Resolute Ecuadorians reach first final

Liga de Quito pulled off the biggest achievement in their 78-year history when they reached their maiden Copa Libertadores final after an incident-packed 0-0 draw with America on Tuesday evening. Coached by the Argentinian Edgardo Bauza, the Ecuadorians were ultimately indebted to the away goal they scored in last week's 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Estadio Azteca.

The high-flying Albos will now face the winners of the other semi-final between Boca Juniors of Argentina and Brazil's Fluminense.

"It's a dream come true," said Paraguayan midfielder Enrique Vera, struggling to make himself heard above the noise at a packed Estadio Casa Blanca. "We're going to celebrate this because we've knocked out a great team."

The Ecuadorians set out to control the game from the off, but found the visitors in no mood to lie down. Driven by the need to score to fulfil their dream of progressing to the final, America laid siege to the Liga de Quito goal and almost made the breakthrough they so desperately needed after just five minutes. Allowing nerves to get the better of them, the home defence gave Uruguayan striker Hernan Lopez the time and space he needed to fire off a shot that Francisco Cevallos did well to save.

The Ecuadorians recovered their poise and almost struck a minute later when their industrious Argentinian striker Damian Manso got on the end of a flowing team-move and shot just over. After the frantic early exchanges, the rhythm slowed and the chances dried up, with Liga de Quito content to sit back and both sides committing a string of niggly fouls.

Salvador Cabanas showed some isolated touches of class when he grazed the crossbar with a fine strike, before setting up Lopez just minutes later only for the Uruguayan to spurn the opportunity. Having struggled to recapture the dazzling form that had taken them this far, the hosts suddenly clicked into gear and almost earned a penalty just after the half-hour mark when Claudio Bieler took a tumble in the area.

Continuing to move the ball around with poise, much to the home fans' relief, Liga de Quito came out of the blocks quickly after the restart and twice went close in the space of a minute. First, Franklin Salas, a mere bystander up to that point, latched on to a pinpoint through-ball before crashing a shot against the post, the selfsame fate that befell Joffre Guerron just moments later.

Roused from his slumber, Salas continued to trouble the Águila defence, forcing Carlos Sanchez into a couple of fouls that led to his dismissal before setting up Guerron for a firm drive that Guillermo Ochoa did well to save. Despite being a man short, America kept plugging away and almost had their reward when Cabanas got on the end of a corner only to see Cevallos pull off an excellent stop.

But as Liga de Quito began to make their numerical advantage count, America found scoring opportunities increasingly hard to come by. And with Salas revelling in the space he was being afforded by an undermanned defence, the party in the stands got into full swing.

A second red card sealed the visitors' fate and after the whistle had sounded to confirm the hosts' fourth consecutive draw in the tournament and a debut appearance in the final, the jubilant players soaked up the adulation of the fans on a historic night for Ecuadorian football.