By NESTOR F. SEBASTIAN
Out of the four semifinalists in this year's Copa Libertadores, only Paraguay's Cerro Porteno will be vying for its first title with Brazil's Santos, Argentina's Velez Sarsfield and Uruguay's Penarol all having lifted the trophy on at least one occasion.
While Cerro will look to bring back the silverware to Paraguay, only compatriot side Olimpia has been able to do previously, accomplishing the feat three times. Meanwhile, Penarol has won the cup five times (1960, 1961, 1966, 1982, 1987), Santos twice (1962, 1963) and Velez once (1994).
The semifinal stage will pit Penarol and Velez, a match that will attract fans because of the historic Argentina-Uruguay rivalry. Cerro will have to get by Santos' young rising side, one that's improved each round.
Here is a recap of how the four remaining teams emerged from the Copa Libertadores quarterfinals:
COPA LIBERTADORES QUARTERFINALS SECOND LEGS
Libertad 2, Velez Sarsfield 4 (Velez wins, 7-2, on aggregate)
For a minute, Libertad probably thought that another miraculous comeback was achievable following a hard-fought series win over Brazil's Fluminense in the Round of 16.
Right before halftime, Libertad's Rodrigo Rojas volleyed in a cross from the top of the box, leaving Argentine goalie Marcelo Barovero frozen, and giving hope to the Paraguayans, down 3-1 on aggregate. But Libertad defender Arnaldo Vera, attempting to clear the ball on the other end just moments later, booted it to Velez midfielder Victor Zapata, who immediately played it back to a sprinting Maxi Moralez. The 24-year-old playmaker zipped by an ineffective Vera and blasted the ball into the net, essentially ending chances for Libertad, which now needed four more goals.
Moralez netted another in the 64th minute to give him his fifth of the competition, which places him in a third-place tie for the tournament's leading scorer.
Santos 1, Once Caldas 1 (Santos wins, 2-1, on aggregate)
Coveted teen star Neymar played one of his best matches of the tournament, netting a goal in the 11th minute, but missed a penalty with about five minutes left that would have sealed it. The skinny striker was the recipient of a misplaced ball from a Caldas defender, quickly settling it from just outside the top of the box and expertly booting past the outstretched hands of Caldas keeper Luis Martinez.
About 20 minutes later, the Colombian side equalized thanks to a goal from Wason Renteria, who managed to poke in the ball that came from a free kick which sailed through Caldas and Santos players near the goalmouth. Caldas manager Juan Carlos Osorio was ejected towards the end of the match after he got in a line official's face following Neymar's missed penalty.
Universidad Catolica 2, Penarol 1 (Penarol wins, 3-2, on aggregate)
This match was a classic Libertadores contest. While it may be unneccesary to label any sporting event a battle, the Catolica-Manya tilt had all the ingredients of an early 80s games, with the intensity, passion and atmosphere rarely seen in Latin America nowadays.
The stadium in Chile erupted when Catolica pulled even on aggregate with a lovely strike from Roberto Gutierrez, giving momentum to the Chileans, who pressed for the third and winning goal. But the 500 Penarol fans that made the trek exploded themselves when, with five minutes remaining, Fabian Estoyanoff netted past goalie Paulo Garces on a curving volley from Luis Aguiar to book the Uruguayan giants into the semifinals.
Cerro Porteno 1, Jaguares 0 (Cerro Porteno wins, 2-1, on aggregate)
A 72nd-minute header by Pedro Benitez appeared to be offside, but even if the match stayed goalless, the Paraguayans would have advanced. Credit had to be given to the Mexican side, who appeared to put all of their focus on this tournament after tumbling in their league championship.
Cerro striker Roberto Nanni, the tournament's leading scorer with seven goals, was quiet but Argentine Jonathan Fabbro was able to control play for the Paraguayan side.
What do think of the quarterfinal results? Which teams do you see advancing to the Copa Libertadores final?
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