The Libertadores Cup is South America’s version of the UEFA Champions League. Like its European counterpart, it’s quite a bloated affair, but it can often throw up a surprise winner. And another thing the competitions have in common is the impressive silverware on offer.
This season three of the four semi-finalists have never won it before. Only Olimpia of Paraguay, in 1979, 1990 and 2002, have been champions. Of the other three, Newell’s Old Boys, who are not a member of the Southern Amateur Football League, despite their name, are hoping to follow up their Argentine title win with an historic triumph. Newell’s Old Boys was Lionel Messi’s first club.
Newell’s took a big step towards reaching the Libertadores final when they beat Atletico Mineiro (arguably the best side in Brazil at the moment) 2-0 in the semi-final first leg, Ronaldinho and all.
Newell’s are from Rosario, which English fans will recall as one of the venues for Argentina 78, although their stadium, Estadio Marcelo Bielsa, was not the one used.
The club is named after one Isaac Newell, an English teacher from Kent. He was one of a number of English gentleman who acted as football missionaries. Initially, the club was formed, in November 1903, for teachers and students of the college Newell formed, Colegio Comercial Anglicano Argentino. The college colours were a combination of the English and German flags (Newell’s wife was German). The red and black colours stand today as Newell’s Old Boys playing strip.
Newell’s Old Boys are enjoying a vintage 2013. They finished second in Argentina’s first stage, the Torneo Inicial, losing just once but still five points behind Velez Sarsfield. In the Torneo Final, however, they topped the table and finished three points ahead of River Plate.
In the Libertadores, Newell’s have made heavy weather of some of their opponents, clumsily losing to Deportivo Lara of Venezuela and Universidad Chile and slipping up against Olimpia. But they went through as group runners-up and met Argentine opposition in the form of Velez Sarsfield and Boca Juniors in the last 16 and quarter finals respectively. Against Boca, they won 10-9 on penalties are two 0-0 draws.
Their side relies on a trio of vastly experienced players in Maxi Rodriguez, he of Barcelona and Liverpool fame, and 35 year-old Gabriel Heinze who played for Manchester United. Lucas Bernardi and Diego Mateo are also both in their mid-30s. The key man, however, as far as goalscoring goes, is Ignacio Scocco, who was capped recently by Argentina and has an excellent goalscoring record. Rodriguez and Scocco scored the goals in Newell’s 2-0 win against Mineiro in the Libertadores semi-final.
Newell’s will soon find out if their 2-0 lead is enough. The second leg is on July 11 in Brazil. Whatever happens, the team founded by a dapper Englishman from Strood has had a great year.