Independiente win Copa Sudamericana on penalties

Independiente 3 Goias 1 (3-3 on aggregate, Independiente win on penalties)
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The Independent Football

Independiente's 15 year barren spell without an international trophy ended after the Argentinians staged a dramatic comeback to get their cloven hooves on the Copa Sudamericana.

Brazilian outfit Goias looked in control of the tie after winning their home leg 2-0 but an incident packed first half in Buenos Aires put things back on level terms.

Three strikes past Harlei and Rafael Moura's header for Goias saw the tie locked at 3-3 during half-time at the Estadio Libertadores de América. With the goals drying up in the second period and the drought extending to extra time the game was eventually decided by Eduardo Tuzzio's winning spotkick.

The players were greeted onto the pitch for kick-off by a frenzy of fireworks and flares, it seemed as though fans of El Rojo had kept some pyrotechnics back from their all-night vigil outside Goias' Hotel Emperador.

It did not take long before Independiente's red army of followers had a goal to celebrate. A cleverly worked set-piece from the home team brought back memories of the guile exercised by Juan Sebastián Verón and Javier Zanetti to get Argentina back on terms with England at the 1998 World Cup.

Nicolás Cabrera knocked a deadball 40 yards away from the Goias goalmouth to his right where it was picked up by Nicolás Martínez. Taking advantage of the time and space afforded to him Martínez clipped in a left-footed cross that was brought down and struck by Carlos Matheu. Goias goalkeeper Harlei did well to save at point blank range but the rebound was pounced upon by Matheu's defensive partner Julián Velázquez who smashed home his second of the tournament.

It only took a minute however for the smile to be wiped from Velázquez's face. Straight from the restart a burst down the left side of the pitch by Goias' marauding full-back Wellington Saci brought an equaliser. Wellington Saci's well placed cross saw Moura rise above Velázquez and loop his header over Hilario Navarro and into the vacant Independiente net.

Tournament top scorer Moura's eighth strike of the campaign saw the visitor's two goal advantage from the first leg fully rehabilitated.

If Independiente's opener expelled the class of a well worked set-piece then it has to be said there was a touch of fortune about their second. This time El Rojo's left-back Lucas Mareque got in on the act as he fed a ball into the box. Goias defender Ernando managed to beat Pato Rodríguez to the ball but then it all went wrong for the centre-back. His attempted clearance was struck against advancing Independiente striker Facundo Parra, the ball came back off the outside of the striker's left peg with all the precision of a Vijay Singh chip-and-run on the practice greens and disappeared over the goal-line. 

Three goals in the blink of an eye and less than 10 minutes later the tie was all-square.

Rodríguez, along with Martínez, had been given a start by Independiente boss Antonio Mohamed after having to settle for a place on the bench in Brazil. It was first doggedness on the ball and then a beautifully flighted cross from Rodríguez that set up El Rojo's third. Rodríguez's ball into the box was contested by Parra and Goias defender Marcão. A no-holds-barred aerial challenge saw the ball go straight up and players both hit the deck. Even with Parra's backside on the turf he remained aware enough to stick out a boot and guide his volley past Harlei.

With the half hour mark still fresh in the memory it looked as though we were in for a repeat of last year's nine goal thriller between LDU Quito and Fluminense.

As it turned out the game calmed down considerably for the remainder of the first half and continued in this vain for much of the second period. Mohamed was forced to withdraw both Rodríguez and Martínez as their effectiveness waned. Increasingly it was Goias who started to create the better chances as the game wore on.

Having already been relegated from Brazil's top flight a fortnight ago Goias had exercised the luxury of resting their whole team the previous weekend against the Corinthians of Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos. Even with a second XI in place they still wrestled a point away from the title challenging geriat-ticos.

Visibly fresher and spearheaded by the ever lively Moura the Brazilians came close getting their noses back in front on a number of occasions. Unfortunately for the visitors their efforts were often undone by Moura's striker partner Otacílio Neto stationing himself in an offside position. When Moura found the space to get a shot away he discovered Navarro was in no mood to gift him a ninth goal in the competition.

As the match entered extra-time it was still Goias making most of the play, defender Rafael Tolói heading against the post and former Copa Sudamericana winner Marcão seeing an effort ruled out by the linesman.

With the away goals rule holding no weight in the final fixture of the tournament the referee signalled for penalty kicks after over 210 minutes of football between the two teams. Five expertly struck Independiente spot-kicks meant it only took Felipe's effort to bounce back off the woodwork to hand victory to the Argentinians.

After relegation from Brazil's Serie A and leaving the Copa Sudamericana final empty handed its hard not to sympathise with the team in green and their head coach Arthur Neto. There will be now be as many people in Brazil celebrating Goias' loss as there is Buenos Aires. Defeat for Goias means Brazil's last spot in the Copa Libertadores is handed to Grêmio. 

Ronaldinho's former team now have every chance of coming up against El Rey de Copas, Independiente de Avellaneda, in next year's edition of South America's premier club competition.

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