Atletico Mineiro made history on Wednesday night by winning the Copa Libertadores for the first time in their 105 year history. Galo (the nickname for Atletico Mineiro), as my friend Renee pointed out to me on my ever first trip to Brazil many years ago, are one of Brazil’s top sides. Well, they’re definitely in the top 10 but the great thing about football in Brazil is that the best sides change from year to year – the difference between number one and number ten is not that big, like it is in some other countries. Galo have won the Copa CONMEBOL twice (a South American competition that doesn’t exist anymore), the Brazilian national league title once (in 1971) and have a whole stack (42) of State Championships in the trophy cabinet. And now, finally, they’ve added the biggest prize of them all: the Copa Libertadores.
They’re from the city of Belo Horizonte where around half of the city are white and black (Galo) and the other half are blue (Cruzeiro). In fact, almost half of the state of Minas Gerais are Galo and the other half Cruzeireinse. America fans might have a thing or two to say about that but they come a distant third in the Minas popularity contest. And don’t forget that Minas Gerais is a big state with a population of around 20m people.
The build-up to the game included the usual shenanigans of the home side’s fans making one hell of a racket late into the night outside the visiting team’s hotel. There were also interviews with Ronaldinho about how he felt about the game. Was he motivated? You bet. He’d never won the Libertadores and neither had his team. Coincidence that Galo have won the Libertadores the year that Ronaldinho plays for them? I think not. #Legend!
As for the match, Olimpia, from Paraguay, lead 2-0 from the first leg in Asuncion. Keep the faith was the mantra from the Galo fans, going into the game. Now, sadly, because of inconvenient time differences, my day job and lack of a functioning computer at home, I was not able to watch the match live. However, I’ve read the reports, watched the highlights and spoken with friends and it sounds like Galo, on the balance of play, deserved it. What a game (check out the highlights at the bottom of this post)!!! Action packed.
Galo couldn’t find a breakthrough in the first half but Jô (ex-Everton, Man City, Corinthians and CSKA) got them off to a flyer in the second half by scoring in the first minute. The action continued and drama unfolded. Chances went begging for both teams. And when it looked like Galo’s valiant efforts would not be enough (some fans were even starting to cry), giant centre back Leonardo Silva rose to head home a Bernard cross and take the game into extra time, with just three minutes of normal time left!
In between that and the first goal Olimpia could have and should have put the game to bed but their striker slipped after he had rounded the keeper and had an open goal. Unlucky. But, Galo had other chances too. If Bernard was a little bit taller Atletico would have had another goal. And Jô was clearly fouled in the box but the ref missed it. They hit the post and the Paraguayan keeper was on form. The deadlock couldn’t be broken in extra-time and the game, cruelly for Olimpia, was decided on penalties. Galo keeper Vitor, the hero.
On recent form it’s clear why Man City were prepared to pay 19 million pounds for him. I thought he was good at Everton and so did David Moyes – its just too bad that he decided to go AWOL (he took a midseason holiday in Brazil, not once but twice). But really, since those days he has been a bit of a journeyman. He didn’t do very well at Internacional or Galatasary. But since then, he’s built quite a friendship and partnership with Ronaldinho, who, after the game said to him in front of the TV cameras : “I told you that you would get recalled to the selecao and that you could be the artilheiro te tudo (top scorer in all competitions)”. Indeed, with 7 Libertadores goals he was the artilheiro in South America’s most important competition. And of course, he was recalled to the selecao and scored two goals in the Confederations Cup.
I’ve often defended him even when everybody else was slagging him off. Brazilians – like lots of football fans to be fair – do tend to have short memories. One minute they’re calling for him to be the national team’s saviour – the next, their saying off with his head! Yes, his form did dip at Flamengo but what would you expect if you have won the World Cup, European Cup, are a twice former World Player of the Year and your club were not paying your wages? The fans deserved more but I’d blame the directors for that, not Ronaldinho. The move to Galo was a surprise but in the end it really worked out well for both parties. The expectations on him weren’t too high and Galo needed a star. Somebody to lift their profile again. Before that they had been fighting relegation battles and generally not doing very much worth talking about. It probably helps that the nightlife in Belo Horizonte is not as good as it is in Rio too.
He’s also only the fourth Brazilian player to win both a Copa Libertadores and a European Cup. Can you guess the other three? The answer is at the end of the post.
I really hope he plays in the World Cup next year!
Galo’s team is strong, of course. As well as Ronaldinho and Jo, they’ve got Bernard, Tardelli, Vitor and Rever, who are all stars in their own right. They even have Gilberto Silva (ex-Arsenal and Selecao) in their squad (but he can’t get a game). Remember, Gilberto Silva shot to fame playing for Galo before the 2002 World Cup. Although he isn’t good enough to start for them these, according to Ronaldinho he makes a huge difference to the dressing room. Gilberto Silva. Legend.
Another former Atletico favourite, who moved abroad and has come back is Diego Tardelli. Top striker who’s also played for the selecao. Brazilian clubs seem to be bringing back former favourites a lot more frequently than in the past and it seems to pay big rewards (if you’re not a Palmeiras fan, of course). Its not happening for Luis Fabiano at Sao Paulo these days but he did win the Sudamericana with them after his return and it worked with Robinho at Santos a few years ago. Atletico also have Bernard in their team, who earned a surprise call-up for Brazil at the Confederations Cup. He’s also rumoured to be on the verge of a £21m move to Arsenal. Lets see. Former Palmeiras water carrier Pierre holds things together in midfield for Galo alongside another water carrier and ex-selecao Josue.
Journeyman Alecsandro is a pretty decent striker to have on the bench while captain and centre back Rever has been one of the top defenders in Brazil for some time now. He was Brazil’s reserve centre back at the Confederations Cup by the way. And, keeper Vitor is good and also played for the selecao before. Just because Richarlyson is almost certainly gay doesn’t make him a bad player either (although he was suspended for the final).
The coach Cuca is a bit of a wanker to be honest (like a lot of other Brazilian coaches it must be said). Fair play to him though. He may be a wanker but has been there or thereabouts for a while and probably deserves this trophy for that, if not his personality. Check out this video of him hitting the table during a press conference. Start playing the video after one minute… (he’s basically been giving a monologue about how nobody should criticise him because his team lost for a minute already). What is that all about? Or, what about this one where he elbows Renteria in the face? Cuca’s response: “he ran into me and of course he faked an injury because he’s a cheat and wanted to waste time”.
Nice cross from Bernard for the second! And great penalty from Alecsandro
Other Galo Libertadores goals
Jô’s hatrick against Sao Paulo (check out Ronalidnho’s disguised pass for the third. Class!) Not particularly impressed with Rogerio Ceni’s reactions for the second (time to hang up the boots, perhaps Rogerio?)
Bernard, against Newells in the semi. Nice finish and what about that for a pass from Ronaldinho!!!
The other three Libertadores and European Cup winners are Dida, Cafu and Roque Junior, of course. Quite how Roque Junior achieved that impressive feat, I’m not too sure!
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