Competitive football at last!

Proper football has returned to Argentina with the start of the qualifying rounds for the 2009 Copa Libertadores de América. Estudiantes de La Plata travelled to Lima where they met Sporting Cristal, former finalists of this competition but for now just glad to be here after CONMEBOL came so close to booting Peruvian clubs out of the Copa a couple of months ago. Not only did they participate, they won the match, coming from behind to win 2-1 and take a slim lead into the second leg in La Plata next Wednesday.

Enzo Pérez put the visitors ahead after 28 minutes of a first half which Estudiantes dominated. Leonardo Astrada sent his team out to attack, and South American Footballer Of The Year Seba Verón was at the centre of the first half’s most dangerous moments, getting things going just two minutes in when he forced a good save from Cristal goalkeeper Manuel Herdia.

With Marcos Angeleri and Enzo Pérez working the flanks, it wasn’t going to be long before Estudiantes made the pressure tell, and it was Pérez who got the opener, beating Herdia at his near post from the left when the goalkeeper had been expecting a centre. 1-0 to Estudiantes and they were seemingly in charge.

But they reckoned without the character of their opponents, and also without their own defensive frailties. Four minutes before the break Cristal equalised, with Roberto Palacios heading in a right-sided corner to beat a badly positioned Mariano Andújar to send the hosts in level at the break.

Franco Aliberti could have put Cristal into the lead twice in the opening five minutes of the second half, but he shot wide once and was denied by Andújar on the other occasion. Estudiantes were in need of a wake-up, but in the 51st minute Verón went close with another free kick, this time hitting the crossbar. Three minutes on, they were behind. Héctor Hurtado combined with Palacios, taking advantage of some slack Pincha defending, and beat Andújar with a low drive. 2-1.

There were chances for both sides after that, with Cristal seeing the best one hit the crossbar from Hurtado, but Estudiantes ultimately couldn’t get the equaliser. They have the away goal to take back to La Plata, but they’ll have to cut down on those lapses of concentration at the back if they’re going to go through to the group stage.

Copa Libertadores 2009 qualifying round: Sporting Cristal (Peru) 2 – 1 Estudiantes de La Plata

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