In a vast country with a passion for football, Atletico Mineiro earned their status as a big club on the back of a long period of sustained success. Locking horns with rivals Cruzeiro and America at state level over a number of decades, O Galo have won 42 Minas Gerais championship titles, enjoying a lengthy golden era between the 1950s and 80s. Outside their home state, Atletico won their one and only Brazilian league crown to date in 1971 and have finished runners-up on four occasions since then. Prior to this year the only international competition in which they have enjoyed success was the Copa CONMEBOL, which they won in 1992 and 1997.
Atletico were at a low ebb not so very long ago, having dropped down to the Brazilian second tier before rejoining the big boys on winning the Serie B title in 2006. A further relegation fight followed in 2011, when they eventually finished 15th. The very next season came a different battle altogether. Coached by the ever-inventive Cuca and inspired by the arrival of Ronaldinho and a clutch of other quality signings, O Galo launched an impressive title bid, eventually finishing five points adrift of Fluminense in fifth. The next step in the club’s resurgence came this year with their maiden Libertadores win.
In the post for two years now, coach Cuca has consolidated his reputation by fashioning a very well organised side committed to attacking football, a philosophy rewarded by their haul of 29 goals in their 14 Libertadores matches, the highest in this year’s competition. Their undisputed on-field leader is Ronaldinho, who has been more than ably supported by a group of players who may lack his stature in the game but have proved more than capable of turning on the style.
Facts and figures
Reinaldo, Toninho Cerezo, Dario, Eder Aleixo, Paulo Isidoro, Luizinho, Joao Leite, Marques, Mario de Castro, Guara.
Victor (goalkeeper), Rever (defender), Ronaldinho (midfielder), Bernard, Diego Tardelli and Jo (forwards).
During the course of their successful Copa Libertadores campaign, Atletico won nine games, drew two and lost three, the first of them coming in the final group match against Sao Paulo, by which time they had already made sure of a place in the next round with the best record in the group phase.
Their conquerors in that game were also their opponents in the Round of 16, where O Galo won both legs to set up a quarter-final tie with Tijuana. A 2-2 draw in Mexico and a 1-1 draw at home gave the Brazilians an away-goals victory and a place in the last four, where they suffered a worrying 2-0 defeat away to Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario only to bounce back with a 2-0 victory of their own in Belo Horizonte, a comeback capped by a dramatic shootout win. O Galo repeated the trick in the final against Olimpia, staging another two-goal second-leg fightback before prevailing from the spot once more.
The numbers game
3 - The penalty saves goalkeeper Victor pulled off in the knockout rounds of the Libertadores. His first came in injury time of the quarter-final second leg against Tijuana, the second in the semi-final penalty shootout against Newell’s, and the third denied Olimpia midfielder Herminio Miranda in the shootout that decided the final.