Cruz Azul vs Libertad
(1-0) 1-1 – Javier Orozco 27′; Pablo Velázquez 70′
Libertad scored a valuable away goal having fallen behind for the seventh consecutive time in this year’s tournament (expertly predicted in my preview!) and now look like favourites to progress into the Quarter Finals. The result takes the Asunción club’s unbeaten run to nine games and marked their sixth victory against Mexican opposition. Jorge Burruchaga lined up his standard 4-4-2 but to the surprise of this author, he left out Nestor Camacho who has been very impressive in recent league games replacing him with Luciano Civelli and dropped Victor Ayala for Sergio Aquino.
The major talking point in the early stages was the nasty head injury to Cruz Azul’s goalkeeper José de Jesús Corona caught by Pablo Velázquez’s knee unintentionally as he was put through one-on-one by a clever pass from his strike partner José Ariel Nuñez. It was a rare chance for Libertad from open play as they look organised but found their best chances coming from set pieces. The biggest threat had been from the home team, especially Maranhão who floated away from his left hand side position and often received the balls in pockets of space. It was the Brazilian who set up the first goal (following an excellent passing move) for Javier Orozco to tap in on 27 minutes, Maranhão had drifted behind Carlos Bonet at the back post to nod down Edixon Perea’s cross.
At the break Libertad were trainiling and had really missed Victor Ayala as the best chances were from dead ball situations rather than open play with Nuñez often with his back to goal which isn’t his forté. Libertad had defended well in general when they lost possession, getting two banks of four sitting deep to frustrate the Mexicans but had almost conceded a second from Perea’s flicked header so had to keep concentrating.
As expected Burruchaga went more attacking in the second half and early on Velázquez was finding more freedom while Nuñez was receiving the ball facing goalwards and the two combined for the clearest chance of the match on the hour. Nuñez squaring to his partner only for Velázquez to hit the ball straight at the substitute goalkeeper. With the Gumarelo looking dangerous down the left, they introduced Rodolfo Gamarra on the right in an attacking change as they tried to unbalance a wobbly Cruz Azul. On the 7oth minute Libertad got a deserved equaliser thanks to a wonderful left foot cross by Carlos Bonet. So good was the centre from the right back on his weaker foot that three Libertad players were lining up to head home, in the end it was Velázquez who profited with his third strike in the competition.
As expected the goal drew a response from La Maquina urged on by the local crowd and substitute Emanuel Villa could have won it but blazed over on the half volley after finding himself free in box with just Rodrigo Muñoz to beat. With eight minutes remaining Muñoz pulled off a world class save to deny Orozco a second goal, he was at full stretch as he tipped the ball over the bar in a heart-stopping moment for Libertad fans. The away team almost nicked a win, substitute Cristian Menendez had ball in the net in stoppage time but the whistle went for a dubious foul in the build up and the goal was disallowed. On the whole a very positive night for the Paraguayan team who play the return leg at the Nicolás Leóz on Tuesday 8th May.
Libertad XI: R.Muñoz; C.Bonet, C.Nasuti, I.Benegas, M.Samudio; S.Aquino, J.Santana, V.Caceres, L.Civelli; P.Velazquez, J.A.Nuñez
Subs: Rodolfo Gamarra for Jonathan Santana, Victor Ayala for José Ariel Nuñez, Cristian Menendez for Pablo Velázquez
By Ralph Hannah