Though the final week’s action in the group phase of the 2011 Copa Libertadores de America was always going to be exciting, there were even more thrills and spills than expected as the last remaining places in the Round of 16 were settled. As ever, FIFA.com is on hand to review the best of action, which featured, among other things, last-gasp away wins for Paraguay’s Cerro Porteno and Brazil’s Fluminense.
Game of the week
Colo Colo 2-3 Cerro Porteno
Goals: Cristobal Jorquera 4 and Esteban Paredes 20 (Colo Colo); Jonathan Fabbro 42, 87 and Ivan Piris 47 (Cerro Porteno)
With the first half nearly over in Santiago, even the most optimistic of Cerro Porteno fans would have struggled to believe a place in the knockout stages was still possible. Indeed, while Santos were doing their bit by leading Deportivo Tachira in Sao Paulo, Cerro were trailing 2-0 to hosts Colo Colo, who thus had one hand on Group 5’s second available qualifying berth.
That was until Jonathan Fabbro fired in a stunning goal just before the break, swiftly followed by Ivan Piris’ equaliser two minutes after the interval. Yet even that would not have been enough for Cerro, but Fabbro still had an ace up his sleeve. With two minutes left of regular time and the Chilean fans in a frenzy, the Argentinian stepped up to place a majestic free-kick into the top-left corner of Francisco Prieto’s net to seal Cerro’s incredible comeback and first place in the group.
Surprise of the week
Argentinos Juniors 2-4 Fluminense
Goals: Santiago Salcedo 25 and Gustavo Oberman 54 (Argentinos Jrs.); Julio Cesar 17, Fred 40, 88 and Rafael Moura 68 (Fluminense)
Arguably just as worthy of the ‘game of the week’ title as Cerro’s thrilling fightback, Argentinos Juniors and Fluminense were involved in another enthralling encounter on Wednesday. The Brazilian champions needed Mexico’s CF America to avoid defeat against Nacional in Montevideo, which they did thanks to a 0-0 draw, as well as beating Argentinos Juniors by a two-goal margin in a packed Estadio Diego Armando Maradona. Difficult but not impossible, particularly in the minds of Flu supporters, who saw their team pull off an improbable escape from relegation in 2009, followed by an equally dramatic championship win one year later.
Having gone ahead on two occasions, only to be pegged back both times, O Tricolor Carioca made it 3-2 midway through the second half through Rafael Moura - though they still needed a further strike to progress. Just like Cerro, that decisive effort came two minutes from the end of normal time, with Flu’s talismanic striker Fred grabbing his second of the night when converting a penalty awarded for a foul on Edinho. By taking the final available place in the last 16, Fluminense join four other Brazilian outfits in the knockout stages.
In Group 1 on Tuesday, already-qualified Libertad ended San Luis’ hopes of joining them by inflicting a 2-0 win and securing first place in the section, as well as the phase’s second-best overall record behind Cruzeiro. The result heaped even greater significance on the meeting between Universidad San Martin and Once Caldas, and it was the latter - the 2004 champions - who pulled off a hard-fought 2-0 away win via goals from Wason Renteria and Matias Mirabaje to keep their Libertadores’ dream alive.
Also on Tuesday, title holders Internacional were given a rough ride in the first half of their clash with Emelec, before second-half goals from Rafael Sobis and Leandro Damiao sealed the three points and guaranteed first place in Group 6. Defeat for the Ecuadorian side took the heat off Mexico’s Jaguares, who progressed in second place despite slipping to a 2-1 reverse away to Bolivia’s Jorge Wilstermann.
Meanwhile in Group 3, Fluminense’s dramatic qualification was only made possible thanks to the draw between Nacional and America in the section’s other game. Indeed, the goalless scoreline would have been enough to see the Montevideo club through, were it not for Fred’s late intervention over in Buenos Aires. Nacional thus bow out, while America advance as group winners.
Though the Colo Colo-Cerro Porteno clash had more twists and turns, fellow Group 5 contenders Santos held their nerve to beat already eliminated Deportivo Tachira 3-1 with goals from Neymar, Jonathan and Danilo. The victory and resultant qualification capped a remarkable turnaround for O Peixe, who overcame a stuttering start to the group phase and a change of coach - bringing in ex-Flu and Sao Paulo boss Muricy Ramalho - to boost their supporters’ hopes of a third Libertadores title.
Player of the week
In the two wins that proved decisive in reaching the last 16, 2-0 over Cerro Porteno in Asuncion and 3-1 against Deportivo Tachira in the Pacaembu, Santos were driven on by a member of the Brazil side crowned champions at this year’s South American U-20 Championship. And no, that man was not Neymar, though the jewel in O Peixe’s crown did mark a fine display with a goal against Tachira. In fact, the hero of the hour was right wing-back turned midfielder Danilo, who scored a stunning opener in the clash with Cerro and was involved in all three of Santos’ goals on Wednesday. After his clever dummy enabled Neymar to open the scoring, Danilo set up Jonathan to fire the second before putting away the third himself.
6 – For the sixth consecutive year, Brazil has five teams in the last 16 of the Libertadores, thus underlying the country’s dominance over recent years. It is also the fourth year in a row that all the Brazilian sides that started the group phase made it through the knockout stages, while Cruzeiro have done so every year since 2008.
What they said
“I could see in each player’s eyes that we had what it took to qualify, even when the ref gave a penalty for the other team. I said ‘lads, we’ll do it’. Our hard work paid off, we were piling forward and then getting back to defend,” Fluminense striker Fred after his side’s epic and decisive victory against Argentinos Juniors.