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Atletico wins Copa Libertadores final
Every member of the sold-out crowd Mineirao held its breath when Matías Giménez stepped up to take Olimpia's fifth and final penalty kick. A miss at this juncture of the shootout would hand Atlético Mineiro its first Copa Libertadores title and complete yet another miraculous comeback.
Gimenez's resulting miss allowed the expectant crowd to release its joy once and for all. Galo claimed its desired perch atop South America with a 4-3 victory on penalty kicks after registering a 2-0 win after extra time.
This dramatic second leg carried all of the expected trappings after Olimpia emerged with a 2-0 triumph in the first leg a week ago. Olimpia contributed plenty to the game, posing problems on the break and threatening to dash all of the dreams in Belo Horizonte. Atlético improved as the match progressed and eventually turned up the screws at the start of the second half to ratchet up the pressure even more.
Jô renewed Atlético's sense of belief with his opener shortly after the interval. Halftime substitute Rosinei made an immediate impact on the affair by delivering an enticing cross into the Paraguayans' penalty area. First leg hero Wilson Pittoni scuffed his attempted clearance and watched in horror as the former Manchester City man – now better known as the top scorer in this edition of the Copa Libertadores with seven goals – turned home with a side volley to draw Atlético within one goal of forcing extra time.
Atlético labored in its fervent attempts to procure the necessary second until Julio César Manzur received a red card for scything down Alecsandro on the edge of the penalty area five minutes from time. Ronaldinho (now one of just a handful of players to win both the Copa Libertadores and the UEFA Champions League) hit the ensuing free kick into the wall, but Galo eventually produced its salvation moments later when Leo Silva climbed high to nod home to send the match into extra time.
The home side camped out in the Olimpia half during extra time in search of a winner. It did not arrive as expected, despite the additional man, as Hugo Ever Almeida's side defiantly held out to decide the match on penalty kicks.
Atlético leaned on its semifinal victory over Newell's Old Boys in the same fashion and proceeded with a ruthless procession befitting a continental champion. Vitor kicked away the first effort by Herminio Miranda to hand Atlético the initiative. Alecsandro, Guilherme, Jô and Leo Silva all converted to set the stage for Gimenez's miss and the wild celebrations to follow.
It proved a fitting end to Atlético's nervy procession through the knockout stages. Galo sidestepped potential pitfalls in the quarterfinals (a late escape against Club Tijuana) and the semifinals (the penalty kick verdict against Newell's) before mustering yet another late show to ascend to the throne for the first time.
The manner of the victory matters little in the final accounting, though. It is richly deserved honor for a club that persevered through adversity in the latter stages of the tournament and saw off a dogged challenge from Olimpia to reach the pinnacle of South American football. And the rewards – both in the present and in the future at the Club World Cup in December – make the toil all the more worthwhile.
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