Copa Libertadores final. Four teams from four different countries remain, and based on their performances thus far, it would be tough to say that any of them are not worthy participants.
Though Cerro Porteño don't play the most aesthetically pleasing style of football, their defensive record is impressive. Peñarol are a great counter-attacking side, and it's great to see a resurgence from such a historically great club. Santos FC are what one would think they are, a side full of young Brazilian stars and attacking flair. Velez Sarsfield, before their last two matches in Copa and domestic football, were the most in-form team on the continent. They're four teams from four different countries with four very different styles, and that's what makes Copa Libertadores such an entertaining competition.
The television networks and lovers of attacking football probably want to see the glamorous Santos-Velez final take place, but that's looking a little more unlikely today than it was the day before the first legs of the semifinals started. Velez have more of a large hill to climb than a mountain after an understandable, but still tough 1-0 loss away to Peñarol, but it will still be a very difficult result to overturn.
In the other tie, Santos FC are in control, but hardly secure after a 1-0 win at home. It's tough to see Cerro scoring two more goals than Santos, but their crowd will be absolutely raucous in Asunción, trying to push their team to victory. Win or lose, Cerro's crowd will be large and loud, both in support of them and in opposition to Santos. Expect projectiles to be thrown.
Cerro Porteño Vs. Santos FC
Wednesday, 8:50 pm ET
Even though they need a 1-0 win or a win by two goals to have a chance to advance, don't expect Cerro Porteño to return to the more attacking style of football that they played in the group stages. Manager Leonardo Astrada will probably feel like taking his chances on nicking a goal through Roberto Nanni's magic or a set piece, rather than actually playing an ambitious style. And really, who can blame him? You might think it's negative or not proper football, but it's certainly not unintelligent. Without an away goal, an attacking slugfest against Santos is suicide.
Do I have to tell you about Santos at this stage of the competition? There's Neymar, who is probably a future Chelsea player. Ze Roberto, who has already signed for Genoa. Elano, who has played for Manchester City, Galatasaray, and Shakhtar Donetsk. Paulo Henrique Ganso is injured, but he will likely wear a Milan shirt one day. Edu Dracena, their captain, had a long career in Greece. Holding midfielder Arouca and Ganso's replacement, Alan Patrick, have European futures ahead of them. This is the most talented team in South America, bar none. Will they turn that into goals in Asunción? If they score just once, this tie is likely over.
I like Santos to get that goal early, then concentrate more on their defense than they usually do. Cerro will nick one on the counter or a set piece, but it won't be enough. I like a 1-1 draw, with Santos going through to the final.
Velez Sarsfield Vs. Peñarol
Thursday, 8:50 pm ET
What's this, are cracks starting to appear in Velez? The team that looked unstoppable in both Argentina and Copa Libertadores for months has now lost two straight games - one in Copa and one in Argentina - and both their Clausura title and their spot in the Copa Libertadores final are very much in jeopardy. After a 1-0 loss in Montevideo to Peñarol, Velez needs the same thing that Cerro needs: A 1-0 win or a win by two goals. This seems manageable for a team who absolutely destroyed LDU Quito and Libertad, but Peñarol are stronger defensively than both of those teams.
However, Velez did not play Maxi Moralez in the first leg against Peñarol or their loss to Tigre, as he was recovering from an injury. He's back and will start on Thursday, and that's absolutely massive news for Velez. Also sitting out of that loss to Tigre was Santiago Silva, who will return to the starting lineup, replacing the ineffective Guillermo Franco, who has also returned from injury in recent weeks. The presence of Moralez in the starting lineup and Franco on the bench should, in theory, give Velez the firepower to put a couple of goals past Peñarol.
They will have to be careful, though, as Peñarol are a team who are deadly at counter-attacking down the wings. This has been a feature of many of the teams who have pulled massive upsets in Copa in recent years, such as Defensor Sporting in 2009 and Universidad de Chile in 2010, and Peñarol is continuing that tradition. Up top, Juan Manuel Olivera has finished off most of those chances, and he's also deadly on set pieces. They might find it tough to get the ball against a Velez team starting Moralez at home, but when they do, they have the ability to counter quickly and find Olivera in the box.
If Peñarol can find an away goal before Velez get two, it's probably lights out for the favorites. However, I think Velez are going to score more than twice on Thursday night. Peñarol will make it interesting with an away goal, but ultimately, Velez advance with a 3-1 victory.
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