Heavyweights to the fore
Paraguay: Cerro end four-year drought
After four trophy-free years, Cerro Porteno finally got their hands on silverware by claiming the Apertura 2009. El Ciclón thus put an end to Libertad's recent dominance and have now claimed a total of 28 league titles, ten short of arch-rivals Olimpia, who themselves have gone ten years without league success.
Cerro built their challenge on a solid defence which conceded just 11 times in 22 games. And despite scoring just 24 goals, 22 fewer than second-placed Libertad, Pedro Troglio's charges still managed to win 14 games, draw four and lose just four, helping them finish with 46 points - four clear of Libertad and ten ahead of third-placed Nacional. Top-scoring for the champions was midfielder and captain Jorge Britez, though his six-goal tally was some way behind the competition's leading marksman: 15-goal Pablo Velazquez of Rubio Nu.
Also playing vital roles for El Ciclón were goalkeeper Roberto Junior Fernandez, defender Diego Herner, midfielder Javier Villarreal and young forward Pablo Noguera. "Last time around we won both clásicos (against Olimpia) and beat Libertad once but we still didn't win the title. This time justice was done," said Troglio.
Chile: Universidad challenge
Universidad de Chile ended their five-year wait for a league crown by winning the final of the Apertura 2009 against Union Espanola (1-1 and 1-0). La U thus claimed their 13th league gold by winning 12, drawing five and losing six of the 23 games overall, scoring 44 times to 29 conceded. Leading scorer with 11 goals for Los Chunchos was Uruguayan forward Juan Manuel Olivera, which included the vital winner in the second leg of the decider.
Olivera aside, keeper and captain Miguel Pinto, and midfielders Marco Estrada and Walter Montillo, also made important contributions for the team led by former Paraguay coach Sergio Markarian, who was understandably delighted. "They brought us here for this and we achieved our goal alongside this magnificent group of players. La U have now qualified for the Copa Libertadores 2010, are just one step away from the Copa Sudamericana, and were crowned champions for the first time in five years. What more could you ask for after just six months in charge?" said the Uruguay-born coach, who subsequently stepped down and will be replaced by Argentinian Jose Basualdo.
Bolivia: Sleeping giant awakes
Two and a half years after their last title success, Bolivar climbed back to the top of the Bolivian tree with victory in the Apertura 2009. It took a goal from the Brazilian Charles da Silva in the fourth minute of injury time for El Celeste to seal a 2-1 win over Real Mamore and claim their 16th league crown, as well as sealing a return to the Libertadores for the first time since 2006.
Gustavo Quinteros's charges picked up 40 points, one more than Real Potosi, who were on course to finish first until Da Silva's last-gasp intervention. Bolivar won 11 of their 22 matches, drawing seven and losing four, scoring 36 times and conceding 22 in the process. The team's top scorer was 16-goal Uruguayan William Ferreira, who was also the competition's leading sharpshooter.
Quinteros's key performers were experienced keeper Carlos Arias, the central-defensive pairing of Augusto Mainguyague and Alejandro Schiapparelli, and forwards Jair Reynoso and Aquilino Villalba. "I never stopped believing and I feel really proud of this achievement. It's a reward for our hard work," said Quinteros.
Colombia: Caldas spring a surprise
Just when everything pointed to Junior de Barranquilla ending their four-year spell without silverware, in stepped Once Caldas to steal the show and clinch their third league crown. The Manizales outfit squeezed into the Apertura end-of-season play-offs by claiming the eighth and last available berth, before going on to defeat El Tiburón 5-2 on aggregate in the final.
"We showed that we're professional and we play good football, and that we believed in ourselves when there was still everything to play for," said coach Javier Alvarez, whose team was built around the safe hands of keeper Hector Landazuri, the tactical astuteness of midfielder John Viafara and the goals of Johan Fano. Nor was it the only time that Once Caldas have beaten Junior in the Apertura final, having done so in 2003 on their way to their shock Libertadores 2004 triumph.
Venezuela: Red is the colour
Caracas FC underlined their status as a true Venezuelan great by winning their tenth domestic league title and their sixth since the turn of the century. Los Rojos de Ávila, who won the Clausura, beat Apertura winners Deportivo Italia in the grand final by following a 1-1 first-leg draw with a 5-0 success in the return.
Under the guidance of coach Noel Sanvicente and boasting experienced players like Renny Vega, Jose Manuel Rey, Gabriel Cichero, Dario Figueroa, Emilio Renteria and Rafael Castellin, Los Caraqueños deserve credit for claiming the title while also involved in the Copa Libertadores quarter-finals.
"This is my finest ever triumph. It's the ultimate and is so enjoyable because of what it took to achieve," said El Chita Sanvicente, whose fifth title success took him level with Walter Roque and Orlando Fantoni as the most successful coach in the history of Venezuelan football.