San Lorenzo capture first Copa title
It has been a long wait, but San Lorenzo of Argentina -- semifinalists in 1960, in the first version of the Copa Libertadores -- have finally won South America's premier club competition.
In front of their own fans they beat Nacional of Paraguay 1-0 to take the trophy 2-1 on aggregate.
The club have an illustrious supporter: Pope Francis is a staunch San Lorenzo fan, and perhaps he organised a little divine intervention. Because this was a game won, not by the hand of God, but perhaps by a hand ball.
Ten minutes before half time Nacional right-back Ramon Coronel needlessly raised his arm in the box to block a harmless looking shot, and the referee had no alternative but to point to the spot. Nestor Ortigoza skilfully slotted home the penalty that ended up dividing the two sides -- but until that point in the game, there was little doubt that Nacional had been the better side.
Last week's first leg in Asuncion may have finished all square at 1-1, but it was a match which had shown off the virtues of San Lorenzo. The central midfield duo of Ortigoza and Juan Mercier dominated the play. The quick pair of Julio Buffarini and Hector Villalba worked well down the right. Centre forward Mauro Matos and playmaker Leandro Romagnoli clicked through the middle. And on the left, the clever Ignacio Piatti formed an interesting partnership with left back Emanuel Mas.
Piatti, though, could not play the second leg. He had already been sold to Montreal Impact in MLS. His absence disturbed the balance of the side. Coach Edgardo Bauza brought in a second striker, Martin Cauteruccio, to operate up front with Matos. They had no relationship. Romagnoli moved left, where he was far less effective than Piatti, and the team was much more open as a result.
The second leg, then, and especially the first half hour, was a demonstration of the virtues of Nacional. With Marcos Riveros back after suspension to anchor the midfield, the Paraguayans felt confident to carry out what they do best -- get forward at pace and in numbers.
They lack midfield artistry, but in place of elaboration they have acceleration. Marcos Melgarejo drifted in from the right to appear as an element of surprise behind the San Lorenzo defence, while Silvio Torales and Derlis Orue poured forward in support of striker Fredy Bareiro. Both put in some dangerous shots, with Orue glancing the post from an early opportunity.
The game appeared to be going Nacional's way. Then came that penalty.
San Lorenzo had already been forced into a rethink, switching Cauteruccio to the left and bringing Romagnoli back into a central role. There was a better balance about their side.
Even so, Ignacio Don in the Nacional goal was entirely untroubled until that silly hand ball by Coronel.
The irony here is that Nacional's impressive young coach Gustavo Morinigo had clearly been trying to play mind games with the selection of his right back. Coronel had limped off the field in the first leg. Morinigo said there was no chance of his being fit in time for the rematch in Buenos Aires.
It was a surprise even to the Paraguayan press, then, when the team sheet was passed round with his name on it. And Coronel was having a sound game until making the mistake that decided the destiny of the trophy.
Nacional occasionally threatened from set pieces, and had one clear chance from open play -- when a speculative ball into the box fell for Bareiro, but his shot was deflected over.
And so San Lorenzo's long wait has come to an end.
One of their biggest frustrations was in 2008, the club's centenary year, when they fell in the quarter finals to Ecuador's LDU of Quito, who under the command of Edgardo Bauza went on to win the trophy for the first time.
Now the same coach who ended the dream six years ago has fulfilled the dream in 2014. San Lorenzo are the last of the traditional Buenos Aires 'big five' to win the Libertadores -- as they celebrate long into the Buenos Aires night, their fans will think that it was worth the wait.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC.