Jul 2, 2008

Meanwhile, in South America...

...Ecuador's LDU Quito won the Copa Libertadores by virtue of a penalty kick shoot-out in Wednesday night's second leg of the finale. The Copa Libertadores, for the uninitiated, is almost certainly the second biggest club competition on the planet. Unfortunately, it doesn't get much coverage outside of South/Latin America. None of it was broadcast in English in the U.S. and I don't think European TV covered it at all (somewhat understanding considering the games are played in the middle of the night there). With all the attention the just-completed Euro championships received stateside (free TV coverage for the first time since, well, ever) you'd figure this might be about to change. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one but that's just me.

A shame, because there was some serious drama. And goals. Lots of them. Ten in two matches, to be exact. North American audiences surely would have appreciated this, along with the rough play and "emotion" U.S. sportscasters love to speak about. Because, you know, American sports are so much more masculine than soccer. But the play itself was admittedly not as refined as what we had seen at the Euros, which is to be expected seeing as that was basically an all-star tournament and nearly all of the best South American players ply their trade in Europe.

One thing that stood out for me was solid goalkeeping by both sides. Usually, this is the one area where South American teams fall short of true world class. But not tonight. Both of these guys, Jose Franciso Cevallos for Quito and Fernando Henrique for Fluminense, played really well even (especially) in the penalty shootout. In fact, Cevallos saved three (3) out of four penalties. When was the last time you saw a European keeper do that? The defending, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Think only several notches higher than MLS defending. OK, I'm exaggerating a bit. MLS defending is far worse than that.

Quito took a 4-2 lead from the first leg into the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Yes, that Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. It's still standing, though they no longer let a quarter million spectators through the gates the way they used to.

Quito struck first, after only a few minutes, temporarily silencing the partisan crowd. It didn't last though because Fluminense quickly created some chances for themselves and the crowd got back into it. Then Thiago Neves Augusto scored the equalizer for the home side. Moments later, he scored again. Thiago is a 23 year old Brazilian attacking midfielder who was capped a few times by Brazil's Under 23 national team but somehow was never signed by a European club. That may be about to change.

Then one of Fluminense's players was pulled down in the Quito penalty area but the ref's whistle stayed silent. It didn't matter because Fluminense suddenly had the upper hand, probably for the first time in the entire series.

And yet, Quito proved to be extremely dangerous on counters. The frenetic pace slowed a bit into half time, only to resume with force after the break. Fluminense kept the hammer down but Quito was able to match them. The play was rough and the ref briefly appeared to be losing control of the match. He was letting a lot go.

But not everything. A freekick was called on the edge of the Quito penalty area. Thiago stepped up and coolly chipped it over the wall and into the back of the Quito net. Left footed. Why is this guy not in Europe? Fluminense 3, Quito 1. We were level. No away goal rule. This ain't UEFA.

Neither team managed a break through after that, though both came close, hitting the posts once each. Extra time failed to produce a goal as well though Fluminense dodged a bullet in the closing minutes. One of their defenders literally rugby tackled a Quito player who had a clear run on goal. The ref didn't hesitate and showed him a red card. Fluminense were lucky. If the foul had taken place a few feet closer to their end line, the fouled player would have been in the penalty area and the transgression would have earned a penalty kick. Instead, the freekick went nowhere.

Fluminense's players, by the way, have some pretty cool names: Washington, Somalia, Roger, Romeu, Cicero and my personal favorite, Dodo. What the hell was that guy thinking? Where do they come up with this stuff, anyway? If a U.S. player ever makes it in Brazil his name should be Dude. Maybe put one of those weird accents on the "e" or something to spice things up.

Photo taken from Perucampeon.com without permission.

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