South American Soccer

Copa Libertadores: Velez Sarsfield manager looks to shake off past demons

Gareca (Getty Images)


The Copa Libertadores — without global marketing and SuperBowl-like build-up — has remained one of the more prestigious competitions in the world. Its passion, purity and pressure is what drives all South American-based players to step it up a notch in the intense challenges that the Copa offers.

Brazil legend Pele has acknowledged winning titles with his Santos team almost 50 years ago as one of the highlights of his career. Argentina great Diego Maradona laments the fact that he wasn't able to participate in a campaign for the continent's most sought-after trophy since he was mostly based in Europe during his playing days. Even Ronaldo and Juan Sebastian Veron understood the magnificence of partaking in Libertadores action, as they decided to come home to finish out their respective careers.

In Ricardo Gareca's case, the Libertadores title is not wanted, it's needed. The Velez Sarsfield manager is a calm and collected man, hardly calls anyone out in the press and is very humble when being honored by other managers or players. It'd be difficult to know exactly what runs through his mind on the prospect of this year's semifinal tie against Uruguay giants Penarol, with whom he shares a pretty unique bond.

El Tigre will casually talk about how his playing days, when his Colombian side America de Cali side lost three straight Libertadores finals in the mid 1980s, including a last-second loss to the Penarol in 1987.

He'll reminisce about leaving Velez a year before they won their only Libertadores title in order to move to another Argentine giant, Independiente, before retiring. Or he'll joke that a curse was placed on him by Boca Juniors fans after he earned their eternal hatred when he joined archrivals River Plate for one season after several years at the famed Bombonera.

But there may be a slight pause when asked about Thursday's opponent, specifically its manager, Diego Aguirre. It's nothing personal and, true to his character, he'll likely praise his Uruguayan counterpart, while at the same time downplaying the Argentina-Uruguay rivalry; however, it'll be hard not to adjust himself at the memory of Aguirre.

Because it was Aguirre who was the Penarol player that knocked in the game-winning goal in the 120th minute that sealed Gareca's and America de Cali's fate during that classic 1987 final. Gareca could only watch helplessly on the bench, as he had been subbed off earlier in the match.

Now, 24 years later, both managers face off again, but this time from the sidelines as their respective sides look to clinch a spot in the 2011 final. It's appropriate that these two sides meet for the first time, because both squads represent the historic ingredients that have made Libertadores matches a phenomenon in South America, with agony, ecstacy and frenzy surrounding supporters and players throughout the years. Thursday night at Centenario Stadium in Montevideo, Uruguay, will not only be special for Gareca and Aguirre and Uruguayan and Argentine fans but for all Libertadores fans around the world.

  • Michael Vann

    Great little background story heading into the semis. Adds a more to the game.

    The Copa Libertadores is so underrated and unknown to many Americans. It’s a shame. I wish it were more accessible since there’s so much excitement and upsets. To some degree its passion can overtake it’s European counterpart, the Champions League. To me anyway, the Libertadores has that authentic feel to it where the Champions League sometimes has that corporate feel. I LOVE the Champions League but I get the feeling sometimes it’s more about the money than the trophy unlike the Libertadores. It’s going to be a good week with the semis of the Libertadores and the Champions League final. A perfect intro leading into the Gold Cup.


  • MadKingGeorge

    I agree with you Mr. Vann. The Copa Libertadores attraction besides the qualitiy of it play is the purity of it passion. Players play and people watch not for the artificial hyperbole associated with a popular cultural event but for the love of the game itself.

    Copa Libertadores displays all the elements of life itself in the simplicity of a game. There is a raw purity in the Libertadores than can not be dupilated any where else in the world. That is what makes it so great.

    One day this competition will be on par with the Uefa Champions League. Lest we hope the purity will always remain and not be tainted in the future.


  • MadKingGeorge

    Great work MR. Sebastian. It is only a matter of time before SI or the New York Times offers you employment. One day I will expect to start buying your books that you will began to write.

    This piece is very informative and also has some emotional elements blended with historical context. Your craft has been well done. I am looking forward to more of this kind of work in the future. Thank you.

    I think this year Ricardo Gareca will get to the desired land. The only road block once he dipatches Penarol is Santos. I think Velez will take the Copa with the second game going to additional time. The final will be that close.

    Come to think of it I ought to see about attending the final game in B.A. It will be a geat final that is for sure.


  • FG

    Mexican teams should not be in this…They didnt even make it into the semi-finals


  • Matias

    Hopefully we take the Concacaf version more seriously this year…Then we can focus on our tournament.


  • MadKingGeorge

    Who would have fill the last three spots-Guyana? Last year Chivas made it to the Final of the Libertadores.


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