In just a matter of hours, Patricio Urrutia, captain of Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito, will play one of the biggest games both of his career and in the history of his club. The venue is the mythical Estadio Maracana in Rio de Janeiro and the occasion the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final, in which they will take on Brazil's Fluminense for the continental crown.
To the surprise of many across South America, just 90 minutes now separate Liga de Quito and Urrutia from glory, following their sensational 4-2 win over the Brazilians in last week's first leg in Ecuador. Strange as it may seem, though, the team were not immediately pleased with the result, as the player explained exclusively to FIFA.com. "We were annoyed because the margin of victory could have been greater, but after reflecting a while in the dressing room, what we'd actually achieved began to sink in: we'd beaten Fluminense by two goals. On top of that, if you consider we've always scored on the road [in this campaign], then we're in good shape for the return leg," says the 30-year-old central midfielder.
El Albo wrapped up the first leg in Quito in an exhilarating first half, by which point they had already raced into a 4-1 lead. Just how did they manage to be so superior to their visitors in the opening 45 minutes? "We were very forceful on the night but also precise with our moves from start to finish. Perhaps we should have tried to shut up shop then, but there was still the second half to go. Seeing as we were playing so well, we didn't think it was necessary to change anything," he says without regret.
The scorer of his side's fourth on the night, El Pato, as he is known in the game, admits that the possibility of finishing off the tie there and then did cross his mind. "It's inevitable, you do think about that even if you don't want to. That said, we know that in finals like this, no [first-leg] result can guarantee you the title." Will their lead be enough to see them to victory on Wednesday? "You need to keep your feet firmly on the ground until the final whistle," he insists, eschewing any hint of premature triumphalism.
Goals, constancy and conviction
Last week's strike against Flu made Urrutia the club's all-time top-scorer in the Copa Libertadores with 16 goals. As surprising as that goal haul is for a steady, no-frills holding midfielder, even more impressive is his consistency.
Since arriving at the club five years ago, he has scored in each of the intervening editions of the Libertadores: two goals in 2004, three in 2005, five in 2006, two in 2007 and four so far this year. So what is his secret? "It's about not going forward every chance I get, instead I only push forward every so often. That way you keep the element of surprise and arrive when not expected. When the team attack from out wide, I look to time my runs to get on the end of things, like I did against Fluminense."
Of those five campaigns, hitherto the club's best run had been in 2006, when they got as far as the quarter-finals. Asked to compare that team with the current one, Urrutia says: " ."
At the same time, the Ecuadorian international says the squad have grown in confidence with each passing game. "Every time we got through a round we felt stronger, and there was a growing conviction that we could beat anyone. Getting to the quarter-finals was good, but once we drew with San Lorenzo in Argentina, we began to think that we could go all the way to the final. We followed that up with a great game in Mexico (against America in the semis) and well... here we are."
Although the venue for Wednesday's decider is the daunting Maracana, a stadium steeped in footballing history, Urrutia insists he will not be overawed by the challenge.
"As captain and one of the older hands, you have to assume certain responsibilities and take the pressure of the younger lads,"says a player who lined out for Ecuador at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. "But if it's pressure we're talking about, I think Fluminense will be feeling it more than us, as they're the home side and the ones who have to come back from 4-2 down."
For El Pato, the key to the game "will be staying focused for the full 90 minutes, and not just the opening 15 or 20, as lapses in concentration creep in when legs get tired. We need to be aggressive in the tackle, win the ball and keep possession as much as we can, and avoid taking too many risks."
Urrutia knows that Liga de Quito are on the threshold of a truly great achievement. "Winning the Copa would be a source of immense pride and indescribably satisfying. The same goes for qualifying for the Club World Cup. Yes, we've already made history, but we want to make more, so we're going to Brazil to win."