At the Estadio Atansio Giradot in Medellin, Atletico Nacional of Colombia will play host to Independiente del Valle of Ecuador in what seems to be a tale of two cities, two nations as well as a story of David and Goliath. All of this to proclaim themselves South American club champions and the winners of the Copa Libertadores, either for the second time or for the first time ever respectively.
Atletico Nacional: The Favorite With A Mountain of Support
Atletico Nacional came into this tournament with a lot of expectation and were considered the favorites by many of the viewing public, something that seemed a bit different given the history of the underdogs achieving victories over the giant clubs of the continent. Still, Reinaldo Rueda's team have demonstrated in the 13 matches in the tournament thus fa, that they have played sensational soccer. They have a defense that has only conceded 6 goals, all of which have come from the knockout stage matches while scoring 24 goals in the process.
With players with talent and flair such as striker Miguel Borja, who scored four goals in his first two matches for the club in the semifinals against Sao Paulo, 19-year old winger Marlos Moreno, and finally, Davidson Sanchez and Alejandro Guerra in the midfield, Rueda's side have been ruthless with their counterattacking style of play and have demonstrated to the entire continent that they are the best team in South America.
Being a side with tradition, they were the first Colombian winners of the Libertadores in 1989, finalists six years later and consistent performers in the competition since then becoming one of four clubs to have the Libertadores final. Now, returning to a final in which the city of Medellin has been well-established for its industrial dynamism, they are looking to bring back South America's most coveted title back to the northwestern nation for the first time since Once Caldas did it at home against defending champions Boca Juniors in 2004.
Independiente del Valle: The David of South America
Many underdog teams have made it to the finals of the Copa Libertadores in the past. There is the aforementioned Once Caldas of Colombia, Nacional of Paraguay and LDU Quito of Ecuador. Now there is the story of Ecuadorian side Independiente del Valle, in which many pundits have said that they are the South American equivalent of Leicester City. The club from a suburb of Quito have come out of nowhere and rightly booked themselves into the final, becoming only the third ever Ecuadorian team to make it to the final of South America’s biggest club competition and becoming the first since LDU Quito who won the tournament back in 2008.
Managed by Uruguayan Pablo Repetto, IDV have always been a side that has been overshadowed by the three powerhouses such as LDU Quito, Barcelona of Guayaquil and Emelec. Being a team with a pragmatic style of having to absorb pressure more than to issue it, they have shocked the continent by deposing of teams such as former champions Atletico Mineiro and Colo Colo.
However, nothing has been bigger than their disposal of defending champions River Plate in the Round of 16 and powerhouse Boca Juniors in the semifinals, all of which have been on their home turf: Estadio Monumental and La Bombonera, two legendary stadiums of not only Argentina but in the world for the sport.
Key players such as goalkeeper Daniel Azcona, defender Arturo Mina, midfielder Junior Sornoza and forward Jose Angulo have only been three of the various key players with the two attackers combining for 12 goals throughout 14 matches, the longest out of any team and with the Paraguayan naturalized Ecuadorian shot-stopper making sensational performances in front of goal.
They have become a side who has only played in the Ecuadorian first division in 2010, which shows the humility that the tiny club has, especially when they made international news when they announced that all the money that they have received from gate receipts during home matches will be going to relief for the victims of the earthquake that had struck the nation back in April.
In the first leg last week in Quito, both teams played to a 1-1 draw. Atletico Nacional took the lead when Orlando Berrío's right footed shot from outside the penalty box found the right corner of the net. As the pressure got to the home team, who were desperate to score an equalizer, they applied extra pressure. They payoff came in the 86th minute when Arturo Mina finally scored. His header from a free-kick into the penalty box was saved but off a rebound, his low show went past Franco Armani to set everything up in Medellin the following week.
A lot will be played for in Medellin. If it is still tied after 120 minutes, penalties will decide it all. Can tradition help the Colombian side reach the summit of the continent or will a Cinderella story be complete?