BELO HORIZONTE: Atletico Mineiro have won the Copa Libertadores for the first time by beating three times champions Olimpia of Paraguay 4-3 in a shootout after their two-leg final ended 2-2 on aggregate.
Central defender Leonardo Silva scored once in normal time and netted the Brazilian side’s fourth penalty before midfielder Matias Gimenez shot Olimpia’s fifth against the post to spark wild celebrations by a 60,000 crowd at the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte. Victor had saved Olimpia’s first kick.
Trailing 2-0 from the first leg defeat in Asuncion last week, Atletico pulled a goal back through Jo in the 46th minute then levelled the aggregate score when Leonardo Silva headed home three minutes from the end of normal time.
Olimpia’s Julio Manzur was sent off in the 85th minute, leaving the Paraguayan side a man short for the whole of extra time, but neither team could deliver another goal.
It marked a fourth successive Brazilian victory in South America’s elite club competition and put Atletico into the Club World Cup in December in Morocco.
“It was the title I was missing. I came back to Brazil for this. Everyone said I was finished, let them talk now,” said Atletico playmaker Ronaldinho who had been due to take his team’s fifth penalty if necessary.
Ronaldinho thus joined a select group of players to have lifted the South American and European club titles after winning the Champions League with Barcelona in 2006.
“We should have settled the tie in first half but we’re proud to be vice-champions of South America,” said the Paraguayan side’s coach Ever Almeida, who won the title twice as a player with Olimpia.
Atletico had already made remarkable recoveries in the previous two rounds, owing their survival to a penalty save by goalkeeper Victor in the dying seconds of the quarter-final against Tijuana and another in the semi-final shootout victory over Newell’s Old Boys.
Victor gave Atletico the ideal start in the shootout on Wednesday, saving from defender Herminio Miranda and Atletico converted all four of theirs.
While Atletico’s players were receiving their medals and the trophy, some fans ran onto the pitch of the newly-refurbished World Cup stadium and almost got into a fight with Olimpia players but stewards controlled the situation.
The game was played at the Mineirão in Belo Horizonte – a newly refurbished multi-purpose venue that will host six matches during the 2014 World Cup, including a semi-final.
In a nail-biting finish, the game went to penalties after extra time with Olympia missing two of their penalties which led to countless scenes of celebration in and around the Mineirão Stadium and the city of Belo Horizonte.
In the weeks leading up to the match, the citizens of Belo Horizonte had been in a frenzied state of anticipation and many ardent supporters camped and queued for days in an attempt to secure tickets for the historical match for the club and the city.
Camillo Fraga, Municipal Secretary for the World Cup in Belo Horizonte, said: “The football fever that has engulfed Belo Horizonte in the last week has been fantastic to see and the passion and enthusiasm that our citizens have shown highlights the wonderful football culture that underpins and binds our city.
“The success of Atlético Mineiro is an incredible boost and it will only add to the excitement as we continue our preparations as a host city for the World Cup. ”