Recognize this guy? Yes indeed! It's Juan Sebastián Verón and, after a long and profitable footballing career, tonight may be his last chance for nut-busting international glory. The Argentine, back home now (since 2006 actually), is leading his hometown club into the climactic game of their first Copa Libertadores final since 1971. Estudiantes de La Plata won three in a row from '68-'70 but had been absent from the South American showpiece showdown until playing Brazilian side Cruzeiro to a nil-nil draw last week in Argentina.
The action has now shifted to Brazil, and Cruzeiro's massive 75,000-seater in Belo Horizonte (have a good look, they'll be playing World Cup games there in 2014.) Cruzeiro, aka A Reposa or The Fox, are favorites, having hung on for that draw last week in La Plata. Their home record in the competition (6-0) is spectacular-- almost as spectacular as the Argentine side's inability to win in Brazil. Estudiantes lost to Cruzeiro in the group stages, 3-0, on the same turf, and despite two wins in neighboring Uruguay, they're thought to be balky away from home.
The "Fox" Den
But it's all prologue now-- Verón's dream finish... Brazil's taste for glory... Argentina's thirst-- it's 0-0 on the scoreboard and on aggregate. There is no away goals rule, so it's simple enough for even the likes of Lingering Bursitis to enjoy. The lineups come after the jump, along with an unfolding tale of toil and triumph!
(For live moving images, turn to Fox Sports Esp, channel 125 on Time Warner)
Before we go any further, you should know that Estudiantes, aside from having awesome fans (the club won the Apertura title at Boca Juniors in the final round in 2006 and their supporters almost tore down La Bombonera), are known as Los Pincharratas or The Rat Stabbers. The original team was made up mostly of medical students and their work with animal corpses during school made an impression on the other clubs.
That said, our Fox crew welcomes us to Belo Horizonte's Estadio Mineirao and a delirious scene. If this stadium holds 75,000, then there are a lot of people sharing seats tonight. (Update: Cruzeiro fans gobbled up 67+ thousand tickets in six hours; Estudiantes supporters were allotted just 3,000, all of which are accounted for.)
One last quote before we get started. This, from Estudiantes defender Rolando Shiava:
Let's hope they're already celebrating, as it'll be to our advantage. There are no foregone conclusions - all that matters is what happens on the pitch.
Cruzeiro: Fabio; Jonathan, Thiago Heleno, Leonardo Silva, Gerson Magrao; Fabinho, Marquinhos Parana, Ramires, Wagner; Kléber, Wellington Paulista.
Estudiantes: Mariano Andújar; Christian Cellay, Rolando Schiavi, Leandro Desábato, Germán Ré; Enzo Pérez, Rodrigo Braña, Juan Sebastián Verón, Leandro Benítez; Gastón Fernández, Mauro Boselli.
Referee: Carlos Chandía (Chile)
Pregame: Great start for Fox here. Sound is out as they go back to the studio. All we're hearing is some dude coughing up a lung off in the background. I knew it'd be tough to understand much of what was said, but this is ridiculous.
-They've gone to the video tape. Literally. Just saw Martin Palermo's bike kick goal for Boca Jrs. Great quality all around. I'd love to see the Euro teams try to walk in to places like La Bombanera or the Maracana. That, as opposed to the midseason bullshit that is the FIFA World Club Championship, which incidentally is on the line tonight.
-We're back to the studio now and... yup... more Coughing Man. Where the hell is Terri Leigh when you need her?
"Welcome to the Estadee-ow de Min-eero! Tonight we have a game of two halves with the Students of La Plata and Crew-zero!" (Sorry Terri... Sorry Spectator... and JSL...)
-More shots now from inside the stadium.. as the players are on the pitch. The Cruzeiro fans are in full festival mode already. Do they think it's in the bag? Or is just... you know, South America. Sadly, there has not been a word spoken, Spanish or otherwise, in 15 minutes. Just THAT song which I can't quite name. Italian something or other. Kinda taking the place of the Chaaaaaaaampions song from the Champs League.
-Where are the comments at?
Let's Be Ahhhvin' You!!!
-Que dice?? A commercial in English. That was odd.
-Obviously still a problem in the studio/booth as they have not had live audio from in or around the stadium since the Coughing Man interrupted a second time.
-Somewhere, someone is Bugging The Fuck Out over this technical trouble. Who remembers when the lines went down during the Turkey-Germany semifinal at Euro 2008?
-So it's Paulista for the home side over fellow striker Thiago Ribeiro. Gutsy call. (I guess)
-Holy Balls. It's in English. I'm actually a bit disappointed. No Max Bretos thank god. You gotta appreciate the anonymous, dutiful announcer.
...it sounds like the guy who does the AFA games on the weekend.
Estudiantes will take the first touch...
And we are off!
1 min- Cruzeiro earn first corner after Rolando Schiavi steps in front of a dangerous cross for a dangerous clear.
3 min- Not much of it, as Schiavi gets his head to the high ball... cleared and we dick around the midfield a bit.
5 min-Veron's name gets its first shout-- he just drove and elbow into Wagner's head. Believe it or not, there's no histrionics. And we carry on, still feeling each other out. The Raposa faithful are in full throat.
7 min: Unique from Euro games: Lots of (young) players are playing farewell games tonight. Couple going to Benfica, one to Italy... (Catania)
9 min- Veron free kick from just about the corner kick spot after a foul by Cruzeiro's Wagner...
Right into the face of the Cruzeiro defender. Corner now. Nothing comes of it. Set pieces are Estudiantes meal ticket, so they'll want better chances than those. Ball never made it in the box.
12 min- Getting salty out in the vast midfield nothingness. The ref is doing everything in his power to keep the cards in his pockets. Lots of yelling.
14 min- Cruzeiro get a look, but Veron is there to break things up. In his own box. Maybe I wasn't so far off before. Veron is playing in defense, the midfield, and up top.
16 min- Wagner goes down after Gaston Fernandez put a boot into him.
Benitez puts in a cross for Estudiantes, but alas, it is intercepted before it finds any Estudiantes. Neat clear from Cruzeiro's right back, allegedly Jonathan.
18 min- Estudiantes are nearly in before the flag goes up. Replay shows Barelli's foot is just barely, maybe off. Would have been alone on goal.
19 min- Estudiantes lucky this time as Ramires comes flying down the left win, but gets mucked up as he looks to catch a trailer with a cross. Should have taken it himself. Had a step into the box and a clear shot if he'd taken it.
20 min- Apparently Argentine teams have won just 2 of 35 games in this stadium.
22 min- First utter waste of the match. Uhhh. Gaston Fernandez, with his back to the keeper, ladled a cross to Boselli who looks to swing it home on the volley. He whiffs. And falls.
23 min- Action picking up now. Cruzeiro take a long corner and a powerful header from Silva in the back glances off the right post.
24 min- Fernandez registers his disgust with his strike partner by passing up a nice 2-on-2 break to launch a test ballon into the crowd.
And back come Cruzeiro! Paulista chases down a long through ball... but it's just snapped up by keeper Mariano Andujar. End to end stuff now!
Fans not as loud as before. Can Estudiantes get this thing to half tied? Feels like the clock is ticking on Cruzeiro.
And with that, another explosion of song.
27 min- Ramires comes down the right wing, but passes another chance in favor of a D-list bit of acting.
@Precious Roy- This is for you, sir. A fine game... for the past 5 mins... Sorry you can't be here. Sweet Brazilian air. Cachaca in every cup.
29 min- Brief pause as the medical team comes out to patch up Estudiantes keeper Andujar's knee, which is sliced and bleeding after that save from the 24th min.
31 min- Veron mauls through the middle to collect from a dallying Cruzeiro.. he feeds to Fernandez, who puts it across to Boselli who is beaten by Cruzeiro's left back. And yes, i did just type "Veron" and "mauls" consecutively.
33 min- Jonathan puts a long free kick sky-high into the Estudiantes box, but nothing from it.
34 min- Shiza! Boselli was just about away when a Cruzeiro defender took him down clearly inside the box. Alas, there's no foul. Need a replay to sort this out.
@jjf I'm here for you too! This is high drama. I was in Ecuador this winter and they were still going apeshit over LDU Quito (last year's winners.)
37 min- First sign of crankiness from the capacity crowd. This is no coronation, at least not yet. The play has moved back into the midfield.
...and now it's spread onto the pitch. Veron and Kleber pick up yellow (definitely Veron, cant quite tell who the other recipient is) Total Handbaggery right now. Our Chilean has lost the match.
40 min- Every challenge is ending up with a man clutching and whinging on the turf.
Veron is hip-checked... I mean Chris Pronger or Darius Kasparaitis would be proud of that... by Cruzeiro's Wagner, who is on the warpath. Estudiantes holding possession outside the the box. No penetration, but they're holding it. Kinda like the Junior Prom. Ba-dump Chhhhhh
But a foul now and dangerous free kick for the Rat Stabbers.
Punched away by Cruzeiro's Fabio
42 min- Another Estudiantes corner...
..is cleared away.
44 min- The Argentines are really bossing it now. No great chances, or shots for that matter, but possession must be 55-45.
45 min- Brana sees yellow for Estudiantes, who are UNLUCKY as Kleber should have been carded again for an elbow. Doubt the ref would put Cruzeiro down a man in the first half in front of this crowd.
45+2- The half ends with Estudiantes in firm control. Whooooa dear! Every account written before the match had Cruzeiro cruz-ing to a relatively easy win. But as in any game of this magnitude, the 'dog is being extra scrappy and the home favorite is looking tight. Estudiantes withstood the opening onslaught, or whatever bit of energy the crowd brought, and now seem like favorites. And let me say, Veron has been EVERYWHERE. Seriously a man on a mission. Touch to touch, up and back. easily man of the first half.
Halftime-- seriously now? Back with the muted studio analysts. It's great that they have some an Anglophone calling the game, but it's not like we can't bear the sound of Spanish or Portuguese. At least the coughing man is gone.
Ahhh, some highlights from the first half.. colored only with ambient noise and a rip-roaring dance beat.
Heineken commercial... but... no... Chaaaaaaampions.
Fox Sports promo: Latina (perhaps Wise) in a bikini drawing x's and o's on a dry-wash board. I like this channel.
And look at us! Back with some more highlights and commentary in English.
Big Stats: Estudiantes 2 shot, neither on goal Cruzeiro, One shot on goal.
We're back for the second half in this game of two halves and possibly an extra 30 mins. And Pks. Hmmmm. Drama yo!
Apparently Cruzeiro supporters drowned out the Argentine nat'l anthem with jeers way back when. I like it. There is not a prawn sandwich in the building!
46 min- We are off.
Just poured myself a cup of roommates' Pina Colada mix. No ice though. No blender either. There is however, rum. Game on Wayne!
47 min- Wagner gets first chance of the half for the home side... a glancing header off a long free kick. Goal kick now.
48 min- Cruzeiro back out with some juice. Same for the crowd, which was quieting by the end of the half. The task is the same for Estudiantes. Stand tall for 20 mins, then see what happens.
But maybe they won't wait? Corner to Estudiantes...
49 min: Benitez's kick is well short. I thought set-pieces were they specialty. They've been their weak point so far. Meantime, Veron the Beast breaks aborts another Cruzeiro attack. They were still back in their own trimester, though. Sotomayor, are you ok with that? (Silence)
51 min- Cruzeiro's Wagner rips down another Estudiantes player. That's his third yellow card by my count. He's playing prison rules. I like it.
Defensive throw in for Estudiantes. (TMI??)
52 min- Goooooooooooooal for Cruzeiro!!!!
Enrique blasts one from straight away, 30 yards out, but it takes a wicked deflection off Leandro Desabato, the Estudiantes central defender.
Enrique will keep the goal, but it's all on the defender. Piss. Not how you wanted that winner to fall.
55 min- BAD JOB by this announcer. Tells us an Estudiantes goal would make them champs on away goal rule. There is NO AWAY GOAL RULE in this tie. Weak. Now Estudiantes really need to level. I want to see this idiot cover up his mistake when the players don't leave the field at 1-1.
57 min- Cruzeiro fans rocking now. Literally. My TV is pulsating. Drowning out the idiot commentary.
58 min- GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL for Estudiantes!!! Gaston Fernandez!!! Rat Stabbers cut into the hearts of the Cruzeiro faithful.
Can someone double check the rules here. The announcer insists that Estudiantes win the damn thing if it ends a draw. I'm positive he's wrong...
62 min- Cruzeiro settle down, but make no inroads toward goal.
It was 14 minutes of madness, now it seems both teams are feeling they've something to lose.
@PR The commenter is sober. And maybe on a better feed. I was lightning fast on the equalizerrrrr.
65 min- Cruzeiro in their half court offense now. But again, no penetration. Even their goal was from the perimeter... and aided still by a cruel bounce.
@Georger That's the Cruzeiro guy. He's one cool Brazilian. See how that holds up as the clock goes tick-tock-tick.
I mean, I believe he's Brazilian.
The drama is eating me up.
68 min- Oh. No. Never seen that before. Screen just got cut into thirds... left third was a silent commercial. Other 2/3 was the field. Bad precedent. Hope ESPN isn't watching.
69 min- Boselli, with a Cruzeiro defender LITERALLY on his back, rips a long shot on goal.
Saved and punted away. Best chance since the goals.
70 min- Estudiantes win another corner off a blocked shot from Perez.
Estudiantes fail again, but keep possession... only to be drawn offside.
Wagner, he of the 6 yellow cards, comes off. It's a left back for midfielder swap. Idiot commentator says it's because of an injury, but he's not to be trusted.
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL for the Rat Stabbers!!!!!!!!
Veron to Boselli! Off the corner! The set-piece comes to bear, at last.
74 min- This guy has got to be kidding. Still carrying on about away goals rule! Cruzeiro need two goals, he says, over and over and over. We must root for the Brazilians to level. Just to see what this fucker says when they go to extra time.
76 min- BTW Athirson on for Wagner. Wellington is off for another strike option (Thiago). Cruzeiro are desperate. The stadium is shocked. That sound we here is the Rat Stabber support. Loud for just 3,000.
79 min- Commentator: This victory would be sweet for Veron as when he played in Europe he never got to hoist the Champions League trophy." Thoughts?
80 min- Veron free kick from 25 yards misses upper right corner by oooooh, an inch. Not more. Almost imperceptible from here. THAT would've sealed it.
Nothing from Cruzeiro. The manager is no longer cool. Looks like he's passing a kidney stone.
82 min- The push is on. Cruzeiro string together a few long, cross field passes, but the last is lofted too softly and the Catania-bound Andujar picks it out.
Cellay sees yellow for a rash tackle... 3rd for Estudiantes
84 min- Thiago gets in close enough to put a shot on goal for Cruzeiro. Not much on it. Easily saved.
84 min- Corner for Cruzeiro, headed away by... Veron. Unreal.
85 min- Estudiantes in hoof mode...
Athirson makes a decent run up the middle... long pass is put out for a corner. Chances running out for Cruzeiro. Here's another...
Estudiantes man off injured. They'll defend with a man less. Or not. Sanchez on to clog the midfield.
And Cruzeiro just rock a long strike off the crossbar!!! Cannot get any closer than that. Andujar was beaten!
89 min- Kleber tripped up from behind 25 yds from Estudiantes's goal. Free kick again.
After grazing a head, the ball falls flat to Thiago, who just fouls it off into the crowd. They might not have another one that good.
90 min- More yellow in the eyes of Estudiantes. They don't care. Waiting on injury time. Can't be much...
Still another free kick for Cruzeiro... this time from 35-40 yards out.
3 mins added
Headed, then hoofed out.
And a Cruzeiro corner is played long. Estudiantes clear, but Cruzeiro play it back in for another scuffed volley.
90+3- Waiting on the tweets... Estudiantes in possession.
AND THAT IS IT!!! ESTUDIANTES ARE CHAMPIONS OF SOUTH AMERICA!
What a fantastic finish. The Argentine side is run all over the field. The Cruzeiro fans file out in utter f^&kin shock. There are 3,000 fans still in the building and they are loud.
Good job FSE-- Live shot from La Plata. They seem pleased. /understatement of the hour
If you're an Estudiantes fan, is Veron not your hero? His father plays in your three-peat teams from the late 60s, then JS comes back from Europe to lead you to a first Argie title in 22 years (as of 2006) and then first Copa Libertadores since 1970. Magic.
Boselli: (some variation on) "...Cruzeiro thought they had won already." He's playing the No One Believed In Us card. It works in all sports in all continents, it seems. There is some truth to it, though. There was not a single account on the net today that predicted this result.
So that's all from Bela Horizonte!! A cracker indeed! Thanks for joining us... great way to spend a slow summer night!
RAT PINCHERS ARE CHAMPIONS!