Atletico Mineiro beat Cruzeiro in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores second round match, scoring an impressive 3-0 win at home and qualifying for the quarterfinals. Athletico Paranaense, meanwhile have won four straight Copa Libertas trophies since 2007. The teams are set to meet on Tuesday night with Atletico leading 1-0 on aggregate heading into the second leg.
Atletico Mineiro is dreaming of a Brazilian double, but their path to the final will be tough. They face cup specialists Athletico Paranaense in the semi-final.
Atletico Mineiro is attempting to become just the second side in history to win both the league and the cup. Getty Images/Pedro Vilela
Atletico Mineiro won their first Brazilian league championship in 50 years, finishing 13 points clear of their closest challenger. Veteran forwards Hulk and Diego Costa led the way. They are now favourites to win the Brazilian Cup in a two-legged final against Athletico Paranaense on December 12 and 15, completing the domestic double.
Only once previously has a team won both the league and the cup: Cruzeiro, Atletico Mineiro’s local rivals from Belo Horizonte, in 2003. Although this may seem odd, the domestic cup is a very young tournament, having just begun in 1989. It had a terrible reputation in its early years. That is no longer the case, and it now attracts substantial prize money. Whereas the cup tournament has lost some of its luster in many European leagues, the reverse has occurred in Brazil, where winning the cup has become just as significant as winning the league. It is, in fact, more significant for certain teams, such as Athletico Paranaense.
With its demanding structure, only three teams are seen to have a realistic chance of winning the league: Atletico Mineiro, Flamengo, and Palmeiras, the last two winners. One or two other clubs, such as Corinthians, may be eligible to enter this exclusive club, although being a league championship contender is an exclusive club. Because the cup is a shorter tournament, there are more opportunities for surprises.
Athletico Paranaense, for example, enters the season with its prospects of triumph predicated on cup events. They have already won the Copa Sudamericana this year — the continent’s version of the Europa League, which they also won in 2018 — and the local cup in 2019. They are designed for the knockout stage of a tournament rather than the league’s marathon.
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Athletico Paranaense went perilously close to relegation while Atletico Mineiro cruised to the league championship. The cup final this year will not be a match of equals.
The Curitiba team said as much three years ago when they reintroduced the ‘h’ to their name, which they had dropped since their inception as Athletico in 1924. In a Brazilian context, ‘Atletico’ without the ‘h’ refers to the team from Belo Horizonte, according to club president Mario Celso Petraglia.
Curitiba is not a tiny city — its population of 1.7 million puts it close to Belo Horizonte — but being the underdogs, coming from outside the four traditional centers of Brazilian football, is crucial to Athletico Paranaense’s identity.
Their semifinal victory against Flamengo, a Rio de Janeiro behemoth, is a dream come true for the club. They headed to the Maracana stadium with a gameplan predicated on deep defense with the odd counter attack after a close draw at home. It worked well, as they advanced to the final with a spectacular 3-0 triumph.
This will very certainly be the model for the first leg on Sunday at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte. Athletico Paranaense will play from the back three, with experienced captain Thiago Heleno in the center. They’ll try to absorb the pressure and create space for wingers Nikao and David Terans, and they’ll want to give themselves a chance at home in the second leg on Wednesday by exploiting an absence in the Atletico Mineiro defense.
Nathan Silva, who had been in excellent form in the second part of the season, is ineligible for this tournament and will have to be replaced. This puts an added burden on holding midfielder Allan, who was formerly on Liverpool’s books and has done a fantastic job shielding the defense and playing the initial ball forward all season. If he can assist suffocate Athletico Paranaense’s counter-offensive danger, then his attacking partners will have to break through the visiting defense.
Nacho Fernandez, an Argentine playmaker, has been one of the season’s best performers, and his relationship with Hulk has been the highlight feature of the year in Brazil. Fernandez, on the other hand, is definitely suffering the affects of Brazil’s punishing schedule. Is there enough petrol in the tank for him to tilt the final balance? His compatriot Matias Zaracho, a dynamic midfielder, still seems full of energy, and there are alternatives farther forward in Keno, Chile’s Eduardo Vargas, and Venezuela’s Jeferson Savarino.
In the two league matches between the teams this year, this depth of quality proved too much for Athletico Paranaense. In the beginning of August. Atletico Mineiro won 2-0 at home and 1-0 away in mid-November. However, Athletico Paranaense’s second victory came against a reserve club, since the starting team was rested in preparation for the Sudamericana final.
They will hope that this time, with full vigor, things will be closer, while Atletico Mineiro is dreaming of a double.
Atletico Mineiro are dreaming of a Brazilian double but face cup specialists Athletico Paranaense. The team is currently in the Copa Libertadores and will be playing against the club on March 20th. Reference: espnfc transfer talk.
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