After 183 days and 137 games, the winner of the Copa Libertadores 2013 will be decided when Atletico Mineiro host Olimpia in the second leg of the decider. El Decano, three-time champions and twice runners-up, start as favourites after a 2-0 victory in the first leg in Paraguay against a Galo side contesting their maiden final.
As you would expect from a fixture involving two of the best performing teams of the group phase, no-one is writing off the Brazilians. Indeed what experience they may lack at this level they more than make up for with a squad full of quality players, most notably Ronaldinho.
As well as continental glory, the winner will also earn the right to represent South America at the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013. FIFA.com looks ahead to what should be an enthralling finale.
The game Atletico Mineiro-Olimpia, Wednesday 24 July, Estadio Mineirao (Belo Horizonte, Brazil), 21:50 (local time)
Olimpia clearly have the edge heading in to the second leg. Aside from their first-leg win last week, El Decano passed a similar test against Santa Fe in their semi-final, when they travelled to Colombia on the back of a 2-0 home victory. And though they would end up losing that game, they withstood the pressure and booked their place in the final by virtue of a single-goal defeat. One worrying stat for Olimpia fans, however, is that they have lost their last three away games in this competition.
Atletico, for their part, have also been in this situation before. The Belo Horizonte outfit had to overcome a 2-0 first-leg deficit against Newell’s Old Boys in the semis when, despite losing their way at times, they managed to prevail. A potentially key factor is their decision to stage the game at the Estadio Mineirao instead of their own Estadio Independencia, where the club have a long unbeaten run. In fact, of the six Libertadores ties they have contested there in this edition, O Galo have won five and drawn the other. It should also be pointed out that Brazil has not always been a happy hunting ground for Olimpia, even if it was here that they won their last continental title in 2002.
And while both teams boast keepers in outstanding form in the shape of Victor and Martin Silva, on paper at least the Brazilian side would appear to have the better individual talents. It remains to be seen if this will be enough to overcome an Olimpia outfit who have repeatedly demonstrated solid team displays and a conviction that anything is possible.
Player to watch*Bernard (Atletico Mineiro)
*Still just 20, the diminutive winger is a key cog in the *Galo *attack, especially against sides like Olimpia who are adept at defending in central areas. Absent through suspension for the first leg, Atletico Mineiro missed the goal threat (four in this year’s competition) the player always brings. Adamant he is not distracted by a possible transfer to Premier League side Arsenal, Bernard wants nothing more than a repeat of his semi-final performance against Newell’s, when he opened the scoring after three minutes in the return leg.
The stat6 - This will be the sixth time in the six Libertadores finals Olimpia have contested that the Paraguayan side play the second leg away from home. More often than not, the format has favoured them, with El Decano lifting the trophy in Argentina against Boca Juniors (1979), in Ecuador against Barcelona (1990) and in Brazil against Sao Caetano (2002). Their two defeats away from Asuncion happened in Colombia at the hands of Atletico Nacional (1989) and in Chile against Colo-Colo (1991).
The words Cuca, Atletico coach:“The Mineirao is a better venue to play this game than Estadio Independencia. Olimpia’s style is different to that of Newell’s, and no we’ll have space to play our game. Moreover, it’s much more impressive when you have 63,000 fans behind you than 23,000."
Ever Almeida, Olimpia coach: “Anything could happen, but we have a good advantage and so must keep our composure and make the most of that. Logically, Atletico Mineiro will push up more than they did in Asuncion and give their full-backs license to roam, making an already wide pitch seem even wider. The Mineirao is a tough place to go, but it would be even harder if we were playing at Estadio Independencia, where they haven’t lost for ages."