Thursday, 2 July 2009

Copa Libertadores: Argentina v Brazil

Photo: Clarin

There are some matches when you simply have to be there, whatever the hurdles to be overcome. Last night's Copa Libertadores semi-final 2nd leg between Nacional (0) and Estudiantes de la Plata (1) in Montevideo was one such example. This was made all the more difficult for supporters of Estudiantes as away fans were banned from both legs after the two clubs were unable to agree on ticket allocations. It would be a game that separated the fanatics from the fans. For the Estudiantes fanatics who were present their tales will be told and re-told in the years to come and form part of Pincha folklore.

It's estimated that around 300 plain clothed away fans covertly found their way into the Centanario stadium sprinkled amongst 50,000 Nacional supporters. Tickets were most likely acquired by Uruguayan contacts or Penarol fans (my enemy's enemy is my friend). With both teams sharing 6 Cups between them including 2 previous final encounters in 1969 and 1971 this was an opportunity for today's players to forge their own places in history. Once the largest stadium outside of the British Isles the Centanario was lit up with fireworks and flares prior to kick-off, only a win would see the Uruguayans through to the final. Estudiantes controlled the game for long periods and took the lead just after half time when Mauro Boselli calmly lifted the ball over the advancing 'keeper. Nacional were finally stung into action and equalised - Mariano Andújar conceding his first goal in 801 minutes of Copa Libertadores football. Boselli killed the tie in stoppage time and in doing so became joint top scorer in this years competition ( Far from being the classic smash and grab raid this was a composed and professional performance by Estudiantes who were without South American Player of the Year Juan Verón.

For the 300 daredevils who ran the gauntlet in Montevideo one can imagine outward signs of celebration being sensibly curtailed at the final whistle in view of surroundings.

Estudiantes won this competition 3 times between 1968 and 1970, that infamous team (together with Racing) ensured that any reference to Argentine football in the UK media thereafter would usually be prefixed with the word 'cynical' as a result of two bad tempered and dirty Intercontinental Cup clashes against Manchester United and Celtic respectively. Later on today the present side will discover whether they face Brazil's Cruzeiro (3) or Gremio (1), having already faced Cruzeiro in the group stages.

In a cruel twist of fate it's possible that Estudiantes fans could even be prevented from seeing the home-leg of the final due to the HN1 flu virus sweeping Argentina, a decision will be made by the authorities.

Hasta luego!