San Lorenzo seize the holy grail

San Lorenzo's 54-year wait at long last came to end on Wednesday 13 August 2014, with victory in a tournament the club had longed to conquer: the Copa Libertadores. Wild celebrations broke out in the stands of the Pedro Bidegain stadium and the streets of Buenos Aires's Boedo neighbourhood, when the final whistle blew on the Argentinian side's 1-0 win over Paraguayan outfit Nacional in the second leg of a momentous final - one between two teams that had never reached the showpiece before.

After being pegged back in the dying moments of the first leg in Asuncion, which finished 1-1 after San Lorenzo failed to make their dominance pay, the expectation was that the Ciclón would have an easier time completing the job in front of their home crowd. However, understandably hampered by nerves and frustrated by their well-organised opponents, the hosts struggled to find the sort of form they had shown in key matches en route to the final.

The turning point was the goal, a Nestor Ortigoza penalty in the 36th minute, which took the wind out of the visitors' sails just when they were enjoying their best period. After that, San Lorenzo settled down a bit and, despite a few heart-in-mouth moments, they largely called the shots from then on and held on to seal a deserved victory. rounds up the biggest stories from the 2014 Copa Libertadores.

The champions Having lifted the 2013 Torneo Inicial, whereupon coach Juan Antonio Pizzi jumped ship to Spanish giants Valencia, the club made continental glory its top priority. The Azulgranas duly appointed cup specialist Edgardo Bauza, who had led Liga de Quito to the Libertadores crown back in 2008. This choice turned out to be an inspired one, as the Argentinian tactician added extra defensive solidity to a unit that had sparkled going forward on the way to clinching the domestic title.

San Lorenzo laboured through the group stage, qualifying with the second worst record out of the 16 teams that went through, but came on in leaps and bounds thereafter. They turned their stadium into a fortress, winning every single home game without conceding. They beat Gremio in the last 16 and Cruzeiro in the quarter-finals, on both occasions holding firm in Brazil to seal their progress in the second leg. They also proved the depth of their squad, bouncing back from the departure of attacking prodigy Angel Correa to thrash Bolivar 5-0 in the semi-final first leg and coming up with the goods in the second leg of the final against Nacional without influential midfielder Ignacio Piatti.

What we learned As Nacional coach Gustavo Morinigo told ahead of the semis: "You can have history and a famous jersey, but they don't fear you because of things like that anymore." Indeed, this was a year for the underdogs, for the teams lacking major Libertadores pedigree.

Two of the semi-finalists – the Paraguayan club and their Uruguayan opponents Defensor Sporting – had never reached the stage before, while the other tie was between two teams, San Lorenzo and Bolivar, who had gone 26 and 28 years respectively without making it that far.

There were upsets of all shapes and sizes, including Penarol and Universidad de Chile being dumped out in the group stage by relative minnows Arsenal de Sarandi and Defensor. Perhaps fittingly, the most remarkable giant-killing was produced by this edition's biggest surprise package, Nacional, who stunned top-seeded Velez Sarsfield in the last 16.

The tournament also bore out the idea that the group stage and the knockout rounds are different kettles of fish. For the first time since 2005, the year in which the seeding system was introduced whereby group-stage results determine the draw in the next round, the final was contested between the two last-16 qualifiers with the worst group-stage records.

Brazilian blues Foreshadowing the events at the recent FIFA World Cup™, the six Brazilian clubs disappointed. As a result, for the first time since 1991, there was no Brazilian representative in the semi-finals.

Cruzeiro were the pick of a poor bunch and were the only of the six to reach the quarter-finals. Defending champions Atletico Mineiro were knocked out in the last 16, as were Gremio, while Atletico Paranaense, Botafogo and sleeping giants Flamengo bowed out in the group stage.

Two more stats hammer home this fall from grace: all of the previous four winners had come from Brazil, while the country had provided at least one finalist in every year from 2005 to 2013.

Key players Several players lit up the competition, including a handful from the eventual winners. The aforementioned Ignacio Piatti played a pivotal role in the San Lorenzo attack, offering creativity and end product aplenty. Together with Mauro Matos, he was the club's joint top scorer in the tournament with three goals, including two crucial efforts: his cool finish four minutes from time against Botafogo to edge the Cuervos into the last 16 and his strike away at Cruzeiro in the quarters.

Journeyman midfielder Juan Mercier was the linchpin in the engine room for the champions. The 34-year-old's exploits are made even more impressive when you consider that he only made his top-flight debut at the age of 27.

Marcos Riveros was equally influential in the middle of the park for canny runners-up Nacional.

Uruguayan forward Nicolas Olivera, a Defensor Sporting icon, rolled back the years to fire his team to the semi-finals, netting five times and finishing as the tournament's joint top scorer. He shared the honour with another veteran, the Paraguayan Julio dos Santos.

Did you know? By guiding San Lorenzo to glory, Edgardo Bauza became just the tenth coach to lift the Copa Libertadores twice. The most successful manager in the competition's history is Bauza's fellow Argentinian, Carlos Bianchi, who has won the trophy a record four times (with Velez Sarsfield in 1994 and with Boca Juniors in 2000, 2001 and 2003).

For the first time since 1992, there were no former champions in the semi-finals. On that occasion, the last four featured Barcelona de Guayaquil, Newell's Old Boys, America de Cali and Sao Paulo, who went on to capture the trophy.

The stat 25: The number of different clubs that have lifted the Copa Libertadores in its 55-year history. First-time winners San Lorenzo became the eighth Argentinian side to taste glory in the competition, after Independiente (7-time winners), Boca Juniors (6), Estudiantes (4), River Plate (2), Racing (1), Argentinos Juniors (1) and Velez Sarsfield (1).