On Wednesday 17th July, Olimpia play Atletico Mineiro in their 7th Copa Libertadores Final as they become the only team to have reached the last two in every single decade since the competition began in 1960. It hasn’t been plain sailing though, they had to come through the qualifying round having failed to win either short season in 2012 and around November last year following the departure they were struggling to rack up enough points to even make the pot for the Libertadores draw.
But they got over the line, Ever Almeida was brought in as coach to instill some of that winning mentality and use the experience that had seen him win 10 league titles and 6 continental trophies with El Decano as a player. The first qualifier came around so early, in January, that Almeida Sr. was still packing his bags for Paraguay and so his son Iván took charge of the game against Defensor Sporting in Montevideo, a dull 0-0 draw. In Asunción there were no problems however, the trusty head of Juan Carlos Ferreyra broke the deadlock before Eduardo Aranda sealed the win with a spectacular strike. With 16 shots on goal compared to Sporting’s five, there was never any doubt who deserved a place in Group 7.
Qualifying top from a group including Newell´s Old Boys and Universidad de Chile is no mean feat and this was where Olimpia really found themselves and Almeida showed his tactical nouse. They held out for over an hour in Rosario before being outdone by Tata Martino’s team in the opener but they demonstrated that despite not having the big names of 2012 this was a resolute side. Juan Manuel Salgueiro shined the next week against the Chileans, the Uruguayan would grow in confidence as the tournament wore on. Despite a slip up against Lara at home (throwing away a two-goal lead) they plastered the Venezuelans in Barquisimeto and played a classic counter-attacking game to edge La U in Santiago. By the time Newell´s visited the Defensores del Chaco there was no pressure on Olimpia who had already qualified. Playing with the shackles off they ran riot in the second half against the ten-man opposition and Salgueiro was the star once again with two goals, his second something special.
Breaking the Tigre curse
The unfashionable Tigre managed to reach the Copa Sudamericana final in 2012 beating Cerro Porteño of Paraguay in the process. In their first ever Copa Libertadores they qualified at Libertad´s expense with an incredible 5-3 victory, it was the first time since 2009 the Asuncion-based club had failed to reach the quarter finals. When Olimpia were beaten in Victoria it looked like the Tigre curse on Paraguayan clubs would continue, but Herminio Miranda’s vital away goal – a fantastic freekick – did give them some hope for the return leg.
Back in Asunción the Olimpia fans packed into the Defensores del Chaco which saw the first of the “mosaics” which have been a highlight of this campaign. The fans surely played their part as Olimpia recorded their third straight home win in clincial fashion. An excellent volley from Fredy Bareiro on his weaker left-foot put the Paraguayans level on aggregate (and ahead on away goals) while Papparatto’s comic own goal doubled the lead on the night and secured the passage into the last eight. Bareiro’s attempt was the only one on target in a tense second half.
Fluminense and Fred nullified
A stellar performance from Uruguayan goalkeeper Martin Silva was enough for Olimpia to come away from a tough game in Rio de Janeiro with a scoreless draw. Once again the return was in Sajonia and the players were received by a full house and another mosaic.
This time they couldn’t stop the Brazilians scoring, Fluminense needing just nine minutes to go in front, but Salgueiro struck twice from deadballs (a freekick and a penalty) to send the team into the final four. Star striker Fred would turn out for the national team scoring twice against Italy, Uruguay and Spain as they won the Confederations Cup, but he hadn’t been able to get one over on Miranda, Manzur or Martin (Silva).
Santa Fe spurned by the Silvas
The Colombians arrived in the Paraguayan capital looking to get stuck in and after a series of heavy fouls in a turgid first half they managed to bring the game to 10 vs 10 as perenniel early-bather Gerardo Bedoya was sent off yet again but managed to provoke playmaker Juan Manuel Salgueiro into some “palabrotas” (swear words) that was enough to see him get a straight red too. In theory Olimpia should have been clueless in the second forty -five minutes without their most creative player but Ever Almeida brought on Alejandro Silva in an inspired change, the subsitute’s pace too much for the Santa Fe defence. Silva won a penalty and then set up Juan Carlos Ferreyra (another halftime change) as Olimpia kept up their record of scoring at least two goals at home in every match. Watch the goals to my favourite commentator here.
There were doubts as to whether the two goals were enough to take to the altitude of Bogotá but one thing the doubters hadn’t factored in was the presence of Martin Silva. The 30-year-old was in inspired form again as he denied several goalscoring opportunities, eventually the Colombians got a goal but as they peppered their opponents in the dying minutes the big Uruguayan was on hand to keep everything out. Olimpia were going to the final.
By Ralph Hannah