In even their wildest dreams Nacional fans couldn’t have imagined reaching the final of the most prestigious competition in the Americas but yesterday those dreams became a reality. Here are 5 reasons why Club Nacional are the first Paraguayan team other than Olimpia to reach a continental final.
Continuity: It would be easy just to name Gustavo Morinigo here but the 37-year-old coach is just part of the 2-year project leading up to this moment. Credit must be handed to Robert Harrison the club president who could have gone for another foreign coach after Javier Torrente’s dismissal in 2012 but opted for Morinigo who had been playing at the club and had won the league as a player in 2011. Again, once Morinigo had arguably punched above his weight (coming runner-up in the 2012 Clausura and then winning the 2013 Apertura) there might have been a temptation to pull in a big name for this year’s Copa Libertadores campaign but the board stuck with the local boy. Similarly the team have mainly stuck together with much of today’s squad having won the 2011 Apertura title.
Experience: The Copa Libertadores is similar to the Champions League, there is a certain knack needed to qualify from the group stages and it takes a while to get to grips with the midweek travel schedule. As mentioned above a lot of this side won the league in 2011 and crashed out of the Libertadores group stages in 2012. Raúl Piris, Silvio Torales, Derlis Orué, Marcos Riveros, Ignacio Don and David Mendoza were all involved while Fredy Bareiro joined having reached the final with Olimpia in 2013. Morinigo himself has participated in the competition as a player several times with Libertad and Nacional.
Faith: The goal celebrations with the whole team on their knees pointing to the heavens are symbolic – I’m necessarily not talking divine intervention (San Lorenzo have the edge on that one thanks to a certain Francisco) but the faith the players have in their coach and in each other. On both trips to Buenos Aires the Tricolor had to protect a slender lead from the first leg and did so by dropping deep and absorbing heaps and heaps of pressure, it takes a lot of confidence in the system and in your teammates to play like that for 90 minutes.
Ignacio Don: When you are defending deep you are inevitably going to leave space and concede shots…a lot of shots…170 to be exact. Argentinian-born Ignacio “Nacho” Don has been equal to everything thrown at him and kept 5 cleansheets while making 48 saves and I’m willing to bet at least half of those have been stunners. He was rightly picked as the Man of the Match in the 2nd leg against Defensor Sporting producing some tremendous saves.
Luck: With the greatest respect to Nacional they scraped through the group stages with a winner 7 minutes from time (and a -2 goal difference). In the semi-final they survived the violet storm in the final minutes against Defensor Sporting with Herrera somehow hitting the bar from a couple of yards out in the last minute. Although they beat Velez in the last 16 they have been fortunate to avoid a “big” side and would be the first non-Brazilian Copa Libertadores champion to not have faced a Brazilian side in the knockout stages since River Plate in 1996.
By Ralph Hannah