Thursday, 19 August 2010

Inter Crowned Champions of South America

With a 2-1 lead from the first leg, Internacional were strong favourites to lift the Copa Libertadores for the second time in five years. Duly enough, in an exciting game at the Beira-Rio, the Colorado ran out 3-2 winners over Mexican side Chivas, sparking wild celebrations in Porto Alegre.

Joy for Inter captain Bolívar as he lifts the Libertadores trophy.

Internacional 3-2 Chivas (5-3 on aggregate)
Inter coach Celso Roth made two changes from last week's first leg; one tactical, one forced upon him. Alecsandro, still feeling the effects of a pulled muscle, was not fit enough to start, and young star Giuliano also dropped to the bench. Into the line-up came two veterans of the club's 2006 Libertadores victory; midfield dynamo Tinga and energetic forward Rafael Sobis. Both would prove decisive once again as Inter battled to victory.

The home side, understandably perhaps, started nervously; gone was the slick passing and conviction of the first leg, replaced by long balls and midfield scrapping. Full-backs Nei and Kléber, usually so influential in the attacking third, were pinned back by Chivas, as the Mexican side enjoyed the better start. Inter gradually worked their way into the tie, thanks in large part to the workrate and ferocity of Tinga, but created little in an attritional opening period. Just as the half was petering out, however, Chivas landed a sucker punch on their Brazilian opponents. A long ball was nodded down to Marco Fabián, the away side's standout performer on the night, who unleashed an acrobatic volley before Índio could put in a challange. It was a truly stunning finish, one which left Inter goalkeeper Renan in awe rooted to the spot. Just as in the first leg, Inter would have to react after the interval.

And react they certainly did. Roth moved Taison to the right wing, where his pace immediately caused problems for Chivas. The reshuffle also freed Kléber to bomb forward from left-back, the result of which was almost instantaneous. Released into space by Tinga, Kléber bent in a tempting low cross which was poked home gleefully by Rafael Sobis. The Beira-Rio went wild, yet the striker was oddly left by his teammates to celebrate alone; a strangely awkward moment.

Leandro Damião celebrates his decisive goal for Inter.

This was an evening during which Roth had the midas touch; Inter's win would be secured thanks to two second half substitutes. With 15 minutes left to play, and with Chivas looking increasingly dangerous, the home side netted a second on the counter-attack. Young striker Leandro Damião skipped clear of Héctor Reynoso and bore down on Chivas 'keeper Luís Michel. The Mexican got a hand to Damião's shot, but could not prevent it from sneaking in at the near post. The third would be added, almost inevitably, by Giuliano; the Colorado's lucky charm in this season's competition. As the game ticked into injury time, the midfielder burst between two tired challenges, before lifting a delightful chip over Michel and into the net.

Chivas, down to 10 men following Omar Arellano's dismissal, nicked a consolation in the dying seconds through Patricio Araujo, but it was a case of too little, too late. The final whistle sounded, and the Inter players celebrated wildly. The party atmosphere was interrupted briefly as a scuffle broke out among the players (classic South American football!), but order was soon restored. All that remained was for Inter captain Bolívar (a nickname that fittingly echoes the name of Símon Bolívar, one of the 'liberators' after which the competition is named) to receive the taça from Pelé (decked out in a dapper red suit) and raise it aloft. Congratulations to Internacional, bicampeão da América!!!

(Photo credits; (1) Antonio Lacerda/Efe, (2) Silvia Izquierdo/AP.)

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