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|Copa Libertadores special: Just how did Corinthians win its historic first title?|
Copa Libertadores 2012 Review: Corinthians campeão!
Here at SoccerAnchor.com, South America's night of nights in club football took a twist with another Brazilian club taking the title. This time however it was for the first time that one of the giants truly stepped up to the occasion.
It was the 2nd of February 2011 and once again, Corinthians were eliminated from the Copa Libertadores. Opposition? Deportes Tolima of Colombia in the qualifying stage of the prestigious club tournament.
There were boisterous calls from fans - the notorious "Gavioes da Fiel" - to appoint manager Joaquim Grava to the São Paulo club and thirteen days later, football great Ronaldo announced his retirement from the club and from the game. There were also calls for the head of manager Tite. The loss however ended up a blessing in disguise and ten months later after the Libertadores tragedy, the squad was in raptures celebrating its 'pentacampeonato' - its fifth Brazilian national championship title.
Corinthians was crowned mid-week with the Copa Libertadores de América. The obsessive dream was finally accomplished after decades of attempts and in its first final appearance it fulfilled the desires especially of its faithful fans.
It was a night full of emotion. A deserved 2-0 victory over giants Boca Juniors was enough to lift the heavy, gigantic cup for the first time in its 101 years of club history.
On another note, "O Timão" is no longer the subject of mockery by rival club fans for its empty-handed trophy cabinet.
Wednesday night local time was also a fitting end to the fairytale wishes of two legendary deceased Brazilian sportsmen, former footballer Sócrates and racing driver Ayrton Senna.
The former wished his side one day win the Brazilian title. His beloved club did so exactly the day he died, winning the "Brasileirão". The latter was an acclaimed "Corintiano" as his much-loved memory and winning spirit behind the wheel surelyinspired fans across the country to cheer on the "Timão".
The road to the Libertadores commenced on the 15th of February 2012. The side managed by Tite was in Venezuela and stumbled to a difficult 1-1 draw draw in the final minute to Deportivo Táchira. After defeating Paraguay's Nacional (not to be confused with its Uruguayan counterpart) in the group stage followed by a goalless draw to Mexico's Cruz Azul.
The second round of group matches were all victories - 1-0 over Cruz Azul, 3-1 over Nacional and a 6-0 drubbing to th e Venezuelan side. Things were beginning to improve at least on the scoreboard. Things however were not entirely resolved at Corinthians.
The elimination from the 2012 Paulista state championship in the quarter finals once again put Tite's job on the line. As a result, the solution was to drop several first-team players for the decision to prioritise the Libertadores. The first change was in goal with the performances of Julio César not up to scratch and was dropped for back-up custodian Cássio for the rest of the competition.
Full of confidence between the posts, Corinthians' defence began to show its strengths. Over in Ecuador against a strong Emelec side in the round of 16, Cássio was undoubtedly the hero in a valuable goalless away draw. In the return leg, it went 3-0 in favour leaving no chance for its Ecuadorian rival. The performance however began to raise eyebrows.
This was a Brazilian side on the road to something different but in its path was Rio de Janeiro rival Vasco da Gama. A side that has contested last season's Copa Sudamericana semi final and was the direct rival for the Brazilian national title right up until the final day of the season in a neck-and-neck race.
The São Januario was the scene of terrential rain and frustrated play. A lacklustre goalless draw away to Vasco was not that bad after all. The return leg promised much more and the tension was absorbed especially by the "Gavioes da Fiel".
Cássio was formidable as defensive midfielder Paulinho secured the only goal on 87 minutes to put Corinthians through to a semi final exactly 12 years after its last. It was midfielder Alessandro who beat Diego Souza with an open goal that made the difference between the Paulista and Carioca sides.
It was a moment however that for the first time in the tournament, the "Gavioes" faithful really began to believe this was it. This time a Libertadores title could be really happening and they began to look forward with confidence of not only confronting a mouth-watering clash against cross-city rivals Santos but to defeat the side lead by Neymar and company.
At the Vila Belmiro the dream really began. Always an intimidating stadium to play, the first leg was a tight affair. Naturalised Qatari international Emerson Sheik shook things up silencing the home crowd. It was a goal out of the script crushing hopes of holding the title for the defending champions. One-nil away for Corinthians was the perfect result ahead of the return leg at the Pacaembú.
Neymar did however get on the scoresheet on 39 minutes, after all this was the stadium where Santos crowned itself champions last year in the final so it was familiar territory. That opening goal was cancelled out only eight minutes later by Danilo, who is fondly nicknamed "Zidanilo" for his striking similarity to the great Frenchman.
Corinthians for the first time qualified to the final of the Copa Libertadores and awaited Boca Juniors, a similar rival as BBC's South American correspondent Tim Vickery describes.
The Buenos Aires giant disposed an over-enthusiastic and attacking-minded Universidad de Chile side 2-0 over two legs in the other semi final.
Not before the important two-legged Copa final, a hero emerged. The popular "Timão" was outplayed by arch-rival Palmeiras in the domestic Brazilian championship until youngster Romarinho appeared scoring two very important goals.
Then on the 27th of June, proceedings were at "La Bombonera". The nicknamed chocolate box stadium so famous for its blue and yellow colours was in its element, decorated completely from end-to-end in its most intimidating fashion. The stadium of course was buzzing in true Boca passion as the desire for a seventh Libertadores title was up for grabs.
That wish came early as Facundo Roncaglia netted in a loose ball in the goalmouth area for the first sucker punch. It was to be short-lived, in fact it was to be a disaster for Boca.
On came Romarinho, the new sensation on the block as Tite decided to take a gamble. After a beautiful through ball by Sheik, the young gun swiftly chipped the ball over goalkeeper Agustín Orión for one-all with only six minutes to go on the clock. It happeed to be his first touch of the ball in the game and in the entire Libertadores tournament in his very brief but exciting Corinthians career. What a way to start!
The return leg yesterday at the Pacaembú was a fitting end to the Libertadores dream. Two goals by Emerson Sheik and the Corinthians fans were in sheer delight and amazement. Their prayers answered and their wish came true.
Boca Juniors could not find a winning formula to unlock a stiff and disciplined Corinthians defence and looked far from repeating past Libertadores triumphs away in what is always a difficult task to perform - overcoming the obstacle of playing and winning in Brazil.
For the first time the prestigious trophy was in the hands of a Brazilian great and the chants 'Aqui o Corinthians' (Here is Corinthians) were sung for all to hear.
In all honesty, few football fans outside Brazil believed Corinthians would take out the Libertadores. Its own fans never gave up hope and deserve the lengthiest of celebrations. Their next task is to defend the Brazilian national championship title which is back in the agenda. This, a marathon in itself for then it will be Tokyo in December for the FIFA Club World Cup.
All the best in Japan!