The group stages of the Copa Libertadores ended last week and we have just one Paraguayan team in the last sixteen. Olimpia were arguably the weakest of the three qualified sides but as Cerro Porteño capitulated in catastrophic fashion and Libertad wilted towards the end, it left El Decano as the last team standing. They’ve slowly improved under Ever Almeida since he took over at the beginning of the year and here we analyse the three key reasons they are into the knockout stages.
1. Ever Almeida
The record-holder for the most appearances in the Copa Libertadores obviously brings experience, especially in big games, after all he won the trophy twice with Olimpia in 1979 and 1990. We saw that in the gritty victory over Universidad de Chile Santiago but we’ve also seen that Almeida is a smart coach and tactically astute. He has gradually moulded the team he wants and found the best way to utilize Juan Manuel Salgueiro with his strikers, usually Fredy Bareiro but sometimes Juan Carlos Ferreyra. The Almeida effect can be seen in the improvement in results, in the first three games they garnered four points, in the final three they took the maximum nine on offer.
2. Midfield balance
Last year the team was much stronger on paper yet they crashed out in the first round and one difference I’ve noted is their ability to re-organise and keep their shape even when they lose possession quickly. Previously with Serigo Orteman and Vladimir Marin they had two excellent players who both enjoyed freedom and liked to roam to find space something that left them susceptible to counter attacks. This year we have the combination of Richard Ortiz and Eduardo Aranda who are more defensive by nature and more disciplined tacitcally, it allows Salgueiro the freedom he needs to make things happen in and around the opposition goal.
3. Re-discovering the Olimpia garra
Go back through the annals of this tournament and despite being much smaller than the Argentinian, Brazilian and major Uruguayan clubs you will find that Olimpia have picked up some wonderful results in this competition especially away from the Paraguayan capital. In 1979 they got a 0-0 draw in the Bombonera to win the trophy having beaten Boca in the home leg, in 2002 they actually lost the first leg at home to Sã0 Caetano and were a goal down at halftime in the Pacaembú only to score twice in the second half and take the game to penalties, which they won. In 2012 they didn’t manage to win an away game, their only point on the road came in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Flamengo but that was only 15 minutes of magic. This year they fought hard against Newell’s before losing in Rosario but were imperious in Venezuela and Chile, the result against Universidad de Chile was a typical ‘smash and grab’ that epitomised the Olimpia spirit.
Now they face Tigre in the next round, the team from Buenos Aires province have been awful in the league but seem to lead a charmed life in cup competitions. They also have a great record against the guaraní sides, knocking out Cerro of the 2012 Sudamericana with a swashbuckling display which they repeated in the incredible 5-3 victory over Libertad to eliminate them last week. I have a feeling El Decano will prove to be sterner stuff with Almeida’s experience and that garra coming to the fore.