Although Brazilian side, Grêmio, have a 1-0 lead to take into the Copa Libertadores final second leg, the lead is slender against a dangerous Lanús
Grêmio is closer than ever to achieving what no Brazilian club has been able to do since 2013, and that is winning the Copa Libertadores, South America’s version of the Champions League. Renato Gaucho’s men snatched a late 1-0 home victory in the first leg against Lanús, but what awaits them in the return match in Buenos Aires, will be their hardest test yet.
In a Libertadores final, the away goal advantage is cancelled, which means that you have to take advantage of playing on home soil as much as possible, because the away leg is always harder – in South American football, this weighs a lot.
The Estadio Ciudad de Lanús – Néstor Díaz Pérez, has a a capacity of 47,000, which is higher than the estimated fanbase of the Argentinian team, that is about 40,000. Having knocked out compatriots San Lorenzo and River Plate on their road to the final, will certainly not help boost their local popularity among rival fans.
However, their stadium is tiny with reduced spaces to exploit. Grêmio will find it more difficult to play their usual expansive football in Buenos Aires, so they naturally had every single reason to press high in the first leg – which they did.
The Brazilian side had more of the ball, but failed to create clear-cut chances, as Lanús seemed extremely organized. The only two real opportunities of the first half came following blunders from Lanús goalkeeper, Fernando Monetti, who gave the ball away, trying to stick to his side’s passing philosophy when being pressed high – however, not everyone is Manuel Neuer or Ederson.
In the second half, the game opened up a bit, but surprisingly it was Lanús who were the ones who looked to attack in higher numbers. For a couple of moments, Grêmio found themselves sitting deep and defending. In the Argentinean side’s defense, they were loyal to their philosophy of building from the back. Iván Marcone brilliantly played the regista role, highlighting his composure when under pressure, and his ability to retain possession thanks to his technique and calm decision making. At some stage of the game, it was Lanús exchanging short passing combinations to advance the ball forward, but just like the Argentinians, Grêmio’s defensive setup remained organized and was able to neutralize all attacks.
In the 72nd minute, Renato Gaucho decided to bring on 33-year-old Cicero to the pitch. Many fans of rival Brazilian teams, were not even aware that the veteran had signed for Grêmio last month. In fact, Renato had coached him at Fluminense, so already trusted him and knew how vital his experience could be in such big games. The attacking midfielder did not disappoint, as he headed the ball past the Lanús goalkeeper in the 83rd minute to give the brasileiros a lead that they would retain until the end of the game.
The first leg might have been a dull one overall, which is hardly a surprise in a major final where both teams were defensively organized. However, the second leg in Buenos Aires promises to have a lot of drama. Will Grêmio finally restore South American glory to Brazilian football? The answer will be on Wednesday night in South America.