Libertad vs Cruz Azul
Estadio Nicolas Leóz
(1-0) 2-0 – José Ariel Nuñez 10′, Víctor Cáceres 50′
Two goals at the beginning of each half in an utterly professional and disciplined performance has taken Libertad into the Copa Libertadores quarter-finals for the third successive years. Both goals were headers from free kicks taken by dead-ball specialist Victor Ayala who was thrust into the starting eleven at the last minute when Jonathan Santana injured himself in the warm up. While that proved to be a stroke of good fortune for Jorge Burruchaga the World Cup Winner got everything else right with a perfect game plan reducing Cruz Azul to pot shots and long balls.
The stage was set in the opening minutes, Libertad allowed Cruz Azul onto them but were well organised, soaking up the pressure and marking tightly in their own half. It was epitomised by Cristian Nasuti who made a wonderful tackle at the edge of the box stating the Gumarelo’s intent. After just ten minutes Libertad were in front in the game and the tie thanks to José Ariel Nuñez’s fourth goal of the competition. The diminuitive striker managed to get in front of his marker at the near post and head home a fantastic delivery from Ayala. After the first leg this blog bemoaned the omission of Ayala and his threat from set pieces was emphasised when Pablo Velázquez nearly scored with a header only to be flagged offside. Velázquez played very well in the first half, often receiving the ball with his back to goal and bringing in his teammates, close to halftime he chested the ball down to Sergio Aquino on the edge of the box only for the midfielder to lash his volley over the crossbar. The halftime whistle would have come as a relief to Cruz Azul, they had been thwarted at every turn by a well-marshalled Libertad side and only registered one shot (off target) when Alejandro Vela managed to get in behind the defence but flashed his chance wide.
Cruz Azul made two changes early in the second period bringing on Javiers Orozco and Aquino but before they could have any effect the home side had doubled their lead and all but killed off the tie. On 50 minutes another amazing Ayala free kick was headed in by Víctor Cáceres as the Mexicans were undone again by a set play. A goal for the away team seemed highly unlikely, Libertad were well drilled and everybody showed immense workrate to assume the correct position once they lost the ball. Ayala nearly got the goal he undoubtedly deserved after 66 minutes with a long shot that stung José de Jesús Corona’s hands and the goalkeeper was alert to the follow up saving well from Velázquez. Two minutes later Corona was called into action again sticking out a hand while on the way down to deny Nuñez who had found himself through one-on-one. Substitute Rodolfo Gamarra was unlucky not to extend his side’s lead when Luciano Civelli motored down the left and crossed for his teammate only for the shot to be blocked incredibly by a Cruz Azul defender. The final 10 minutes were played out in relative calm as Libertad kept possession and won the ball back with strong marking in their own half as they had been doing all evening.
The win was the fifth time in six second legs that Libertad had kept a cleansheet to advance to the next round. In the final eight they await the victor of Deportivo Quito against Universidad de Chile with the Ecuadorians holding a 4-1 lead. Either team should be fearing this Paraguayan outfit who have tremendous quality combined with a coach who can organise them effectively.
Libertad XI: R.Muñoz; C.Bonet, C.Nasuti, I.Benegas, M.Samudio; V.Ayala, S.Aquino, V.Caceres, L.Civelli; P.Velázquez, J.A.Nuñez
Subs: Rodolfo Gamarra for José Ariel Nuñez, Cristian Menéndez for Pablo Velázquez, Joe Bizera for Miguel Samudio
By Ralph Hannah