Won three, lost three. Lost, won, lost, won, lost, won – that is the pattern of Olimpia’s previous six finals. They have played teams from Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Brazil in that order. This marks Olimpia and Atletico Mineiro’s first Copa Libertadores meeting outside of the group stages yet they have contested a continental final before. In 1992 the inaugaral Copa CONMEBOL was won by Mineiro who won 2-1 on aggregate having scored both goals in the first leg before losing the return in Asunción by a single strike.
But enough of this year’s battle, what about Olimpia’s other six finals? Here we take a look at how they’ve fared over the years.
1960: Olimpia vs Peñarol (Agg 1-2)
Having been given a bye in the first round which was also the quarter finals, Olimpia drew their first ever Copa Libertadores game 0-0 in Bogotá before thrashing Millonarios 5-1 in the return game in Puerto Sajonia (the predecessor to the Defensores del Chaco). Peñarol had blustered through the tournament thanks to six goals in five games from the great Alberto Spencer. It was the Ecuadorean who scored the only goal in Montevideo to take a slender lead to Asunción. With just under half an hour on the clock the Paraguayans had levelled the tie through 22-year-old forward Hipólito Recalde. But Paraguayan hearts were broken just seven minutes from time when another youngster, Luis “El Negro” Cubilla popped up with an equaliser to take the trophy for Peñarol.
Of course Cubilla would pay Olimpia back ten-fold as manager – winning 10 league titles, 2 Copa Libertadores and the biggest prize of all the Interncontinental Cup. And what of Recalde, the first Paraguayan to score in a continental final? After retiring a few years later aged just 27 he worked in the Hotel Guaraní in Asunción for twenty years. Paraguayan football was pratically amateur in those days with bonuses the only way to make a living. “They were going to give us $150 if we won the second leg, and then there was the tiebreaker, that we were going to play in Buenos Aires.” said Recalde in an interview with CONMEBOL years later “But this gentleman [Referring to Luis Cubilla] ruined it for us!”
1979: Olimpia vs Boca Juniors (Agg 2-0)
The pinnacle for any Olimpia supporter, that first taste of continental success that would be followed by the ultimate global prize the interncontinental cup. The nucleus of this side also made up the Paraguayan team that won the Copa América in 1979, it was a glorious time for Olimpia and their supporters. An estimated 50,000 of them had descended upon the Defensores del Chaco for the first leg and the raucous atmosphere seemed to have thrown Boca out of their stride, the Argentinians hopes of emulating Estudiantes and Independiente in winning a third straight title were dashed early on by Osvaldo Aquino. The 5ft 5in winger turned central midfielder made a huge impact after just two minutes, poking home to send the crowd into delirium. On 27 minutes the Franjeado had doubled their lead when the Uruguayan Miguel Angel Piazza scored from a freekick that bobbled along the floor and kicked up off a divot to deceive the great Hugo Gatti.
In the second leg they travelled to Buenos Aires with many assuming that Olimpia had already sold out to their more illustrious rivals knowing that they could lose this game and then play a tiebreaker. That assumption and line of questioning from journalists gave rise to the now immortal phrase from then-president Osvaldo Dominguez Dibb. When asked by a reporter if he had been bribed to throw the game, ODD responded “I didn’t come here for money, lad. I came here for glory.” before uttering “You can’t put a price on glory”
And so it was, Olimpia toughed it out in front of a stunned Bombonera crowd who had gathered expecting to see a win but instead got a nil-nil draw and the ignominy of watching the Paraguayans do the lap of honour in front of them. A maiden success for Olimpia.
1989: Olimpia vs Atletico Nacional (Agg 2-2; Pens 4-5)
Ten years on and while you can’t put a price on glory, you can put a price on human life. Having won the first leg comfortably in Asuncion (2-0 with the second goal a wonderful effort from Vidal Sanabria which you can see in the video further down the page) they faced a hostile atmosphere in Colombia where they took on an Atletico Nacional side bankrolled by druglord Pablo Escobar. There were certainly doubts about the Medellín team’s semi-final win against Danubio – the officials that day have since confirmed they had been threatened and bribed – the Uruguayans lost the game 6-0.
The memory of those frightful times still loom large today, in the recent game against Santa Fe two Olimpia players received death threats and the manager Ever Almeida remarked “Nothing can be worse than 1989” when he played as goalkeeper. For more on Pablo Escobar’s influence in football then this is a good article (in Spanish).
Although Olimpia had successfully petitioned to have the game moved to Bogotá rather than Medellín they were unable to avoid a 2-0 defeat which sent the game penalties. In a notable shootout both goalkeepers, Almeida and René Higuita, were in the set of five initial takers and in sudden death the players missed seven straight kicks before Leonel Alvarez finally converted to win the trophy for the Verde.
1990: Olimpia vs Barcelona (Agg 3-1)
A year after the agony of losing the final on penalties the Paraguayans got their revenge in the semi-finals against Atletico Nacional. The defending champions had been banned from playing in Colombia after telephone death threats to the referee in the quarter final had come to light. Incredibly the game went to penalties again after Olimpia won on neutral ground in Santiago only to lose the home leg!
In the final they played Ecuadorian club Barcelona who had scraped through the groups in third place via a playoff and had also won a shootout in the semis against the mighty River Plate. Just as in 1979 and 1989, the 1st leg was played at home and Olimpia won 2-0 this time the goals coming from Raúl Amarilla´s head and the trusty left-foot of Adriano Samaniego who would finish topscorer with seven goals. In the return leg in Guayaquil they fell behind, Almeida made some great saves and one well-worked move saw Amarilla get a vital goal, it finished 1-1. Olimpia was “bicampeon”!
1991: Olimpia vs Colo-Colo (Agg 0-3)
The third final in a row for Olimpia and for the first time they couldn’t win at home, a goalless draw in Asunción put them on the back foot once they visited Santiago. That was despite filling the away team’s dressing room with spiders. Their opponent´s manager was none other than Mirko Jozic who had unearthed Croatian talents Boban, Suker and Prosinecki who helped Yugoslavia win the U20s World Cup hosted by Chile in 1987. Once again he was successful on Chilean soil as his side proved too much for Olimpia, a first-half brace from Luis Perez and a late counter-attack goal from Leonel Herrera gave Colo Colo a famous win.
2002: Olimpia vs São Caetano (Agg 2-2; Pens 4-2)
Surprise package São Caetano from São Paulo state managed to reach the final having overcome giants such as Peñarol and Club América in the Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals respecitvely. It seemed they were destined for glory when, in the first leg played in Defensores del Chaco, they became the only team to have beaten Olimpia away in a Copa Libertadores Final. The only goal coming from a mistake by Ricardo Tavarelli who couldn’t hold onto Ailton’s header in the 61st minute.
In the second leg, being played at the legendary Pacaembu, the Brazilians doubled their lead through Ailton after half an hour and it seemed that Olimpia were heading home with their tail between their legs. But that side was full of characters that refused to lose, Sergio Orteman, Nestor Isasi and Julio Cesar Cáceres to name but a few. They came flying out of the blocks and after 49 minutes were level, Gaston Cordoba lashing in a half volley. Ten minutes later a hopeful ball into the box was met by Richart Baez and his looping header levelled the tie.
Away goals didn’t apply back then nor was there any extra time as the game went straight to penalties. The Olimpia manager Nery Pumpido had thrown on strikers Mauro Caballero and Rodrigo López at the end of normal time and it paid off. While two Caetano subs, Marlon and Serginho, missed the third and fourth penalties in the shootout both López and Caballero scored to win the trophy and Olimpia had completed their hattrick of titles! As a footnote one of the São Caetano did do ok for himself, the performances of their defensive midfield earned him a move to Villarreal and six years later Marcos Senna was European Champion with Spain.
By Ralph Hannah