South America’s version of the Champions League gets underway with Gremio taking on Argentina’s underdogs, Lanús. Here’s all you need to know
Trailing one-nil from the first leg against Copa Libertadores favourites River Plate, when Marcelo Gallardo’s formidable side raced into a two-goal lead in La Fortaleza, Lanús’ hopes of lifting the famous trophy appeared over. Four goals in 23 minutes later and El Granate had stunned River and secured a historic place in the Libertadores final.
This week Lanús aim to go one better but Brazilian club Gremio stand in their way. El Granate will be underdogs but are no stranger to this situation after dumping out River Plate. So, who are the boys in maroon looking to write their names in the record books?
Lanús secured their spot in this year’s competition by lifting the Primera 2016 title, only a second top flight championship in the club’s history.
Under Jorge Almirón the club progressed from a fringe contender to Primera champion playing some outstanding football. Paraguayan duo Gustavo Gómez and Miguel Almirón were snapped up by AC Milan and Atlanta United respectively and while many questioned whether Lanús still had enough to challenge, their Libertadores run answers that.
El Granate are arguably weaker than the 2016 side and have certainly struggled to balance their cup commitments with the Superliga. The route to the final has also been complicated having sneaked past The Strongest, beating San Lorenzo on penalties and shocking River but what Lanús do have is an astute coach, who despite the personnel changes has solidified his tactical ideas and importantly a tremendous spirit.
A spirit that is best personified in three club icons.
Lanús’ only previous Primera title came back in 2007 under the management of Ramón Cabrero and after making history then, Maxi Velázquez, Lautaro Acosta and José Sand remain vital to the side.
Defender Velázquez briefly departed for Independiente in 2010 but since his return has become the player with most appearances in the club’s history, Lautaro Acosta provides the genuine attacking quality that his place in the Argentina squad is evidence of and José Sand defies his advanced age to remain a deadly goalscorer.
Sand may have failed to set the world alight elsewhere during his long and well-travelled career but pulling on the famous granate shirt, the 37-year-old transforms into something much more. Far from just a journeyman striker, Sand becomes the focal point of the attack and despite his clear technical and physical limitations, a natural-born goalscorer. Having become only the third player to join Lanús’ 100 club, Sand now closes in on all-time goal scorer Luis Arrieta.
Arrieta’s record has stood since the 1940s and despite what was considered a ‘golden-era’ during the 50s, Lanús history is one punctuated with relegations, promotions and what-might-have-beens.
The enormously gifted side of the 50s, dubbed the Globetrotters, ultimately fell short in their bid to earn Lanús’ first title. The great River Plate denied them that honour in 1956 and after years of ups and downs and even relegation to the Primera C, this is probably the best moment in the club’s history.
— Club Atlético Lanús (@clublanus) November 20, 2017
Success has not come overnight. Lifting the now defunct Copa CONMEBOL in 1996 was a first major trophy but was an important step in Lanús’ gradual rise.
That maiden Primera title in 2007 ended a 92-year wait and over the past decade, Guillermo Barros Schelotto led Lanús to the Copa Sudamericana and Jorge Almirón lifted another league title last year. It may not be prolific but in the constantly changing environment of South American football, Lanús have established themselves as a consistent performer in Argentina.
Those few triumphs are cherished by Lanús supporters but would be dwarfed in comparison if Almirón’s side were to lift the greatest prize on the continent. A chance to play in the club World Cup and join an elite group of Argentine clubs is 180 minutes away.