Olimpia put one hand on the Copa Libertadores trophy with a 2-0 victory at home to Atletico Mineiro in the first leg of the final. A superb individual goal from Alejandro Silva before the break and Wilson Pittoni’s last-gasp free-kick against the ten-man visitors will send Ever Hugo Almeida’s men to Belo Horizonte as the firm favourites to win the competition for a fourth time.
The game started brightly, flowing from end to end. Atletico forward Diego Tardelli was the first to ripple the net, though his clever lob was ruled out for offside, before Silva broke the deadlock midway through the half. The 23-year-old collected possession on the right, cut inside two opponents and, from the edge of the box, fired a low drive in off the post.
Silva was nevertheless booked for removing his shirt in celebration and will now miss the second leg at the Mineirao next Wednesday.
Atletico began knocking the ball around nicely following the restart, and from one series of passes, Diego Tardelli spun his marker superbly on the edge of the box but pulled his shot wide.
Ronaldinho, whose set-pieces and overall play had been wasteful, was withdrawn on the hour. Without their iconic No10, the Brazilians played some purposeful football but struggled to create any meaningful chances, which the Paraguayans were able to do on the counter-attack.
Fredy Bareiro was nonetheless guilty of missing two glaring ones in the last ten minutes. First, after Victor had made a fine save from Juan Ferreyra, Bareiro was unable to find an unguarded net from six yards. Then, after racing into the penalty area, he shot into the side-netting from close-range.
Atletico, chasing their first Libertadores crown, were dominating the possession in the closing minutes, but that all changed when Richarlyson was sent off for needlessly collecting another booking.
Olimpia went up the other end and earned a free-kick on the edge of the box, which Pittoni took. It appeared as though his curler would be dealt with comfortably, but substitute Alecsandro, the brother of Richarlyson, got in the way of Victor and missed an attempted header as the ball sailed home off the underside of the crossbar.
Cuca’s team now have it all to do. However, they will be buoyed by recovering a two-goal first-leg deficit to eliminate Newell’s Old Boys in the semi-finals and the return of jet-heeled Brazil international Bernard, who was suspended for the 2-0 defeat at Olimpia.