Complacent Holders Inter PA lose to Penarol

Wednesday 4th May 2011 will enter Brazilian football history as one of the nation’s blackest nights ever. All 4 of their representatives in the Copa Libertadores in action that night lost, 3 from situations that had seemed eminently winnable after the first leg ties. Never before in the history of premier Club Cup competition, either in South America or Europe, has a country lost 4 representatives in the one night.

The most prominent casualty, the greatest shock, was the defeat of the competition favourites Cruzeiro in their own stadium. Cruzeiro had done the hard part, in the first leg, going to Colombia and beating previous holders Once Caldas 2-1 in their own stadium. For the return leg in Belo Horizonte they were without their 3 star forwards, Wallyson, Thiago Ribeiro and Brandao recently repatriated from Marseille in the wake of a sex scandal. Imagine Manchester United without Rooney, Hernandez and Berbatov. Or Barcelona without Messi, Villa and Pedro. Or Real Madrid without Adebayor, Benzema and Higuian. Oh woops, Mourinho chose to be without those three for his home game against Barcelona, and lost.

Despite the loss of their three stars, Cruzeiro were still able to field two experienced international forwards, Farias the Argentinean and Paraguayan Ortigoza, both big money buys. The local crowd confidently expected a smooth saunter into the quarter-finals. What they got was a nightmare, a 2-0 home defeat that saw Once Caldas get the quarter final slot Cruzeiro had too complacently assumed was theirs for just turning up. When creative star Roger was sent off halfway through the first half Cruzeiro manager Cuca chose to sacrifice one of his forwards Farias, rather than absorb the loss in midfield or defence. It proved to be a major tactical error. Cruzeiro just never created any threat up front, Once Caldas played well scored twice and held on comfortable to win 3-2 on aggregate. Cuca kicked an Assistant referee in pure frustration but seems to have got with claiming it was an accident. But he was then red carded for more bad tempered behaviour. So that was the favourites out.

Fred has a sore head as Fluminense blow it

Brazilian champions Fluminense were next to fall. They had seemed to secure their Quarter final place with a 3-1 first leg victory over Libertad of Paraguay. Again they complacently assumed they could go to the Defensores del Chaco, shut up shop and cruise through. They were without the injured Deco but had an otherwise full strength side. With 5 minutes to go the Fluminense complacency seemed justified as they were holding onto a 1-0 deficit that would have seen them progress. HoweverLibertad swept them aside with 2 goals in the last 5 minutes, and then there were two.

Next up were Copa Libertadores holders Internacional PA under the recent management of old Brazilian legend Falcao. In an absorbing first leg game in Montevideo Inter ha ddrawn 1-1 with Penarol  a result which they assumed sealed their passage to the next stage. However on the night  in front of a stunned local crowds in the Beira Rio stadium Penarol outplayed and outfought a strangely lethargic Inter to win 2-1 and steal that quarter final place, leaving the holders shocked and dismissed. Falcao had chosen to play with only one forward at home, leaving both Rafael Sobis and Cavenaghi on the bench in favour of an inexperienced young midfielder who did nothing on the night. Falcao defended this decision vigorously after the game but most Inter supporters felt the manager had cost them victory. So the favourites, the holders and the Brazilian champions all lost games they had confidently expected to win.

Falcao Even legends make mistakes. Holders Inter PA crash out playing only one forward

The 4th club to go, Gremio provided less of a shock, having lost the first leg at home to Universidad Catolica of Chile. The second leg in Santiago went as expected, with Universidad Catolica winning 1-0 for a comfortable 3-1 aggregate win.

Fortunately for the tattered remnants of Brazilian pride the 5th Brazilian side in the last 16, Santos had, the previous night, confirmed their qualification for the Quarter Finals by going to Mexico and grafting hard for a 0-0 draw that saw them through 1-0 on aggregate. So Santos are the last remaining hope for another Brazilian victory in the 2011 Copa Libertadores. Under the canny management of Muricy Ramalho, Brazil’s most successful club manager of recent years, there is little chance that Santos will repeat the errors of complacency made by the other Brazilian clubs and they have replaced Cruzeiro as the new favourites to take the title.

Argentina, like Brazil, is left with only one representative in the last 8 when their Champions Estudiantes after fighting hard for a 0-0 draw in Paraguay to repeat the first leg score against Cerro Porteno, lost 5-3 on penalties.

Current Argentinean league leaders Velez Sarsfield fared better, winning 2-0 away to recent holders LDU Quito at altitude to complete an impressive 5-0 aggregate victory.

The quarter final line up is completed by Jaguares of Mexico who were rather fortunate to eliminate Junior Barranquilla of Colombia on away goals, coming back from a goal down no less than 3 times.

In the quarter finals Santos play Once Caldas with the winners  then to meet Penarol or Universidad Catolica  for  a place in the Final. The other half of the draw sees Velez playing Libertad and Cerro Porteno facing Jaguares.

LSA expects Santos to beat Penarol in the semi-final then face a Velez Sarsfield side who should meet and beat Cerro Porteno in the other semi-final.

However the reality after the events of this week, is that the overall standard is so level and so low that prediction is a risky business. Still LSA does regard Santos under Muricy Ramalho as worth a small bet to restore some pride to a greatly bruised Brazil ego.