Colombia’s Atletico Nacional lifted the Copa Libertadores for the second time in their history, beating tournament revelations Independiente del Valle of Ecuador over two gripping legs in the final. Miguel Angel Borja was the hero of the hour in the second leg at the Estadio Atanasio Girardot in Medellin, scoring the only goal of the game to secure an aggregate win for the Colombian side.
The final was the first between teams from countries on South America’s Pacific coast and also the first in 25 years not to feature Argentinian or Brazilian sides. Atletico, whose first Libertadores win came in 1989, will now represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016, a competition for which Real Madrid, Auckland City and America of Mexico have already qualified.
El Verdolaga’s triumphant campaign threw up some notable personal achievements. Despite only joining Atletico at the semi-final stage, front-man Borja ended the tournament as their top scorer with five goals. He also became the first player to win South America’s two biggest club competitions with Colombian sides, having also lifted the 2015 Copa Sudamericana with Independiente Santa Fe.
Not to be outdone, Atletico midfielder Alejandro El Lobito Guerra became the first Venezuelan to win the oldest club competition in South American football.
Atletico Nacional were the outstanding team of the competition, amassing more points and scoring more goals and conceding fewer than any other team. The club from Medellin posted five wins in the group phase against Huracan, Peru's Sporting Cristal and Uruguay's Penarol, their only points dropped in a home draw against the Argentinian outfit at the Estadio Atanasio Girardot.
Huracan provided the opposition once more in the Round of 16, a tie Atletico won 4-2 on aggregate to set up a quarter-final against Rosario Central, a meeting Verdolaga coach Reinaldo Rueda described as their toughest of the tournament.
Los Canallas were the only side to inflict defeat on Atletico in the entire competition, winning the first leg 1-0 at El Gigante de Arroyito. El Paisa managed to turn the deficit around with an epic fightback at home, coming from behind on the night to advance 3-2 on aggregate. Waiting for them in the semis were Sao Paulo, with a 2-0 away win and 2-1 victory at home taking Atletico through to the final, where they drew 1-1 with Independiente del Valle in Quito before completing the job with a 1-0 victory in Medellin.
The keys to success
Argentinian keeper Franco Armani was one of the mainstays of Atletico’s run to the title. Ever dependable, Armani pulled off some spectacular stops and kept clean sheets in every group match, while only conceding six goals in the knockout phase.
Rueda also had the most lethal attack at his disposal, with ten different players accounting for the 25 goals struck by El Paisa. Borja led the way with his five, followed by Orlando Berrio with four; Jonathan Copete, Marlos Moreno and Alejandro Guerra with three apiece; Daniel Bocanegra and Victor Ibarbo with two each; and Luis Carlos Ruiz, Macnelly Torres and Davinson Sanchez, all of whom found the back of the net once.
Making only their third appearance in the competition, Independiente del Valle enjoyed a campaign to remember, defeating River Plate, Pumas UNAM and Boca Juniors on their way to the final. Crucial to their progress was the reliability of Librado Azcona between the posts, Arturo Mina’s commanding presence in defence, the talent of Junior Sornoza and the goals of Jose Angulo. Independiente also won the solidarity stakes, donating all their home gate receipts, from the last 16 onwards, to the victims of the earthquake that struck Ecuador on 16 April.
78.5 - The percentage number of points won by the Medellin side throughout the competition. In winning ten matches, drawing three and losing only one, Atletico collected 33 points out of a possible 42, eclipsing Boca Juniors’ 2003 tally of 32 to post the highest ever total by a Libertadores-winning side.
Did you know?
Atletico Nacional captain Alexis Henriquez is the first Colombian player to win the Libertadores with two Colombian teams, having also formed part of the Once Caldas side that beat Boca Juniors in the 2004 final.
What they said
“This is a dream. It was a good goal. I don’t rely on the badge to score, but the grace of God,” Miguel Angel Borja, the scorer of the winning goal in the final.
“It was the right result. They had a very good opening 20 minutes and outclassed us. I’m relaxed and I’m proud of the players. We’re going to assess everything we’ve achieved. If you look at the average age, we have a very young team. I think we were the youngest in the competition, with players who’ve matured and grown as it’s gone on.” Independiente del Valle coach Pablo Repetto reacts to his side’s defeat.