A thick, white misty blanket greeted Libertad as they embarked on their quest for Copa Libertadores glory in the heady heights of the Atahualpa in Quito. Opponents El Nacional had pipped LDU Quito for a place in the tournament and were looking to inflict the fifth defeat on a Paraguayan side visiting their stadium in seven visits. In fact Libertad were the only Guaraní representative to avoid losing having drawn 1-1 twice on previous meetings in 2006 & 2007. That record was ended tonight as Libertad found themselves frustrated in the fog.
As expected Libertad went for a defensive and compact 4-4-2 with both Topo Caceres and Patito Aquino holding in central midfield. However with two quick strikers and the creativity of Civelli and Gamarra on the flanks the away side made chances and the game swayed back and forth in the early exchanges as El Nacional played their part. Both sides came close from headers (or was the fog deceptive?) but as half time approached it seemed Libertad had got a hold of the game as the fog began to clear before disaster struck. They say the altitude can affect the trajectory of the ball but that was no defence for Nery Bareiro, the centre-back stooped to head the ball but managed to miss it completely allowing it to reach Juan Luis Anangono to tuck home.
The second half started with the fog cleared but Burruchaga caught in two minds, go for the equaliser knowing it could tire his team and open them up to another on the break or contain and wait for Asunción next week. The Argentine decided to keep the attacking team he started with. Diminutive winger Rodolfo Gamarra was the most impressive players for Libertad at the start of the second half a constant thorn in El Nacional’s left hand side. However the altitude began to take its toll, legs tired and spaces appeared in midfield for El Nacional to start taking pot shots hoping the mischievous thin air could catch out Libertad’s new goalkeeper Rodrigo Muñoz. The Uruguayan was not to be fooled (in fact he earned the Man of the Match award) as Libertad used all their substitutions to bring on attacking players including 17-year-old wonderkid Maurito Caballero.
It seemed that El Nacional would hold on, Libertad had nothing left but tried to be as positive as they could, in stoppage time the visitors won a corner, then a free kick, then another corner. But without set piece specialist Victor Ayala (left on the bench) they couldn’t profit and the game ended in defeat. Libertad should be given credit for trying to take the game to El Nacional and ultimately they will feel the tie is still up for grabs. The return leg is next Tuesday in Asunción, Paraguay Football will be at the game so check back here!
Muñoz; Bonet, Benegas, Bareiro, Samudio; Gamarra, V.Caceres, Aquino, Civelli; J.A.Nuñez, Menéndez
Subs: Velazquez for Menéndez, M.Caballero for J.A.Nuñez, Melgarejo for Gamarra
Yellow Cards: Gamarra ’32, Benegas ’69, Muñoz ’89
Cabezas; Chila, J.C. Anangono, Madrid, R.López; Pita, Caceido, Minda, J.L Anangono; Preciado, Govea
Subs: Guerra for Minda, Guevara for Govea, Zura for Preciado
Goals: J.L. Anangono ’44
Yellow Cards: Zura ’83
M.o.M: Rodrigo Muñoz (Libertad)
By Ralph Hannah