Last night, Olimpia firmly planted one foot in the Copa Libertadores Final with a 2-0 victory over Independiente Santa Fe, now it is time for the most anticipated clash of the semis. The hottest team in Argentina play the hottest team in Brazil.
Newell’s Old Boys have not been entirely convincing in the tournament. They finished second in the their group to Club Olimpia, which included Olimpia thumping them 4-1 on the final matchday and very nearly resulting in a seven goal swing that would’ve knocked them out only for a second string Univesidad de Chile to fall short in the other match against Deportivo Lara after conceding late on. Away goals were enough to see off Velez Sarsfield in the Last 16 and after two goalless matches against Boca Juniors in the Quarters, Newell’s progressed on penalties.
Atletico Mineiro set the Copa Libertadores alight early on storming to five wins out of five in the group stages before succumbing to Sao Paulo away in the final match (although Atletico had already secured top spot in the group by then). They then humiliated one of the pre-tournament favourites Sao Paulo whom they met again in the Last 16 (best qualifier of the group stages against the worst placed qualifier, despite already being in the same group). After two legs it finished 6-2 on aggregate to Atletico Mineiro. The next round proved more difficult as invited guests into this season’s tournament, Mexican side Tijuana, came very close to eliminating them by missing a 92nd minute penalty in the second leg. After an invincible looking Atletico early in the tournament, they now showed glaring weaknesses.
For Newell’s, the standout man for them all season has been Ignacio Scocco. If they are to win this evening he will have to be clinical. He is a tricky customer, creative as well as prolific, good at bringing others into play. With cause for fear of the away goal, at the back it will be up to the leadership of veteran Gabriele Heinze to lead by example. Another big name former Argentine international, Maxi Rodriguez, will also play a pivotal role as he will more than likely be asked to interrupt any attacking rhythm Atletico try to build in the midfield. But most importantly it will be the fans who stand out for Newell’s and on a night like this there are few better. Argentinian crowds in general are a spectacle and Rosario will be steeped in passion tonight.
Altetico Mineiro boast two of the tournament’s top goalscorers, Jo and Diego Tardelli, both with six goals each so far, and supported by two incredible talents in Bernard and Ronaldinho, it is difficult to see any defence which this attack cannot pick. Towering centre-back Rever will also be influential tonight in restoring organisation to such an attacking team that could easily fold into chaos.
There has been bad blood in the last two clashes of Argentine-Brazilian sides in the continental cups recently, with both Tigre and Boca Juniors complaining of the security in Brazil treating them far too heavy-handed, to the point of intimidation. So much so in Tigre’s case in the Copa Sudamericana Final that they refused to come out for the second half and in turn forfeited the competition. And with big matches like this in South America, it too easily becomes petty with fouls, with referees blowing their whistle every second touch and killing any flow to the match. I expect this game to pan out in that manner and for that reason I’m going to opt for 0-0 as the first leg scoreline. Atletico have more than enough here to hurt Newell’s but I think the Argentinians will be too wary of the away goal to really go for it. With such a chorus behind them though, if there is a winner here I see it being Newell’s in this leg.