Atletico earn Libertadores final berth
Belo Horizonte (Brazil): Ronaldinho`s Atletico Mineiro progressed to the Copa Libertadores final with a dramatic 3-2 penalty shootout victory over Newell`s Old Boys.
Goalkeeper Victor completed a remarkable comeback by the Brazilian outfit Wednesday by saving the final spot-kick from former Liverpool winger Maxi Rodriguez. Earlier, Bernard and Guilherme netted each side of halftime at the Independencia to tie the scores on aggregate after the Argentine side`s 2-0 victory in last week`s first leg.
Atletico will meet Paraguay`s Olimpia in the final of Latin America`s most coveted club competition over two legs July 17 and 24. Two-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, who coolly converted Atletico`s final penalty kick, could not hide his emotion after the match.
"We are ecstatic. It`s an amazing feeling. We are all conscious of the fact that we can make history. It is the first time in the club`s history that we have made the final of this competition. It`s a happiness I can`t explain. This is what motivates me to play; to keep winning titles that I haven`t won. I still feel like a kid," the 33-year-old said.
"We are going to be motivated and prepared for the final. This result tonight is not just for the players but for the entire club. There are people who work in the kitchen, cleaners and backroom staff that have been here for many years and never seen the club make it this far. We want to make history."
Reported Chelsea target Bernard struck in just the third minute when he ran onto a precise Ronaldinho pass before sliding the ball between the legs of goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman. The game stopped for 10 minutes during the second half due to a lighting failure and upon resumption, Atletico coach Cuca gambled by replacing Bernard with Guilherme.
The move reaped immediate rewards. The 24-year-old equalised moments after being introduced with an unstoppable shot from outside the area after a poor Milton Casco clearance. Tension reached a crescendo during the penalty shootout when missed attempts from Atletico`s Jo and Richarlyson were followed by wayward shots from Casco and Rinaldo Cruzado.
Ronaldinho then calmly fired into the bottom right corner before Victor dived left to deny Rodriguez.