On an evening of heart-stopping action Internacional of Porto Alegre secured their first Copa Libertadores de America when they drew 2-2 with defending champions Sao Paulo at the Beira-Rio Stadium on Wednesday. Following their 2-1 win in last week's first leg , the result saw the Gauchos claim the most important title in their history and with it a place at the FIFA Club World Cup.
The new kings of South America went ahead twice through Fernandao and Tinga, with the deposed champions' pulling level both times through Fabao and Lenilson. "We're so excited about winning the cup," said an ecstatic Fernandao, who ended the night as the tournament's top scorer. "Lots of great players have played here but never managed to win the Libertadores, and we did it by beating the world champions."
Inter make shaky start
Although the Colorados ultimately reigned supreme, Sao Paulo were in no mood to relinquish their crown without a fight and pinned back a nervous Inter side in the opening minutes. As the crosses rained into the hosts' penalty area, Diego Lugano just failed to connect with a spectacular scissor kick from close range before Clemer pulled off a smart save from Danilo's precise drive. Lugano then spurned a superb chance to give his side the lead when he inexplicably missed with the goal at his mercy.
Urged on by their diehard fans, Abel Braga's side finally awoke from their slumber and began to exert some pressure of their own. With Rafael Sobis weaving his spells down the flanks, the chances finally started to flow for the home side. Jorge Wagner was denied by the onrushing Ceni 11 minutes in, and Fabiano passed up a fine chance at the back post from a corner kick just before the half-hour mark. The hosts were not to be denied, however, and took the lead moments later when Ceni spilled Wagner's cross under pressure from Fabiano, allowing the prostrate Fernandao to poke the ball home.
Muricy Ramalho's charges came out after the restart intent on restoring parity and got their reward eight minutes in when Fabao beat Clemer to Lugano's header at the back post. Sensing an opportunity to capitalise on the home side's disorganisation, Ramalho threw on forwards Lenilson and Thiago, but was soon made to pay for weakening his defence when Inter retook the lead.
Fernandao was once again at the heart of things, and, after Ceni had pulled off a fine save from his shot, the striker unselfishly squared the rebound to Tinga, who nodded the ball into an empty net. The goalscorer's joy was cut short when he received a second yellow card for taking his shirt off, but even his dismissal failed to dampen the sense of euphoria sweeping around the Beira-Rio.
With a two-goal lead in the bank, ten-man Inter pulled everyone back in readiness for the Paulista onslaught. The outgoing champions stormed forward and managed to pull one back when Clemer spilled Junior's shot and Lenilson stabbed home the rebound ten minutes from time. Nonetheless, the 38-year-old keeper promptly redeemed himself with three magnificent saves in the dying stages to see his side to the title and a tilt at the world crown in Japan.
We are the champions
After raising the trophy aloft, the newly crowned kings of the continent gave their thoughts. A delighted Abel Braga was full of praise for his team: "We were the best side throughout the tournament and have made history at the club." Alongside him, a tearful Clemer received the congratulations of his delirious team-mates: "We were worried about them equalising again, and we really struggled because we were a man down," explained the veteran keeper. "This is the most wonderful thing that's ever happened to me. We thoroughly deserved it."
As a disbelieving Sobis lay on the ground sobbing, Inter hitman Fernandao waited to collect the leading scorer and man of the match awards: "We showed great determination and that's what took us to this historic win," remarked the skipper. "The key to it all was our team spirit. We were all in it together. As for Japan, I can promise you we'll be representing South America with the same desire and sense of sacrifice." Rest of the world be warned: Inter have arrived and are hungry for more.