After 132 games, the identity of the Copa Libertadores 2009 finalists have been revealed. Estudiantes disposed of Nacional in their semi-final, earning the right to face Cruzeiro, who eliminated compatriots Gremio. The two teams already met twice in the group phase, A Raposa winning 3-0 in Belo Horizonte and El Pincha 4-0 in La Plata. FIFA.com tells of the story of how they set up a repeat encounter that will decide who will represent South America at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009.
Estudiantes confirmed that they are worthy title candidates by overcoming a series of obstacles to win in Montevideo. Hampered by some notable absences including that of Juan Sebastian Veron, and with a crowd of over 50,000 cheering the home favourites on, El Pincha drew on their legendary spirit to beat Nacional for the second time in a week and reach their fifth final in all, though first since 1971.
Central to Estudiantes's success was their tactical discipline. The Argentinians kept their shape on the rare occasions when Nacional managed to exert some attacking pressure, working hard to deny the hosts space and stop them from playing. And when the chances came at the other end, they kept their cool to end Nacional's hopes, running out comfortable 3-1 aggregate winners and setting up the chance to win the club's fourth Libertadores.
Man of the match
Mauro Boselli (Estudiantes)
The forward failed to convert a couple of one-on-one opportunities in the first leg but made no such mistake this time. Boselli opened his account for the evening by slipping the ball over the advancing Rodrigo Munoz and added a second when he took the ball round the Nacional keeper and fired into an empty net. The 24-year-old is one of three joint-top scorers in this year's Libertadores with seven goals, and the only member of the trio still in the competition.
800 - The number of minutes that Estudiantes keeper Mariano Andujar went without conceding a goal in the Copa Libertadores, a record for the competition. The last time he was beaten before Medina's 75th-minute strike on Wednesday was on 10 March, when Leider Preciado scored for Deportivo Quito in the 85th minute of their group game. The previous record was 766 minutes, set by Andujar's fellow Argentinian Hugo Gatti in the colours of River Plate in 1975, and then Boca Juniors the following year.
What they said
"Unfortunately it wasn't to be. Getting this far and then missing out is hard to take because it was a big dream of ours. We should be proud, though. We've restored the prestige of Uruguayan football, putting it back in a position where it hasn't been for a long time," Nacional forward Alexander Medina
Gremio 2-2 Cruzeiro
Goals: Rever 54, Souza 74 (Gremio); Wellington Paulista 34, 36 (Cruzeiro)
Making the most of an enviable ability to strike at just the right time, Cruzeiro held Gremio to a 2-2 draw in Porto Alegre to book their first final place since 1997 and their fourth overall.
The men from Belo Horizonte ended the home side's hopes in a first half that was almost a carbon copy of the opening leg, with O Tricolor Gaúcho doing all the hard work and A Raposa all the scoring. Wellington Paulista's quick-fire double stunned the hosts, leaving them with the task of scoring five goals to go through. Their pride wounded, Gremio did manage to pull two back but never threatened to pull off a miracle as Cruzeiro eased through.
While Adilson Batista's side have some defensive problems they need to address, they pose a fearsome threat in midfield and up front, having failed to score only once in their 12 Libertadores outings so far this season. Ironically, their opponents on that occasion were none other than fellow finalists Estudiantes.
Man of the match
Wellington Paulista (Cruzeiro)
The 26-year-old forward scored his side's opener in the first leg and served further notice of his goalscoring prowess in the second, making the most of some slack marking to kill the tie off with two goals in two minutes. The first came when he slotted home Kleber's precise pull-back, and the second when he beat the offside trap to nod Leo's cross into the back of the net. Wellington Paulista is now his team's top scorer in the competition with five goals.
2 - The number of Libertadores finals Cruzeiro have played against Argentinian teams. In 1975 the Brazilians prevailed against River Plate, winning 3-2 in a play-off after both sides had won a game apiece in the two-legged final. A year later A Raposa came off second best to Boca Juniors, losing out in a penalty shootout following a goalless draw in yet another play-off match.
What they said
"I don't think you can use the games we've already played against Estudiantes as a benchmark, because the final is a different occasion. The side that show the most heart and play best will win, of course, but I feel this team are ready to be champions," Cruzeiro forward Kleber.