No goals but plenty of intrigue to keep us European-based Copa Libertadores aficionados from drifting into a slumber. Pre-match talk was concerned as much with the Swine Flu pandemic sweeping Argentina as with the current Estudiantes team’s chances of recapturing past triumphs. Even President Lula of Brazil weighed into the debate regarding Swine Flu by seeking a personal guarantee from the Argentine Minister of Health about the welfare of the Cruzeiro party.
When the smoke cleared from the pre-match barrage of pyrotechnics I half expected the Brazilians to be sporting medical style facemasks in an effort to ward off the virus although being mid-winter scarves and gloves may have been more appropriate. With Veron back in the side after injury and without the away goals rule the home side set about imposing themselves on Cruzeiro. Defender Rolando Schiavi did his best to emulate some of the more negative aspects of past Estudiantes teams by aiming a sly kick at Kleber, he’d later on receive a yellow card for his efforts. It’s true that they had most of the ball in the 1st half but clear cut chances were few and far between, any that did come their way were well dealt with by keeper Fabio including a Veron freekick. No Copa Libertadores match would be complete without a moment of farce this time courtesy of leaky water main which began to flood Cruzeiro’s goal area much to the bemusement of Fabio et al. Thankfully an adjustable spanner was found in the nick of time. Midfielder Enzo Pérez was the pick of the Estudiantes team in the first half for his work and inventiveness.
The pattern of play continued well into the second half with Fabio once again preventing Mauro Boselli from becoming the tournaments outright leading scorer and also denying Desabato from the resulting corner. In contrast soon to depart Mariano Andújar in the other goal was relatively quiet until he pushed the ball in front of surprised Kleber who shot wide. The final quarter of the game belonged to Cruzeiro as they counter- attacked rapidly on a number of occasions and grew in confidence.
Nil-nil at home in the UEFA Champions League can be perceived as solid result taking into account the away goals rule. However in this two leg final the rule doesn’t apply. Cruzeiro can attack more freely in the absence of this massive restraining factor. Of the eleven previous finals between Argentine and Brazilian sides in this competition only three have been won by the Brazilian teams. If Estudiantes are to prevent this from becoming four in Belo Horizonte they’ll need to draw inspiration from what has gone before.